A couple months ago, local sports historian Greg Peterson left a large envelope on my desk in The Post-Journal sports department. Its contents included the manuscript entitled, ''All Star Sports Night,'' which measured more than an inch thick.
Wonderfully written and researched by Tom Hyde, the son of former Post-Journal sports editor Frank Hyde, the tome tells the history of the sports dinner - organized by the Men's Club of Temple Hesed Abraham in Jamestown - which was held annually from 1952-1976 in the Crystal Ballroom of the Hotel Jamestown. Along the way, such stars as Joe Louis, Jim Brown, Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, Jesse Owens, Terry Bradshaw, Bob Gibson and Roberto Clemente visited Jamestown. Ernie Banks, Johnny Unitas, Bill Veeck and Howard Cosell also appeared at various times during the 24-year history of the event.
Those names weren't a surprise to me as I read Tom's fascinating account, which appears to still be a work in progress. Fact is, I'd attended six of the dinners when I was growing up and, years later, I'd written columns for The Post-Journal about those special winter evenings.
I must admit, however, that I was floored this week when I was reminded by Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame president Randy Anderson that among the featured guests from the 1956 All Star Sports Night were Brooklyn Dodger great Jackie Robinson, along with comedienne and Jamestown native Lucille Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz. Ball and Arnaz were in town for the world premier of their new film, ''Forever Darling.''
Armed with that information, I retreated to The Post-Journal's library Thursday night, found the microfilm labeled "February 1956,'' feathered it into the projector and searched for the date - Feb. 6. I wasn't disappointed. The coverage, provided by Frank Hyde and his staff, was complete and entertaining. The photos supplemented Hyde's work tremendously and included a panoramic shot of the dais spread out over two pages.
Two people, sitting side by side, drew my immediate attention.
On the left was Robinson. On the right was Jamestown native Jim McCusker, who was then in the middle of an All-American football career at the University of Pittsburgh.
Talk about a find!
Because of my renewed interest in all things Robinson - I loved the release of ''42'' on the big screen this spring - I enthusiastically read Frank Hyde's account of Jackie's speech.
Below the headline ''800 Hear Robinson Plea for Racial Tolerance,'' following is Hyde's reporting of the Hall-of-Famer's speech, along with comments from Arnaz and further reporting by Post-Journal staffers Jerry Scorse and Vern Larson.
A plea for tolerance toward the Negro race and a verbal hotfoot for the American Amateur Athletic Union mingled with the usual humor and light banter that amused and held the attention of more than 800 sports dinner customers at the Hotel Jamestown last night.
Desi Arnaz was one of the speakers and his charming wife, home-grown Lucille Ball, appeared briefly midway through the program and these added attractions no doubt contributed to the appeal of the fifth annual Temple Hesed Abraham Men's Club affair.
The crowd overflowed into a downstairs room for the meal but was able to sardine its way into the Crystal Ballroom before the program got under way.
Quick-witted and affable Dizzy Trout, former Detroit pitcher, held down the emcee post.
ROBINSON ON SEGREGATION
Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn infielder and the first Negro to break organized baseball's color barrier, talked baseball - but he also dwelt to some lengths on the problems of his race and its progress toward recognition.
Miler Wes Santee and bobsledder Stan Benham, both in the AAU doghouse, laid it on the line in hard-hitting talks that added to the sobering note fathered by Robinson.
"We,'' Robinson said in speaking of the Negro race, "have made wonderful advances and have pushed aside many obstacles. We never ease the fight until we have eliminated the obstacles that now face us and continue to put America in a bad light with the rest of the world.''
Jackie emphasized the importance of the present moves toward non-segregation on the world's diplomatic stage.
"The entire world is wondering,'' he said in a quiet, well-modulated voice that arose only when he wished to drive home a point. "We can preach democracy as much as we wish, but the world will never truly and fully accept our democracy as long as racial discrimination exists, for no nation is stronger than its weakest link.''
Robinson traced his baseball career briefly and his trials as a professional player. He lauded Branch Rickey, now retired president of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who, as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, brought Robinson into the major leagues.
"Mr. Rickey's guidance and assurance, many times volunteered by long distance telephone, helped me over the bad spots,'' he added.
DESI AMAZED OVER RECEPTION
Desi, his voice choking with emotion, described the "terrific reception Lucy and I have received in Jamestown" and went on to explain their program theme is "good, clean humor in these times when entirely too many gangster, murder, and dope pictures and programs are being fed to our younger people.''
Lucy arrived as Desi held the stage, kissed her famed husband and described the Jamestown and area reception as "out of this world - far beyond our wildest imagination."
Under the headline, ''Fanfare From the Banquet Front,'' Scorse and Larson provided more news and notes about Robinson's visit to Jamestown.
Jackie Robinson strongly implied that unless he has an exceptional season this will be his final year of professional baseball.
"I don't want to be one of these guys who hangs around just to get money out of the ball club,'' Robinson warned.
But he reiterated his intention to win the Dodger third base job and vowed "if anyone goes down there (spring training) with the idea of sitting on the bench, he shouldn't be in baseball."
Snappily dressed in a black wool suit, Jackie, who turned 36 just a week ago, indicated he would neither anticipate nor relish a managerial post upon retirement.
Renowned for the fierce competitive spirit that makes him one of the game's most feared clutch hitters, Robinson will present former boss Branch Rickey with the National Human Relations Award at the National Conference of Christians and Jews in Hartford, Conn., Feb. 23.
And Robbie thinks it'll be the Dodgers, Giants and Cincinnati battling for the National League pennant this summer.
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I'd love to know more about that night in 1956. If anyone has any recollections, articles or photographs from that evening, I'd love to hear from you. My number is 487-1111, ext. 247.