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The representation of the Polish Institute of Culture & Research at OLS took part in the ceremonial banquet celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the National Polish Sports Hall of Fame. The guest of honor was Mrs. Katarzyna Rybka-Iwańska, Head of Public and Cultural Diplomacy, Polish Embassy in the US.

The beautiful celebration of the 50th anniversary was hosted at the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy on Thursday, Sept.14th.

The Keynote Speaker was Ann Meyers Drysdale, former basketball player and sportscaster. She has been a trailblazer in basketball who has made incredible contributions to the WNBA, American basketball, the Polish-American community, and the Olympic stage. MC was Jon Paul Morosi from MLB.

The NPASHF directors invited the Polish Media Center staff to meet some famous athletes the day before the official banquet. It was an honor to meet athletes of Polish origin who have achieved success in their fields, cultivate Polish traditions, and are proud of having Polish roots. Sharing the time with them was a fantastic event highlight, especially when I was an athlete and a representative of the Polish national handball team.

I must share who I met, probably many of whom you know:

Pete Banaszak ( 1990 inductee), played his entire 13-year pro football career with the Oakland Raiders. Statistics aside, Banaszak, in summary, got the job done. He scored two touchdowns in Super Bowl XI when the Raiders crushed the Minnesota Vikings, 32-14.

Jane “Peaches” Bartkowicz (2010 inductee ), the 1960s tennis phenom from Hamtramck, Michigan, began her rise to world tennis prominence by winning 17 age group titles as a junior, including the Wimbledon Girls’ Singles title in 1964. Over the next seven years, Peaches dazzled the tennis world, earning three medals in the 1968 Olympics and a Fed Cup Championship in 1969.

Elaine Zayak (2013 inductee), the 1982 World and 1981 U.S. national champion- in figure skating. She competed at the 1984 Winter Olympics, placing 6th.

Juliene Brazinski – Simpson (2017 inductee),  a former American basketball player who competed in the 1976 Summer Olympics. She competed on 11 international teams as part of USA Women’s Basketball.  Simpson and her 1976 USA Olympic women’s basketball teammates were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2023. At age 25 she became the youngest head coach at Arizona State. She coached the Sun Devils for 11 seasons and twice reached the Sweet 16 before going to Bucknell then to Marshall and her final coaching stop was at East Stroudsburg (PA) University.

Ann Meyers- Drysdale (2016 inductee), former basketball player and sportscaster. She was the first high school player to make the United States national team and the first woman to receive a full athletic scholarship to UCLA. Ann Meyers Drysdale was a four-time All-America basketball player at UCLA leading the Bruins to the National Championship in 1978. An integral part of 1976 Olympic team that won the silver medal, Meyers Drysdale was the number one pick in the Women’s Pro Basketball League in 1978 and named league co-MVP in 1980. She was received many honors for her off-the-court work, including the Ronald Reagan Media Award from the United States Sports Academy in 2006.

Tom D’Eath (2011 inductee), has won national championships in nearly every class of hydroplane racing.

Walt Patulski (2014 inductee), a former American football defensive end at the University of Notre Dame and the National Football League. 

Steve Javie (2017 inductee), retired professional basketball referee who refereed in the National Basketball Association from the 1986–87 NBA season to the 2010–11 season and is currently an analyst with ESPN and a Catholic permanent deacon.

Frank Tanana (1996 inductee), former professional baseball left-handed pitcher. In a Major League Baseball career that stretched from 1973 to 1993, he pitched for the California Angels, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, and New York Yankees.

Greg Landry (2012 inductee), was a former professional football player who was a quarterback in the National Football League from 1968 to 1981 and again in 1984. He played for the Detroit Lions, Baltimore Colts, and Chicago Bears. He played college football at Massachusetts from 1965–1967.

Kristina Koznick (2015 inductee), she made it to the U.S. Ski Team at the age of 15 and remained on it for 16 years. Over the years in World Cup competitions, she reached the podium 20 times and earned top 10 results in over one-third of the races she competed in. Her consistent success in the technical slalom events opened the door for outstanding outcomes for the women following her.

Rachel Komisarz Baugh (2018 inductee), overcame the fear of water to be an Olympic athlete.  Swimming freestyle and butterfly, she was named SEC swimmer of the year in 1999.  Komisarz-Baugh was a member of the U.S. National team that won two Olympic medals and 13 World Championship medals. 

Bob Brudzinski (2005 inductee), is a former professional football player who was a linebacker for 13 seasons in the National Football League, primarily with the Miami Dolphins. He played college football for the Ohio State Buckeyes, earning consensus All-American honors in 1976.

June Olkowski (2012 inductee), is a former college basketball player and coach, who was head coach of the women’s teams at the University of Arizona, Butler University, and Northwestern University.

Bryan Smolinski (2015 inductee), is a former professional ice hockey center. The Boston Bruins drafted him 21st overall in 1990. He played in the National Hockey League for the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, Ottawa Senators, Chicago Blackhawks, Vancouver Canucks, and Montreal Canadiens.

Evan “Big Cat” Williams (2018 inductee), the world’s longest driver, 6’ 6” golfer, burst onto the scene of professional golf and long-drive competitions in 1974 by winning the World Challenge Long Drive Contest in New York. Big Cat won numerous national long drive titles in the United States, Australia, and Bermuda. 

Tom Nowatzke (2008 inductee), was the Detroit Lions’ first-round pick and the AFL New York Jets.  Nowatzke played five seasons with the Lions before being traded to the Baltimore Colts in 1970.  Tom was the leading rusher in Super Bowl V and scored the game-tying touchdown as the Colts defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 16-13. 

Jim Dombrowski (2013 inductee), is a former American college and professional football player who was a guard and offensive tackle in the National Football League for eleven seasons. Dombrowski played college football for the University of Virginia and earned All-American honors.

Mike McCoy (2019 inductee), is a former American football player. He played in the National Football League for the Green Bay, Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, and Detroit Lions. McCoy was the 2010 recipient of the Football Writers Association of America “Bronko Nagurski Legends Award”, which recognizes “the best of the best” defensive collegiate football players of the past 40 years.

The National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame (NPASHF) was founded in 1973 to honor and recognize outstanding American athletes, both amateur and professional, of Polish descent.

The mission of the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame is to recognize and preserve outstanding achievements by individuals of Polish heritage in the field of sports and to educate the entire community with the hope of encouraging and inspiring personal excellence.

With over 150 inductees, the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame has an outstanding collection of historic artifacts on display at the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy, Michigan. Many of the items are one-of-a-kind.

Information from the website of NPASHF was used to prepare the article.

Alicja Karlic /Polish Media Center at PICROL

Image 1: Mrs. Katarzyna Rybka-Iwańska Head of Public and Cultural Diplomacy, Polish Embassy in the US, keynote speaker- NPASHF inductee Ann Meyers- Drysdale, David Jansen director of NPASHF, Alicja Karlic (Polish Media Center) and MC – Jon Paul Morosi from MLB.

Header Image: James Conrad & David Jansen

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