One of the most decorated players in American soccer history and the only American male to play in four FIFA World Cups (2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014), DaMarcus Beasley will be featured along the Avenue of Champions. The U.S. Men’s National Team legend has 124 caps to his credit. Born in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Beasley played in the 1999 Under-17 World Cup in New Zealand, and was awarded the Silver Ball, given to the tournament’s second-best player. He was also selected to the 1998 NSCAA High School All-American Team and named Parade All-America High School co-Player of the Year in 1999.
He began his professional career with the Chicago Fire while still in high school (2001), and has had a remarkably long international career. After playing professionally for clubs in Europe and Mexico from 2004 to 2014, Beasley now plays in the United States for the Houston Dynamo.
“Soccer brings people together, different races and cultures, it’s a world sport. It can bring happiness to people whether they’re playing or going out and rooting for their teams; there’s a global thing to it. I want kids to understand that hard work never ends. I always leave everything on the field when I play. At the same time, my family played a huge role in my success. They really sacrificed to get me to soccer tournaments and games, they bent over backward—so, it started with my parents for sure.”
They don’t call him “Larry Legend” for nothing. Larry Bird is the only person in NBA history to be named MVP as a player, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year. He is listed as one of the 50 Greatest Athletes of the 20th century. Success didn’t miraculously happen for Bird. He understood the importance of practice and hard work. Throughout his basketball life he was obsessed with it. He got up before the sun rose, went running and worked on conditioning. In the pros his daily regimen included running, practice with teammates and multiple sit-ups. That all happened between his famous shooting drills of 300 shots or more a day. It was all to get better because he believed then and now that fitness and free throws are the key to winning basketball games.
“A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills and uses those skills to accomplish his goals,” said Bird. “That’s what I hope kids learn playing basketball. Push yourself again and again. Don’t give an inch until the final buzzer sounds.”
One of the best basketball players to ever play the game, Tamika Catchings played on a state championship high school team (scoring a quintuple double that year), a Junior National championship team, and an NCAA National Championship team. She won the WNBA title with the Indiana Fever and was named MVP of the WNBA, MVP of the Championship Series and Defensive Player of the Year. She also won four gold medals at the Olympics.
Those are amazing accomplishments for anyone, but when you discover that Catchings was born with moderate to severe hearing loss and was picked on and bullied in her youth for wearing big box hearing aids, braces and glasses, you have a newfound appreciation for her grit and determination. You can also better understand why working with youth is so important to her and why she wants children to understand they can be anything they want to be.
“When I was a kid, I decided I wasn’t going to let names or labels define me. I dug in with determination, adjusted, worked harder, prayed and took things one step at a time,” said Catchings. “If you do that, you can be successful in anything.”
The Indianapolis Clowns were a Negro American League team established in the period before integration in baseball. The Clowns’ roots are thought to date to the 1930s in Miami, Florida. The team moved to Cincinnati in 1943, and made Indianapolis its home from 1946 on. In addition to offering early opportunities to male players like Hank Aaron, the Clowns were among the first professional baseball teams to hire female players. The team won several league championships. By 1966 the Clowns were the last Negro League team still playing.
Avenue of Champions Recognized Players:
- Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron is widely considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time. His career began in the Negro American League, including a stint with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952. His stand-out play earned him offers from two Major League Baseball teams. Aaron held Major League Baseball's career home run record of 755 from 1974–2007, breaking Babe Ruth's record of 714 that had stood since 1935. "Hammering Hank" is now senior vice president of the Atlanta Braves.
- Mamie “Peanut” Johnson was one of only three women to play Negro League Baseball. Recruited in 1953 by the Clowns, she was the league’s first female pitcher. She earned the nickname “Peanut” for her small stature, and retired from the team in 1955 with a 33–8 record. “I was determined to be a professional baseball pitcher. I didn’t care what color my skin was or that I was a woman. I believe you can overcome just about anything if you believe in yourself and work hard,” said Johnson. “Kids today have every opportunity in the world, they just need to go for it.”
- Marcenia Lyle “Toni” Stone was the first woman to play Negro League Baseball. She began her career playing for the Twin Cities Colored Giants in 1937. In 1953, she entered the major league as second baseman for the Indianapolis Clowns, a position previously held by Hank Aaron. In 1993, she was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. Stone passed away in 1996 at the age of 75.
Pete and Alice Dye
Pete and Alice Dye are two of the most influential golf course designers in the world, known for creating courses that set the bar for innovation, creativity and beauty. They began designing in 1961 in Indianapolis, and their first well-known course was Crooked Stick (Indianapolis area), which opened in 1967. They became known for creating difficult courses that challenged the pros but delighted amateurs and enthusiasts.
Pete and Alice Dye are each skilled amateur golfers. Pete qualified for the U.S. Open and won the Indiana State Amateur. Alice won over 50 amateur championships. Both are designers and past presidents of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Both have won state amateur golf championships. Both were captains of their college golf teams. Both are members of Indiana Golf Hall of Fame.
Today, the dynamic duo continues to design courses around the world, including their new legacy course within the Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience. “Building is like putting together a big puzzle. Alice and I have figured out how to build golf courses in cornfields, meadows, on edges of cliffs, in swamps and in coal country, but we’ve never built on concrete with environmentally sustainable turf in the middle of a city. This is one of our biggest challenges and greatest joys because I know we’re creating a legacy of family togetherness and love of the game that drove/inspired us throughout our entire life together,” said Pete Dye. Alice added, “This course is something I think all of us are promoting—family togetherness in a sport in which families can grow together. The Children’s Museum will be the first of our courses to have holes that are focused on putting and are accessible to people of all ages and abilities.”
A.J. Foyt drove in 35 consecutive Indianapolis 500 races and is the first of only three drivers to have won the Indy 500 four times. He is also the only person to have won the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car endurance race. Foyt was in the inaugural class inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and has also been inducted in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame. He now owns and manages an IndyCar race team.
Foyt has competed in several varieties of auto racing, including IndyCar, NASCAR, midget cars and sports cars and is now a race team owner who understands the joys and the pain of competition.
“Competition will either make you strong or weak,” he said. “If you want to be strong, always keep your head down and don’t ever give up. That’s a huge problem today—things go wrong and people give up. When I started, I had some ups and downs and almost gave up. But I learned if you keep going and going and work hard, it will come to you and that’s what kids need to understand. That’s something their parents can help them understand in a fun environment like this.”
During his 21 years in the National Hockey League (NHL), Wayne Gretzky set 61 records, all of which he continues to hold or share today. Fifteen of those records were set in Stanley Cup playoff games and six achieved during All-Star Games. He is the only player in the NHL to ever to score 200 points in a season, and he did so four times in the span of five years. Gretzky led the Oilers to four Stanley Cup championships in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988. He later played for the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers before retiring in 1999. Post retirement, Gretzky was involved with owning the Phoenix Coyotes, as well as coaching them for five seasons.
Long before he was known around the world, Gretzy scored his first professional goal with the Indianapolis Racers in the World Hockey Association (WHA) and played for the team for a brief time before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers. “The Great One” is now partner and vice-chairman of the Oilers Entertainment Group.
As an athlete who was consumed with studying the game, Gretzky once said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be… I want the next generation to understand the importance of strategizing in sports and in their lives. It is one thing that transcends background and ability and can pave the way for a brighter future.”
Bobby "Slick" Leonard
No basketball phrase in the world gets people more pumped up than “BOOM, baby!” That phrase is heard multiple times each game from Hall of Famer Bobby “Slick” Leonard, a key personality who has been part of the Indiana Pacers for decades and a true Hoosier at heart. Leonard played for Indiana University, clinching the 1953 NCAA Championship for his team by hitting free throws as time ran out.
Drafted in 1954 by the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Minneapolis Lakers, he played five years (including one after the team moved to Los Angeles), followed by two years with the Chicago Packers/Zephyrs.
But in 1969, he came back home to Indiana to become the head coach of the Indiana Pacers, a team that was part of the upstart American Basketball Association (ABA). His coaching style was fiery and electric, and he helped lead the Pacers to five ABA finals, emerging as champions three times. In 1985 Leonard joined the Pacers’ radio team where he coined the phrase that still fires up the crowd, “BOOM, baby!” This year marks his 50th year with the Pacers.
“I’ve had a love affair with the fans and people in the state of Indiana for half a century and I wish it could last forever. I hope that families get together at this new facility and enjoy the sport I love so much. My dream is that it helps shape kids who are wild like I was in my youth, and it gives them direction on a path to fun, fitness and happiness,” said Leonard.
Nothing defines the word “clutch” like the play of Reggie Miller. The king of buzzer beaters played his entire 18-year NBA career with the Indiana Pacers. During that time, he played in 1,389 games, made 2,560 three-point shots and led the team to the Eastern Conference finals six times, earning him a spot in the Naismith Hall of Fame. He was selected by the Pacers in the first round of the 1987 NBA draft. By 1994, he was the team’s leading scorer and its go-to guy when the game was on the line. In 1995, he made an amazing 8 points in 8.9 seconds to lead the Pacers to a 107–105 victory over the New York Knicks.
It’s amazing he made it that far when you learn that Reggie Miller was born with hip deformities, which prevented him from walking correctly. After a few years of wearing leg braces, he taught his body how to walk, run and eventually play basketball. Miller now works as an NBA commentator on TNT and believes the success he enjoys today started with playing hoop with his brothers and sister Cheryl in the driveway.
“I lived across the hall from one of the greatest basketball players ever. She challenged me and the rest of the family supported us every step of the way. I hope today’s generation shares that kind of support from their families and they use an experience like this to enjoy each other’s company while getting fit together.”
Oscar Robertson forever changed the game of basketball—on the court and in the courtroom. Generally considered the greatest all-around player in the history of the game, he was voted Player of the Century by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Robertson first came to national prominence in his home city of Indianapolis, leading Crispus Attucks High School to two consecutive state basketball championships—the first anywhere by an all-black school—and being named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball in 1956. He went on to a Hall of Fame career with the University of Cincinnati, the 1960 U.S. Olympic gold medal basketball team, the NBA Cincinnati Royals and the Milwaukee Bucks, leading that team to its first and only NBA championship.
As the longest-serving president of the National Basketball Players Association from 1965–1974, Robertson made an even more lasting impact with a successful class action anti-trust lawsuit against the NBA. A 1976 legal settlement, known as the Oscar Robertson Rule, helped NBA players become the first professional athletes to achieve free agency, forever changed the balance of power in professional sports and led to a new era of expansion, growth and prosperity for all sports that continues to the present day.
“I saw at an early age that education, hard work and teamwork could create a path to opportunity, progress, and equality. When I started playing basketball, I wasn’t very good. The only way I was going to improve was to out-work everyone else, and to learn from players who were older and better than me. When they saw how serious I was about improving, they were more than willing to help me. I encourage children today to seek that same sort of guidance from their coaches, teachers, teammates, parents and grandparents. Doing that will serve you well not just in sports, but in all other aspects of life."
There was much more to Wilma Rudolph than titles, medals and trophies. The fact that she had polio, wore leg braces and wasn’t expected to ever walk again shows the kind of determination and work ethic the resilient young woman had. Rudolph was born into poverty as the 20th of 22 children. At the age of 16 she qualified for the 1956 Olympics, where she won the bronze medal in the 4 x100 meter relay. She became the first member of her family to attend college, enrolling in Tennessee State University where she ran track. In 1960, Rudolph became the first American woman (and the first African American woman) to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games, setting or tying records in the 100-meter and 200-meter dash and the 400-meter relay. She was later inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
In 1980 she moved to Indianapolis to establish the Wilma Rudolph Foundation to promote amateur athletics. She also hosted a local TV show, coached track at DePauw University and carried the torch to light the flame of the Pan American Games in Indianapolis in 1987.
When asked what made her successful, she once replied, “I ran and ran and ran every day and I acquired this sense of determination, this sense of spirit that I would never, never give up, no matter what else happened.” Rudolph passed away in 1994 at the young age of 54.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and helped the Indianapolis Colts defeat the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI with a 53-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter of the championship game. He was initially drafted by the Colts in the first round in 2001. By the end of his playing career in 2014, Wayne’s name was in the record books multiple times. At that time, he was seventh all-time in NFL career receptions (1,070), eighth with 14,345 career receiving yards and 22nd all-time in career touchdown receptions with 82.
Wayne was selected as the wide receiver for USA Football’s 2012 and 2014 All-Fundamentals Teams, which honor 26 NFL players each year for executing the fundamentals of their position. Accolades were nothing new to Wayne, who was a four-year starter at the University of Miami and set a school record of 173 career catches, including 36 consecutive games with a reception. Wayne retired in 2016 and can now be seen/heard on the NFL Network where his attention to detail continues to fascinate fans.
For more than 50 years, Barbara Wynne has been the face of youth tennis in Indianapolis and across the nation. She began by teaching tennis lessons in the early 1960s, and in 1969 founded the Riverside Upswing Program, a tennis program for youth at Riverside Park that later became the Indianapolis Chapter of the National Junior Tennis League (NJTL). The mission of the NJTL is to help develop the character of young people through tennis, life skills, educational enrichment and healthy living choices.
To date, more than 50,000 youths have taken part in tennis programs established by Barbara Wynne and she dreams of thousands more benefitting from the game. “Tennis is a game that people can play at any age. Younger kids love the power and running around while older players learn to appreciate the finesse of sticking a shot right where they want it with a little backspin. But it goes beyond that—tennis provides lifelong lessons in honesty and integrity, sportsmanship, teamwork, healthy lifestyles and family involvement. It can also provide a safe haven for those who are looking to escape troubling situations,” said Wynne.