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HEISER: York Area Sports Night put on 'pause' while organizers mull future options

STEVE HEISER
717-505-5446/@ydsports
  • The York Area Sports Night program started in 1964.
  • The show's organizers have put the show on "pause" while mulling their options.
  • The show has struggled in recent years, with costs up and crowds down.
Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Andre Dawson, left, autographs at the 2019 York Area Sports Night program. The 2020 Sports Night show was not held, as scheduled, on March 19, and the future of the program has been put on "pause." Dawn J. Sagert photo

The York Area Sports Night program did not go on, as scheduled, in 2020.

That’s probably not surprising to anyone.

What may be surprising, however, is the fact that the show’s absence this year had nothing to do with the coronavirus pandemic.

In fact, the annual show was put on “pause” long before COVID-19 became a name feared in every household.

A couple months back, the show’s organizers decided the scheduled March 19 program would not be held as normal at Heritage Hills Golf Resort and Conference Center. In recent years, the program had basically become an autograph show and meet-and-greet event featuring a number of sports celebrities, usually including a couple of pro sports hall of famers.

As it turns out, the decision to “pause” this year’s show was very fortuitous, since the coronavirus outbreak was just starting to gain steam in this area last week. It’s extremely unlikely the event could’ve been held, creating a costly, last-minute cancellation.

Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary.

Former Baltimore Colt Tom Matte, autographs memorabilia during the 2019 York Area Sports Night show. In recent years, the program has basically become an autograph show and meet-and-greet event. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Recent struggles: Anyone who has followed York Area Sports Night over the years knows the event has been struggling for a while now.

Costs are up and crowds are down. The event’s volunteer organizers, meanwhile, are dwindling in number and getting up in age.

It’s not a recipe for continued success.

The program’s organizers have tried a number of ways to preserve the longtime local tradition — different formats, different dates and different venues.

Nothing seems to have worked particularly well.

That led to the decision to “pause” the event for 2020, according to longtime Sports Night official Mike Harvey.

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“The costs were growing and it got to the point where we weren’t able to make enough money for our community projects — the scholarships and (the York Area Sports) Hall of Fame,” said Harvey, who has been with Sports Night for more than four decades. “We have a significant amount in our current treasury, so we’re going to sit back and see where we want to go (in the future). … We want to continue our mission (with the community projects).”

Pro Football Hall of Fame punter Ray Guy talks to fans during the 2019 York Area Sports Night program. The Sports Night program has been put on "pause" while organizers determine their future plans. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Open to all ideas: At this point, Harvey said nothing is off the table.

The show, a York County staple since 1964, could be discontinued all together. That’s happened to other similar shows in the region.

The show could try yet another scaled-back format, possibly going with a dinner banquet featuring a guest speaker.

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Sports Night could partner with another organization.

The current autograph show format could even return.

“Right now, we’re at a pause,” Harvey said. “We’re protecting the money we have.”

Thus far, Harvey says the program’s sponsors have been understanding and “have respected our position.”

Harvey said the Sports Night organization is especially in need of more, and younger, volunteers.

“We’re older and we don’t have the energy,” Harvey said when talking about the current roster of Sports Night volunteers. “We can’t get the younger folks. … We need new enthusiasm in this group.”

Boxer Pernell Whitaker, center, poses with fans at the 2019 York Area Sports Night program. Dawn J. Sagert photo

A storied history: At one time, especially in the early years, Sports Night was a must-see winter event in York.

The brainchild of well-known local businessman Sam Shipley, it long combined appearances by legendary sports figures with action-packed demonstrations and awards honoring local athletes, both young and old.

Some of the more notable celebrities over the years were Jesse Owens, Lenny Moore, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Joe DiMaggio, Willie May, Brooks Robinson, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Bob Gibson.

Now, it’s nearly impossible for Sports Night to get those types of athletes. The costs are simply prohibitive. Last year’s show headliners were Andre Dawson, Ray Guy, Tom Matte and Pernell Whitaker. They were all great athletes, to be sure, but their names don’t resonate like DiMaggio, Mays, Brown, Unitas and Aaron.

A fan walks away with some signed memorabilia during the 2019 York Area Sports Night show. Dawn Sagert photo.

Bottom line: So, the bottom line is straight forward.

The folks at Sports Night must decide if the show has simply run its course or if it can somehow be saved.

No matter what they decide, all of the folks behind Sports Night deserve more than a little credit for what they’ve delivered over the decades. For more than half a century, they gave the sports fans in York a welcome respite from the winter doldrums with a program that offered real bang for the buck.

In this particular case, the show may not go on, but the memories will certainly remain.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.