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Collage of athletes participating in soccer, roller derby, dragon boat, boxing, hockey, and posing with teammates.


Black and white image of three people playing soccer

 ‘A Sporting Chance: On and Off the Field’, will be on display at the Tompkins Center for History and Culture from February-December 2024. 

The History Center's new exhibit explores the stories of local athletes, teams, and the community that cheered them on. From league tournaments to pick-up games in the park, our community history of sports balls, paddles, and skates traverses water, ice, air, and land.

Sports and athleticism allow us to explore narratives of achievement and empowerment, even as they are complicated by stories of erasure and exclusivity. As we consider what it means to be an athlete in Tompkins County today, or two hundred years ago, we also get to celebrate the crowds that cheered, parents that drove our youngest athletes to early morning practices, and camaraderie and community both on the field and off. Join us for memories familiar and forgotten as we highlight the history of sports across Tompkins County. 

This exhibit is possible with thanks to many of our collaborators who shared their personal sports histories, including: Adrian Cooper, Amy Somchanhmavong, Mary Grainger, Charles DeMotte, Ithaca League of Women Rollers, Iroquois Museum, the Ithaca Farmers Market, and Special Olympics New York.

Exhibit Hall Displays

Baseball's League of Nations: A Tribute to Native American Baseball Players

Native people were introduced to the game of baseball in a variety of ways. An integral part of early attempts at non-Native education and religious conversion of Natives was the playing of European sports such as baseball.

Explorers Lewis and Clark are said to have tried to teach an early version of baseball to the Nez Perce Indians during their trek across North America from 1804 to 1806.

Exhibit on loan from the Iroquois Museum.

Black and white image of a Native American baseball team

Image of the Onondaga Nation baseball team ca. 1910

Dragon Boating in Ithaca

The Ithaca Dragon Boat Club (IDBC) began in 2004 with the arrival of two 40-foot long dragon boats from Dalian, China. It was founded by members of the Ithaca Asian American Association: Siv and Amy Somchanhmavong, Larry Shinagawa and Sun Shinagawa, Angie Chen and William Chen, Mary Brock, Mimi Melegrito, Sheila Smeenk, and Daphne Chu and her husband.

Image of two dragon boats labelled 1 and 2 racing under a bridge

2024 marks the 20th anniversary of the Ithaca Dragon Boat Club’s founding and their first festival. Since then, IDBC has hosted and competed in regional, national, and international races. The IDBC community continues to welcome people of all ages, races, and genders. 

Authentic Champions: Special Olympics New York

Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded Special Olympics in 1968. Just one year later, Dorothy Buehring Phillips inaugurated the program in New York—and the state sent its first delegation of athletes and coaches to the Northeast Regional Special Olympics competition in Boston, Mass. Special Olympics New York was incorporated in 1970 with Phillips as its first State Director. In June 1970, Rochester hosted the first State Summer Games. 

Image of the Ithaca special-olympics athlete Aziza Speight at USA Nationals in 2022

Image of the Ithaca athlete Aziza Speight at USA Nationals, 2022..

Ithaca is slated to host the 2022, 2023, and 2024 NY State Summer Special Olympics Games. To host the games in Ithaca is a dream come true for many of our athletes, and they are proud to share Ithaca with athletes from across the state.

Roller Derby: Ithaca League of Women Rollers

The Ithaca League of Women Rollers (ILWR) began in 2008 with the launch of the SufferJets team by founding members Danine Dibble, Sarah Evanega, Kitty Gifford, Ashlee McCaskill, and Beth Skwarecki. In 2010, the league added an additional adult team, the BlueStockings, as well as a junior league for ages 8 to 17. 

Image of people wearing different roller skates and kneepads.

The Ithaca League of Junior Rollers’ team, the Title IXs, is a reminder of the strides in women’s rights, and a tribute to those who believed girls can be just as physical as boys.

Logo for the Itaca League of Junior Rollers. Features organization name wrapping arounf a roller skate with the initials ILJR.

Local Baseball: America's Pastime

As early as 1866, Tompkins County had seven or eight amateur baseball clubs, from the Groton Mechanics to the Peculiars of McLean.

Image of the 1936 Inter-County League Champions of the L. C. Smith Corona League. The baseball team is arranged in two rows, and the player names are written on the bottom of the image.

Inter-County League Champions, L. C. Smith Corona League, 1936. 

Through the late 1800s to early 1900s, county baseball games were a fixture of social events, featuring in holiday celebrations, community picnics, fraternal outings, and fairs.  

Established in 1913, the first Ithaca City League comprised teams from fraternal orders and local fire companies. During World War I, the league disbanded temporarily due to players being drafted but re-formed in 1920. 

Image of the Ithaca's Colored Vets baseball team sometime in the 1940s. Players are arranged in 3 uneven rows.

Ithaca's Colored Vets baseball team ca. 1940s. 

The Vets/Zebras came from a long tradition of Black baseball teams in Ithaca. From the 1880s to the early 1900s, Black teams such as Forest City, the Keystones, and the Ithaca Colored Nine/Ithaca Giants played Black and white regional teams.

Image of a baseball game from 1924. The batter is about to hit an incoming ball, and a crowd is watching holding a sign reading 1924.

International Rutabaga Curling Championship

On the last day of Ithaca Farmers market in 1996, it was cold and with few customers, the farmers were bored, so for entertainment and to keep warm, they started hurling round vegetables towards a target. This spontaneity inspired vendor Steve Sierigk to harness the fun and organize the first official Rutabaga Curl at the last Saturday Market in 1997. Starting with a few rules, a 79-foot-long court, and 50 Rutabaga's from Blue Heron Farm, the event was rolling becoming more official each year!

Image of a child curing a rutabaga down the farmers market with a referee and a crowd lining the path

We Broke the Ice: Girls & Women's Ice Hockey

Ithaca was already an “ice hockey town” when Title IX was passed into federal law in spring 1972. In fact, ice hockey opportunities for girls and women had already begun here. 

Image of the Tompkins Girls Hockey team in 1972. The bottom third of the picture is a protest with a large sign reading “Women Demand Equality”.

Image of the Tompkins Girls Hockey. ca. 1972.

When Cass Park opened in November 1972, Tompkins Girls Hockey Association (TGHA) had organized enough to hold its first practice that same week.  TGHA was the first all-girls hockey program in New York State, and the third in the country. The coaches, parents and players helped to develop game and league rules with other teams, and worked to build a strong foundation for future years for girls hockey.

Children at Play - Story Vault Exhibit

'Children at Play' includes selected clips from the Oral Histories of Tompkins County, of Tompkins County residents remembering childhood games and sports. Clips can be listened to in the Story Vault exhibit, or for free on SoundCloud. Full interviews can be listened to in our Research Library through contacting

Beyond the Exhibit Hall in Tompkins County Sports

Researchers are encouraged to schedule appointments in our Research Library & Archives to review the following archival materials from our sports related collections:

  • Sports Collection - V-62-2-1 - This collection contains a wide range of information on sports, local teams and athletic events. The subjects range from fishing and fly fishing to organized sports like baseball, softball, basketball, football, swimming, ice hockey and tennis. The collection contains information about Beep Baseball (baseball for the blind) and the New York State Special Olympics held in Ithaca in 1991. Some material pertains to local community and school sponsored teams and events, while other material is merely published locally or written by a local author. The dates are also wide ranging – from ca. 1913 to the 1990s.

Please reach out to if you have Tompkins County sports histories or archival materials that you would like to add to these collections!

Books on Tompkins County Sports & Athletes

Cornell University Hockey

Book cover reading “Cornell University Hockey” written by Adam Wodon. Cover includes a color image of a Cornell Hockey player and a black and white image of a Cornell Hockey goaltender.

Forever Faithful: Celebrating the Greatest Moments of Cornell Hockey

Book cover reading “Forever Faithful” written by Jim Roberts and Arthur Mintz. The cover includes a color image of the Cornell Hockey team on the rink with their sticks up.

Good Sports: A History of Cornell Athletics

Book cover reading “Good Sports” written by Bob Kane. The cover includes three older images, one of a rowing meet, another of a hurdles race, and the last of a football game.

Bat, Ball & Bible: Baseball and Sunday Observance in New York

Book cover reading “Bat, Ball and Bible” written by Charles DeMotte. The cover has a black and white image of a woman holding a baseball in the stands.

A Sporting Chance - Events & Programs
    2024 PROGRAMS



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      This exhibit is possible with thanks to many of our collaborators who shared their personal sports histories, including: Adrian Cooper, Amy Somchanhmavong, Mary Grainger, Charles DeMotte, Ithaca League of Women Rollers, Iroquois Museum, the Ithaca Farmers Market, and Special Olympics New York.

      Also our deep thanks to our many community members who lent their personal sports memorabilia for the artifact wall. Thank you for helping share the story of local sports!

      Ithaca High School girls basketball club, 1915, from The History Center in Tompkins County Photograph Collections.

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