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The annual announcement of individuals that made the ballot for the Harness Racing Hall of Fame usually sparks a hearty round of conversation. And that talk has become more profound now that social media spreads news and views instantaneously.

People like to express their thoughts about who made the cut each year, but moreover, like to opine about who they thought should have been on the ballot. Everyone has an opinion and any conversation surrounding harness racing is good. But it’s important not to lose sight of a few things.

Being elected to the Harness Racing Hall of Fame is the ultimate honor. Selected individuals are considered to be on the same level as Lawrence B. Sheppard, William Haughton and John Campbell and that is why it is so difficult to get in.

The criteria needed to be considered includes success on the national stage, integrity, character, contributions to the sport, and sportsmanship. The recipient must meet every one of these points and must have also shown these extraordinary accomplishments over an extended period of time.

Once prospective nominees are submitted by chapters of the U.S. Harness Writers Association (USHWA), they must pass a vigorous four-part vetting process. This includes consideration by an integrity committee, selection committee, Hall of Fame advisory board and finally voting by the eligible members of USHWA.

All who serve on the two USHWA committees have between 25 and 50 years of experience and knowledge in harness racing. They, combined with the Hall of Fame advisory committee, are people who are among the highest character anywhere and their sole mission is to get it right.

Some nominees are obvious Hall of Famers the first time their name comes up, while others may be nominated several times before getting voted to the ballot. And others may simply not meet the requirements that would allow them to make that big step.

Elbridge T. Gerry Jr. is the chairman of the executive committee for the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame and a 1995 inductee. He points out how important the selection process is. 

“Election to the Harness Racing Hall of Fame is the highest honor that is bestowed by our sport and enshrinees carry that recognition for the rest of their life,” he said. “For nominees to be considered, as (Hall of Famer) Norman Woolworth so aptly put it, ‘They must jump off the page’ with qualifications. The best way to judge a person’s eligibility is to ask the question, ‘Has he or she accomplished or contributed on the same level as those who preceded them for this highest honor?’” said Gerry.

It’s important to note that an individual cannot even be considered if their name has not been submitted for consideration. In some cases, names that people bring up as worthy candidates haven’t been nominated in the past or weren’t nominated in the current cycle.

Anyone can bring an eligible candidate to the table, not just the members of USHWA; however, there is a format to follow and a timeline to keep in mind in order to get a name in the mix.

Nominations for the Hall of Fame must be made no later than June 1 each year. Every USHWA chapter can nominate up to two names for the Living Hall of Fame.

If anyone outside of USHWA has a strong opinion about a nominee that they would like to submit, it would behoove them to contact any member of the 12 USHWA chapters (a complete membership list can be found at www.ushwa.org) prior to June 1 with facts and biographical information to back their case. This will allow those chapters to take the suggestion into consideration at one of their meetings prior to making final determination on their nominations.

The Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame is dedicated to honoring the people whose work helped it grow and keep it viable today. This has been their mission since its inception and they continue to carry it out today.

“Our objective simply put is to preserve our glorious past, portray with excitement the present, and help create a promising future. Recognition of those who have contributed to these objectives either on or off the racetrack helps make the Museum and Hall of Fame so important to our industry,” said Gerry. 

People who are passionate about who is in the Hall and are not currently a member of the museum should consider joining to support the institution and its work. There are more than 17,000 licensed racing professionals who make a living in the industry in the United States, yet only 700 of them are members of the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame. Become a member by visiting www.harnessmuseum.org or by calling 845-294-6330.

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