CHICAGO — In one of the most storied and beloved championship sports cities in America, an ostentatious statue of New York Yankee legendary center fielder Joe DiMaggio stands in the middle of Taylor Street in Chicago.

That's because across the street from the massive sculpture of the Yankee Clipper is home to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, honoring icons from Vince Lombardi, Mario Andretti to boxing great Rocky Marciano.

Centered in the heart of Little Italy, the museum celebrates the rich history of Italian greats by showcasing more than 230 of the most revered athletes and broadcasters in the United States.

As a way to showcase his sports memorabilia collection and to assist a struggling local Catholic Youth program, George Randazzo founded the three-story facility in 1977. Randazzo hosted a dinner honoring 23 former boxing champions that included the likes of Rocky Graziano, Jake LaMotta, Rocky Marciano and Tony Canzoneri, to name a few.

As an outcome of that first dinner, local entrepreneurs encouraged Randazzo to open what is now the nonprofit Hall of Fame.

The organization has raised more than $6 million in scholarships and other charitable causes.

The museum is host to Mario Andretti’s Indy 500 racecar; DiMaggio's jerseys; Yogi Berra’s equipment; Mary Lou Retton’s Olympic artifacts; Rocky Marciano’s first heavyweight championship belt; Matt Biondi’s Olympic gold medals; Joe Montana’s Notre Dame and San Francisco 49ers garb; a Tommy and Jo Lasorda exhibit gallery; and an impressive Stairway of Fame.

In December, the hall hosted its 39th annual Induction and Awards Gala and was emceed by MLB Hall of Famer Mike Piazza and included Nino, Benvenuti, Mollie Ann Bracigliano, Vinny Del Negro, Paulie Malignaggi, Lenny “Boom Boom” Mancini and Joe Pepitone.

The hall also hosts weddings and other events and is complete with a gift shop selling T-shirts, mugs, posters and more commemorating favorite sons and daughters of sports history.

The larger-than-life Rocky Marciano statue at the entrance is awe-inspiring, as is the collection and memories of yesteryear. The hall is a wonderful celebration of the accomplishments of Italian-American athletes and sports personalities and their contributions to our country.

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