With more than 16 years of experience in live dinner theater, Scott Russell is no stranger to a stage.
And with his additional knowledge of sports card shows and auctions, the Pennsylvania resident is hoping to stage a successful event to benefit the Jim Thorpe Area Sports Hall of Fame.
The inaugural Jim Thorpe Sports Card Show and Auction will be held on Saturday, November 12, at the Split Rock Resort in Lake Harmony, Pennsylvania, from 10 AM to 4 PM. The resort is near Jim Thorpe (the city). Admission is $5 per person, and dealers can rent booth space for $100.
The auction will begin at 2:30 p.m., and there will be approximately 100 lots. Buyer’s commission is 13 percent, with a 3 percent discount for cash. The 10 percent buyer’s commission will be donated to the Jim Thorpe Area Sports Hall of Fame — the non-profit group that run and maintains the memorial and mausoleum for Jim Thorpe, the great athlete who won the decathlon and the pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics, a star football running back for the Carlisle Institute (in college) and the Canton Bulldogs (in the pros), and a major-league outfielder for six seasons, mostly with the New York Giants. The Hall of Fame will receive 100 percent of the proceeds from any items it places in the auction.
The Hall is hoping to build another statue of Thorpe, a Native American of the Sac and Fox nation in Oklahoma, to showcase more of his sports talents.
Thorpe excelled in the Olympics, football and baseball.
At the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Thorpe had a famous exchange with King Gustav V of Sweden:
“You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world,” the monarch said.
“Thanks, King,” Thorpe answered.
Thorpe was stripped of his Olympic records and medals in 1913 because he had received $2 per game money for playing semipro baseball in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, in 1909 and 1910.
After decades of debate and appeals, the International Olympic Committee restored Thorpe’s amateur status in October 1982 and agreed to replace his medals. They were presented three months later to two of Thorpe’s seven children, Gail and Bill, in Los Angeles.
The Hall is hoping to raise enough money to construct another statue honoring Thorpe, who was named best all-around male athlete of the half-century in a 1950 Associated Press poll. Thorpe died in 1953 in California at age 64 of a cerebral hemorrhage, destitute and ravaged by years of drinking.
One lure for bidders could be a belt buckle belonging to Thorpe, donated by Grace Thorpe, one of three daughters from Thorpe’s first marriage.
“The Hall of Fame is trying to decide whether to donate one of Jim Thorpe’s belt buckles (for auction),” Russell said. “There’s a letter from his daughter. She donated it directly to the president of the Hall.”
Hall president Jack Kmetz became friends with Grace Thorpe in 1999. He said her name and address are on the plastic box covering the buckle, which was donated around 2007. Grace died April 1, 2008, at age 86. She had visited the town that bore her father’s name on several occasions. Interestingly, Jim Thorpe never visited the town named for him. His third wife and widow, Patricia, approved his burial in the borough that used to be called Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk. The town’s name was changed to Jim Thorpe, and despite some court battles to return his remains to his native Oklahoma, a final appeal in 2015 upheld his burial in Pennsylvania.
A 1933 Goudey Sport Kings card of Thorpe will also be among the items in the auction.
The bidding will be live, with no online bids accepted.
Guests for autograph sessions at the card show will be former major-league outfielder Al Oliver, former New York Rangers captain Ron Greschner and his teammate, enforcer Nick Fotiu. Anyone purchasing an autograph ticket will receive free show admission.
“We’ve tried to focus on Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey figures,” Russell said. “When I talked with Ron Greschner he asked if he could bring Nick Fotiu and I said sure.”
Working at shows is old hat for Russell, who first set up tables as a 14-year-old at malls and hotel shows in 1986.
“I started setting up at card shows when any idiot could do it,” he said. “I was kind of the mascot. I was younger than everyone else.”
As a youth growing up in Morris County, New Jersey, Russell always had an appreciation for sports and sports cards. Even though he lived in northern New Jersey, Russell grew up rooting for the Dodgers. That loyalty came from his father, who was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan and watched them play in Jersey City in 1957 when the franchise held seven home games away from Ebbets Field.
Russell’s father played center for his for his high school football team in Boonton, New Jersey, a squad that featured future Miami Dolphins running back Jim Kiick (although Kiick won all-county accolades as a defensive back during his prep career).
Russell’s family moved to the Pocono Mountains area of Pennsylvania, and he attended Albright College in Reading — where he graduated with a double major in political science and Spanish.
For 16 years, Russell was an actor and production worker for Rainbow’s Comedy Playhouse in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which touts itself as “America’s only all-comedy dinner theatre.”
He met his future wife, a stage manager, while working at Rainbow’s. But he missed the thrill of collecting cards and talking sports.
“It’s very lonely being a sports fan in theater,” Russell said.
But despite the job security, Russell left the stage and opened his own online store, Aquarian Sports Cards.
“It was kind of scary leaving my day job,” he said.
Russell said he has had some success, although he confesses that at age 44, he is still one of the younger dealers around.
“Cards are a great way to feed my mania,” he said.
Russell is always gratified when he sees younger collectors at card shows, particularly when they are knowledgeable about vintage cards.
“One kid wanted to know about a Ray Nitschke card,” he said. “I wanted to pick him up and hug him.”
Building another statue to honor Thorpe would add to the athlete’s legacy, Russell said.
“The Hall of Fame has tried to add another statue, but they don’t come cheap,” Russell said.
Staging the auction and card show will go a long way toward financing that new statue.
So far, Russell said he has seven booths paid for, but with a September 1 deadline for dealer discounts the small amount does not concern him.
“Being conservative I’d say I have another seven dealers lined up, and in August we’re starting some dealer specific advertising,” he said. “Our goal was 36 booths and we can actually increase that number if need be. Eventually we’d love to grow this into a multi-day show with hundreds of tables.
“But this time out if we get 30-ish dealers I’d be very pleased.”
Full details on the show and auction can be found here.