NorCal Jewish Sports Hall of Fame names first inductees

When lumbering ex-football stars mount the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, the solemnity of the moment can last only until one notices the shockingly loud, honey-mustard-hued blazers the inductees are made to wear, causing the honored players to resemble a troop of oversized real estate agents.

Thankfully, frank d. winston, commissioner of the Northern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame has no plans to incorporate garish blazers or, in fact, any honey-mustard paraphernalia into the upcoming installation of his hall’s inaugural class.

After taking ballots from the general public and consulting dozens of Bay Area sports media figures, the hall has winnowed the honorees from 75 down to its five initial inductees. Winston released the names last week.

The quintet, to be honored in a Sept. 10 ceremony at the JCC of San Francisco are: former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Harris Barton; longtime San Francisco Chronicle sports editor and columnist Art Rosenbaum; champion rower Aerial Gilbert; Sam Bercovich, mentor to troubled youths who grew into Major League stars; and amateur golfer and author Gary Shemano.

“What we’re trying to do is set a tone for Jewish kids. Jews don’t necessarily have to be entertainers or scholars or professionals,” said winston, who has long used only lower-case letters in his name because it sticks in people’s memories.

“Especially during tough times, athletics was an avenue for Jews to succeed in life.”

With the exception of Rosenbaum, who died in 2003 at 91, all the honorees will be present at the ceremony.

Harris Barton is the name that probably resonates the most for j. readers. Barton was the Niners’ first-round draft pick in 1987 out of North Carolina. The Peninsula resident played on three Super Bowl teams, blocking to give Joe Montana and then Steve Young the time to make the plays that still grace highlight reels.

• Before the days of 24-hour sports coverage, Art Rosenbaum’s Chronicle column was the “SportsCenter” of its day. A writer, columnist and editor for more than 50 years, he was initially hired as a high-school stringer in the 1920s on the basis that he was a proficient typist.

• It’s news enough that, in her early 50s, Aerial Gilbert was recently named to the U.S. National Adaptive Rowing Team. But, even more amazing, Gilbert is blind. After losing her sight in 1988, the former nurse rediscovered her old college sport, rowing. “As long as you have someone to guide the boat down the river, you’re on an equal field,” the Petaluma resident told j. in 2004.

• If not for Sam Bercovich, baseball fans would be poorer indeed. Through his Oakland youth leagues and his mentoring activities, the longtime Temple Beth Abraham congregant and nonagenarian pointed future legends like Frank Robinson, Curt Flood and Vada Pinson in the direction of the Big Leagues.

• Along with noted sportswriters Art Spander and Dick Schaap, Gary Shemano penned “Keeping on Course: Golf Tips on Avoiding the Sandtraps of Today’s Business World.” Shemano is no stranger to the golf course — he’s a multiple medal-winner in the Maccabi Games and has racked up a number of amateur titles. Locally, he’s won the Lake Merced club championship at least 15 times.

For more information about the ceremony, contact winston at (650) 738-9400.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.