Sports Night Through the Years: A Tough Act to Follow

The roots of York Area Sports Night stretch back to 1963, when Sam Shipley, then president of Shipley Oil Company (now Shipley Energy), wondered why Harrisburg and Lancaster could host exciting sports shows but not York.

After sampling both, he called a meeting of three dozen York area sports enthusiasts and announced plans for a York Area sports night. He said his company would sponsor the event for five or six years before turning it over to the community. However, he insisted on two key points of differentiation from the other area shows. One, we would eliminate the pre-show cocktail party that sometimes led guests to tell stories that were inappropriate for children. And two, we would eliminate the head table with a bunch of celebrities yakking… instead, he wanted “action.”

The first show took place in 1964… and what a debut…with karate, wrestling, fly casting, skiing, and of course, weightlifting. In addition, guests included Jesse Owens, Army football coach Paul Dietzel, Steve Barber of the Orioles, Dallas Green of the Phillies, Elston Howard of the Yankees, Irv Cross of the Eagles, Lenny Moore and John Unitas of the Colts.

Tough act to follow, right? Yet, over the years, Sports Night has hosted Jim Brown, Rich Allen, Joe Dimaggio, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Hank Aaron, Herb Adderly, Hal Greer, Frank Robinson, Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, Miss America Judy Ford, even Maurice Richard… all the while, mixing bonafide celebrity with a compelling action component.

The recipe still works. Four decades later, the franchise is still built upon that lasting blend of big name celebrities and action-packed demonstrations… a combination which leaves people buzzing long after they’ve left the auditorium.