The United States Sports Academy unveiled a bronze bust of legendary soccer player Pelé done by renowned St. Louis sculptor Harry Weber.
The unveiling Wednesday, March 28 at the Academy’s American Sport Art Museum and Archives (ASAMA) in Daphne, Ala, was led by retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Hankins, the president of the Alabama Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (AAICU), and Mr. Robert Campbell III, Esq., the Chairman of the Academy’s Board of Trustees.
“The sculpture is an inspiration to all soccer players and everyone young and old who knows of Pelé,” said Hankins, who worked to build a major soccer complex in Montgomery, Ala., that is scheduled to open this summer. “It is very special to have a replica of the Pelé bust here.”
The original bust of a smiling Pelé created by Weber, the Academy’s 2011 Sport Artist of the Year, was commissioned by Gabon President Ali Bongo and is now featured in the VIP section of the West Africa nation’s new national stadium in its capital city, Libreville.
Pelé was on hand for the unveiling of the sculpture in Gabon, which was part of a Feb. 9 dedication ceremony of the country’s new 40,000-seat Friendship Stadium during the African soccer championships. A photograph of “King Pelé” kissing the bust of him on the cheek circulated in newspapers around the globe after that ceremony.
A replica of the Pelé bust now also greets all entrants to ASAMA. Fairhope, Ala., artist Bruce Larsen, the Academy’s 2009 Sport Artist of the Year, constructed a pedestal for the bust that was installed by the university’s Matthew Cope and Robert Kline.
Weber’s sculptures of famous sports figures are prominent features at more than a dozen different professional and college stadiums, including Busch Stadium in St. Louis. He has installed monumental works in 12 different states and the Bahamas.
Hankins, who has grown AAICU into one of the best state independent college organizations in the country, is a longtime athlete and advocate for youth sports. Hankins recently put together a public-private partnership to build a major soccer complex in Montgomery, Ala., which is scheduled to open by the summer of 2012. He is also a member of the Central Alabama Sports Commission charged with promoting the growth of sports and sporting events in the central part of the state.
The Academy honored Hankins with a 2011 Distinguished Service Award for his leadership of an association that serves 14 independent higher education institutions in Alabama and for his tireless involvement in various non-profit and public organizations.
Campbell, who has served on the Academy’s Board of Trustees since 1993, is a senior partner for the law firm of Campbell, Duke and Prine in Mobile, Ala. He is recognized as one of the top education lawyers in the country and has argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.