The Post-Journal

Winners Stand Out at Induction Dinner

Larry Playfair has been around sports long enough to know how it feels to experience success.

He was the Buffalo Sabres’ first round pick and 13th overall in the 1978 amateur draft.

He played with the likes of Hall of Fame hockey great Gill Perreault and Wayne Gretzky during his 12 year career with the Sabres and the Los Angeles Kings.

And he saw action in 43 National Hockey League playoff games.

“Winning does something good for your soul,” said Playfair Monday night at the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame Induction Dinner at the Holiday Inn. “And it’s neat to be with a bunch of winners tonight.”

“A bunch of winners” were definitely the appropriate adjectives for Bob Gunnell, Marilyn Hale, Sam Hammerstrom and Sonya Hanson who were honored at a dinner attended by about 300 people.

Gunnell was inducted for his accomplishments in golf, Hale in small-bore rifle and pistol shooting, Hammerstrom in high school and collegiate football and Hanson in speedskating.

“I didn’t know much about golf until I was 22,” Gunnell said. “Once I got started, I was hooked.”

The Chautauqua Golf Club member know as the “Gunner,” has long been recognized as one of the area’s premier golfers and is coming off a season that saw him earn one of the two area berths for the United States Golf Association Senior Amateur Championship in Carefree, Ariz.

Yet, Gunnells first time out on the links years ago resulted in him shooting in the high 90’s.

Still he remained undaunted.

“I went to the library, read books and hit balls every day,” Gunnell said. “Within a couple of months, I had it down to 75, so there’s still hope for you guys.”

Gunnell recalled some of his career highlights, but admitted that what makes golf enjoyable are the “friends you make and the different people you play with.”

“I just try and play every day and I’m hitting the ball farther than ever,” Gunnell said.

One person who could usually be found hitting a target was Hale, who joins her husband George in the Hall of Fame.

Winner of numerous area, state, regional and national titles, Hale said that shooting enhances self-discipline and concentration, and permits anyone whether a man or woman to compete on equal terms.

“This is the highlight of my life,” said Hale who watched her husband be inducted in 1987 for his accomplishments in horseshoe pitching. “I’m truly honored and I’ll never forget it.”

Hammerstrom who generated interest from the New York Giants and the Detroit Lions in 1940 spiced his talk with quips about football ”then and now.”

“If we played under our rules we’d win because the ball was a pumpkin (back then) and they (current day players) wouldn’t be able to hold it,” he said.

One of four brothers, Hammerstrom said he accepted the award "in the name of my family.”

“Three of them were football captains and one was president of the senior class (in high school),” he said. “You can see why I look at this as a family honor.”

Hanson, at 30 the youngest inductee into the Hall of Fame, joins her father, Bob, who was inducted in 1983. She and her father are the second father-daughter combination to be enshrined. The first was Brad Rendell and Kay Gould.

“This position couldn’t have been attained without the people and the opportunities here in Chautauqua County,” said Hanson, who is now volleyball coach at Tulane University.

After her speed-skating success as a youth, Hanson later made a name for herself in basketball, volleyball and softball, all sports that she has coached at the collegiate level.

She credited her success to her family, choosing to quote the lyrics from a song by pop artist, Bette Midler.

“I can fly higher than an eagle, but you are the wind beneath my wings,” Hanson said.

Other speakers on the dais; were Steve Pollachik, supervisor of youth clinics for the Buffalo Bisons; Playfair now the Sabres’ director of special events; Tom O’Reilly, general manager of the Jamestown Expos; and Walt Corey defensive coordinator and linebacker coach of the Buffalo Bills. John Gurtler, the Sabres’ public relations director was the Master of Ceremonies.

“Behind every inductee is a good person,” Corey said. “Without the people who care, you very seldom get to get anywhere.”

Special recognition was given to area athletes and coaches by Hall of Fame president, Denny Lundberg. They were Todd Chitester, a Class C-D first team All-State linebacker at Frewsburg Central School and his coach, Tom Sharp; Jill Bornand, a first-team all state volleyball player at Mayville Central School and her coach, Penny Hite, who guided the Lady Eagles to a Class D state title and Ken Erickson, a national drug-free power-lifting champion.

Kurt Eimiller, a member of the Division III national champion Alleghany College football team, was also recognized, but was unable to attend.

Lundberg also made check presentations of $600 apiece from the Hall of Fame to Clyde Card, president of the Chautauqua County Youth Hockey Association and Tim Anderson, one of the coaches of the Jamestown Area Water Sports Swim Club.

Todd Peterson introduced the inductees; the Rev. Thomas C. Grundstom, pastor of First Covenant Church, gave the invocations, Gary Kindberg sang the national anthem accompanied by Gladys Peterson and banquet chairman, Chip Johnson, offered opening remarks.

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.