by Jim Riggs
February 19, 2002
A Night Of Honors
The population of the Chautauqua Sports hall of Fame moved closer to 100 Monday night as four more inductees were honored at the Holiday Inn.
The total reached 93 as Robert M. Erickson, Van Miller, the late Craig Paterniti and Bobby Schnars were inducted before a packed house.
Erickson, a Jamestown High School graduate who now lives in Durham, N.C., mentioned he always visited the Chautauqua Sport Hall of Fame whenever he returned to the area.
“I never dreamed this opportunity would be achieved by me,” he said after accepting his Hall of Fame plaque and ring from Ron Melquist, the organization’s president.
Erickson had been a basketball and football standout at JHS in the mid 1930s and was an All-Western New York selection in the latter. That earned him a scholarship offer from Syracuse University, but he went on to play four years of football and basketball at the Richmond University. His prowess football earned Erickson an invitation to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 1946 training camp, but he couldn’t accept because of a softball injury suffered that summer.
Because of those accomplishments, someone mentioned to Erickson they were going to submit his name as a candidate for the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
“There’s not a chance in Hades I’ll be inducted,” was Erickson’s comment.
Miller, a Dunkirk native, just completed his 35th season as the radio voice of the Buffalo Bills, but Jim Roselle of WJTN Radio, who introduced three of the inductees, pointed out he gave Miller his “start” in football broadcasting.
Roselle was working part time at WJTN when he accepted a full-time position at a Harrisburg, Pa. station that wanted him to start right away. One of his jobs at WJTN was broadcasting JHS football games and he would have to miss the last game of the season against Warren. He informed station owner Si Goldman he would have to find a replacement and Goldman remembered a young broadcaster in Dunkirk, so Miller ended up doing the Warren-Jamestown game.
Miller was already familiar with Jamestown because as a member of the Dunkirk basketball team he defeated the Red Raiders with a shot from more than half-court at the buzzer.
“This is a wonderful city with a great sports tradition,” Miller said, “I’ll wear this ring with honor.”
Paterniti, who passed away in 1998 at the age of 46, might be the best athlete ever to come out of Falconer Central School and also one of the best in Western New York. That’s because he was one of the few athletes in WNY and the only one in Chautauqua County to earn all-WNY honors in football, basketball and baseball.
Paterniti was drafted by the Cleveland Indians, but chose to attend Ithaca College, where he had an outstanding career as a pitcher.
“If he could be here tonight, I know he’d be honored,” said Paterniti’s son, Tony, who accepted his late father’s plaque and ring. “I had no idea of his athletic accomplishments… He never said how good he was, he didn’t want to do that. He wanted me to be as good as he was before he could tell me.”
Area auto racing fans knew how good Schnars was because in 20 years of racing, mainly at Stateline and Eriez Speedways, he piled up 136 late model feature wins and 45 more in the sportsman class. When his victories at other area tracks are added on, Schnars is near the 200 level.
Those accomplishments were listed by Dick Barton, one of the current top drivers in the area.
Schnars recalled it all started with his first car, a 1950 Oldsmobile in which he removed the muffler and windows and added a seatbelt and a rollbar.
“I never had any idea it would turn out to be a hall of fame deal,” Schnars said.
Someone who could be considered for the Baseball Hall of Fame because of his longevity was guest speaker Tommy John, who pitched for 26 seasons 1963 through 1989 for the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, California Angels and Oakland Athletics,
And that’s with the entire 1975 off when he was recovering from what is known as “Tommy John Surgery.” That was a revolutionary surgical procedure that involved taking a tendon from his right forearm and it was used in reconstruction of his left elbow.
John’s long career was accomplished with only two pitches. He recalled before his first professional start, he saw a pitcher with a five-pitch arsenal get shelled. John called his father at home in Indiana and said he didn’t think he would last long because he had only a fastball and a curve. His father’s advice was “Remember who you are and where you come from.”
John won his first pro start and he didn’t start developing a third pitch until his final season in the major leagues when he was 46.
John pointed out that baseball is the most democratic sport because your size doesn’t always matter,
“If you have talent you have to work at it,” he said. “The secret of baseball is practice and practice and practice and practice.”
But John is not pleased with the practices of the current major league team owners. He pointed out they should look at themselves as 30 partners in a business who want to do what is good for the business. Instead, they are 30 owners looking out for themselves.
“I don’t think it can take a strike,” John said about major league baseball. “If there is another work stoppage it won’t survive.”
The emcee for the event was Paul Peck of WIVB-TV while another guest speaker was Denny Lynch of the Buffalo Bills, who has the new position of Director of Archives.
The invocation and benediction were by Rev. Roy E. Ferguson of the Busti Church of God, the national anthem was sung by Bill Ward and Jamestown mayor Sam Teresi gave the opening remarks. The induction dinner chairman was Chip Johnson.