by Jim Riggs
February 18, 2003
Area’s Best Saluted
Because of the winter storm on the East Coast that spread into this area, it was already known that Joanne Fox, the wife of the late Nellie Fox, would not be able to make the drive from Chambersburg, Pa., to accept her husband’s honor.
However, another inductee, Nolan Swanson, was flying from Houston to Buffalo, but his flight was delayed because of the weather.
And the guest speaker, Buffalo Bills tight end Jay Riemersma, was flying from Detroit to Erie, where he was supposed to arrive at 1:30 p.m. However, his flight had been delayed twice.
So a couple of hours before the program was to begin, it appeared the show might go on with only two inductees present, Dick Barton and Joe Sanfilippo, and no guest speaker. But 30 minutes before dinner was served, both Swanson and Riemersma arrived and the evening at the Holiday Inn went on without a hitch as banquet chairman Chip Johnson made his opening remarks.
“We had him on track on inflight.com, but he wasn’t going anywhere,” Hall of Fame president Ron Melquist told the packed house about Riemersma’s situation throughout the day.
Fortunately, he was in contact with Riemersma, while he didn’t know the situation of Swanson, a Sherman native who was being inducted for his success in track and cross country.
“If he was running from Sherman, we wouldn’t have been concerned,” Melquist said.
By the time the program began at 8 p.m., it was just like old times, particularly with John Gurtler handling the master of ceremonies chores for the fourth time, but first since 1994.
“The last time I was here I was 30 pounds lighter, I didn’t need glasses and Buffalo had a hockey team,” joked the former voice of the Buffalo Sabres.
The biography of area dirt-track racing legend Barton was read by one of his team members, Randy Anderson, who said it was “The most prestigious honor in his illustrious career.”
And Barton’s career has been illustrious with 185 victories and 36 titles at 13 different tracks during 18 years behind the wheel in late model competition. And he pointed out he preferred that to standing behind the microphone.
“Somebody’s going to have to tell me how I can drive a race car 140 mph and not be the least bit nervous,” Barton said.
Barton credited his father for giving up his beloved golf on Sundays to take his son to go-kart tracks and then his Uncle Rod – “He taught me everything I know about racing.”
To be successful in racing, Barton pointed out that his wife, Joan, and children sacrificed. However, he recalled the summer he took off from racing until a driver asked him to fill in for only two weeks.
“Twenty-three years later….,” he said smiling at his wife.
Barton also gave credit to his other family – his team.
“We like to think of ourselves as the Rolling Stones we’ve been together so long,” he said. “It’s for all of us that I want to take this opportunity to thank the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
Todd Peterson read the bio of Fox and the other inductees.
Fox, who passed away in 1975, became the first former Jamestown professional baseball player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997. His plaque and ring were accepted by Jamestown lawyer Greg Peterson, who was a member of a group that worked for Fox’s induction into Cooperstown, and Lyle Parkhurst, a past inductee who played with Fox on the 1944 Jamestown Falcons, who were the champions of the PONY League.
Parkhurst recalled a 1944 playoff game in which he was pitching with a one-run lead in the top of the ninth when a Batavia batter hit a monster drive to center field, but Fox chased it down and made a diving catch.
Parkhurst said he often wondered why the manager had asked him to pitch in that important game, but said, “If you had Nellie Fox out there you didn’t have to worry about who was pitching.”
After playing the outfield, Fox went on to become a premier second baseman with the Philadelphia Athletics, Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros. And his top season was 1959 when he was named the American League Most Valuable Player while leading the White Sox to the pennant.
Peterson had been in contact with Mrs. Fox, who regretted not being able to attend. She had mentioned before that her husband was always referred to as a small player with a very large heart and she always thought of Jamestown as a small city with a very large heart.
Sanfilippo usually spends the winter in Florida, but said, “I stayed here and got cold this year.”
And he stayed to be honored for his success as a high school football coach.
“This isn’t bad,” he said looking at a table filled with his children, and mainly grandchildren, “They don’t know me and what I’ve done in my life.”
Some of what he had done is coach his Gallup, N.M. team to two state titles and one runner-up spot before returning to Western New York. Then he won 11 titles in 17 years as the coach at Salamanca before moving on to his alma mater, Jamestown, where he compiled a 48-22-2 record in his last eight years that included two Division 1 titles and four one-loss seasons.
Sanfilippo, who had also starred on Jamestown football team, mentioned Morris Mistretta, his former coach Dent Moon and Al Ayers as three people at JHS who made a huge influence on his life.
He also gave credit to his wife of nearly 50 years, Rose.
“I’m a winner on the football field, but a loser at home,” Sanfilippo said with a laugh about who was in charge on the homefront.
After winning a state cross country title at Sherman Central School and earning the Atlantic Coast Conference cross country title at Wake Forest (which rank among the top of his many honors at each place), Swanson turned pro and now lives in Springfield, Ore. Swanson explained some people have asked, “Why not use your degree and get a job?”
He continued, “The answer to that is running is my job and I love my job.”
He recalled when he started running at Sherman, Coach (Arden Downey) and I made our mission to go after a state title.”
And with that accomplished he set a similar goal at college and captured the ACC crown.
He pointed to a reason he was able to accomplish those feats.
“Chautauqua County is an incredible place,” said Swanson, who has run all over the United States and the world. “The people provide what kids need to make it.”
That is why after accepting the Hall of Fame plaque and ring, he left some of the top medals to be given to the Chautauqua Striders, Sherman Central School, his coaches and his parents.
Riemersma was the last to speak and explained, “It was a rough haul coming over here from Michigan. It’s been a long night, but it’s been a great night. Nothing but a banquet like this captures what it is like to be an athlete.”
He hopes to continue to be an athlete in Buffalo.
“My situation is pretty tenuous,” he said about his status with the Bills, who intend to release the tight end if he doesn’t take a significant pay cut.
He has played seven years in Buffalo and would prefer to stay there.
“I don’t think that’s an experience I’ll have anywhere else,” the team’s No. 2 all-time receiver at tight end said.
Also honored by the Hall of Fame were the following first-team all-state football players: Andy Sturzenbecker of Jamestown, Jehuu Caulcrick (who was also the Class D player of the year) and John Nickerson of Clymer, and Peter Briggs, Nick Gatto and Kyle Swanson of Maple Grove.
Honored for winning state all-around championships from the YMCA gymnastics team were Haley Bator, Ashley Bauer, Erin Hannon, Michelle LeMeur, Mikinna Martin, Carlye Swanson and Chantelle Swanson.
Jamestown Jammers general manager Eric Edelstein gave an update on the New York-Penn League baseball team, the Rev. Richard T. Schaffer of First Congregational United Church of Christ gave the invocation and benediction, and the third Generation Barber Shop Quarter of Norm Herby, Harry Glatz, Hans Stein and Jerry Pask sang the national anthem.