by Jim Riggs
February 20, 2007
Gravink, Higbee, Furlow, Nagel Are Newest Inductees
A couple of new sports and a couple of familiar ones were highlighted on Monday night at the Holiday Inn as the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame honored its 2007 inductees.
Phil Gravink was honored for his accomplishments in rowing and Shawn Higbee for his motorcycle racing, a couple of sports not listed among past inductees. Also inducted were Ron “Skip” Furlow, the third standout auto racer from the area to be inducted, and Jolene Nagel, the second women’s college volleyball coach to be honored by the organization.
Gravink, a Clymer native, was a member of the Cornell University crew from 1953-57 and in 1957 it won the Royal Henley Regatta. Monday night was the third hall-of-fame induction for Gravink, one of the founders of Peek’n Peak Resort. He has previously been inducted into the Cornell Sports Hall of Fame and the Rowing Hall of Fame.
Gravink was unable to attend because he is in Tasmania with his wife, Shirley, on a bicycling vacation, so his Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame plaque and ring were accepted from induction dinner chairman Chip Johnson by his son, Brad.
“We are truly sorry we can’t be at this special event,” Brad read from a letter by his father.
In the letter, Gravink related how a knee injury suffered in football led to him try rowing and with outstanding results.
Gravink mentioned in his letter he is also pleased a local rowing club is starting.
“A rowing club will present something to everyone, young and old,” Gravink wrote.
Higbee, a Jamestown native, has been one of the top pro motorcycle racers since the early 1990s and has won three national championships. In 1994 he won the American Motorcycle Association Harley-Davidson championship, in 1997 he was the National ASB Harley-Davidson Twinsport world champion and in 2001 he was the Formula USA Unlimited Superbike champ.
“It’s great to be back in my hometown,” said Higbee, who now lives in Wisconsin.
The Southwestern Central School graduate said he was still awed by the induction honor and said, “I’m sure when I’m older I will have a better perspective on it.”
Higbee was on the wrestling, football and cross country teams at Southwestern, but said, “I never felt fulfilled.”
That’s when he turned all his interest to motorcycle racing.
“It seemed like my niche,” he said.
Furlow is third on the all-time list of late-model winners on the Stateline-Eriez Circuit with 76 behind Bobby Schnars, who was inducted into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame in 2002, and Dick Barton, a 2003 inductee who introduced Furlow Monday night.
Furlow, a Panama Central School graduate, had numerous people to thank for the success of his long racing career. But he summed it up with, “Above all, I would like to thank my wife, Valerie, who has been beside me for all these years.”
Nagel, another Panama graduate, was recently named the Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year for women’s volleyball after she led her Duke University squad to its first conference championship since 1994. She also received the honor in 2001. Prior to coaching at Duke, Nagel was the head coach at Georgetown and Cornell.
She joins Sonya Hanson, who was the women’s volleyball coach at Tulane University when she was inducted in 1991.
“There’s a lot of people who have guided me along this journey,” said Nagel, who was inducted into the Edinboro University Hall of Fame after playing on its women’s volleyball team that made three national championship appearances.
And her journey began at Panama where she played volleyball, softball and basketball under Coach Debbie Palmer in the 1970s when girls high school sports in the area were just starting. She noted her older sister did get the opportunity to play sports and Nagel mentioned that the first time she played a sport with a ball was in the sixth grade.
“It all began here in Chautauqua County and I can’t get back enough,” Nagel said.
She also noted her concern about attending the induction dinner because of the recent winter weather. However, her son stressed she had to make it to her induction.
“If you don’t get in, you might never get in,” he said.
Speaking of getting in the hall of fame, that is what the guest speaker, Rich “Goose” Gossage, is attempting after a 21-year pitching career with nine different teams – the Chicago White Sox, Pittsburgh, the New York Yankees, San Diego, the Chicago Cubs, San Francisco, Texas, Oakland and Seattle. This year Gossage came closest to induction into the Cooperstown shrine and the odds are looking good for him to make it in 2008.
“I wanted to put on a big league uniform one time and that one time turned into 21 years, “ Gossage told the capacity crowd after he was introduced by master of ceremonies Mike Ferguson.
Gossage enjoyed every team he played for and every city he played in, but he grew up rooting for the Yankees as a youngster in Colorado Springs. So signing with New York as a free agent in 1978 was something special.
When I put on the pinstripes with the Yankees, something happened,” Gossage said.
What mainly happened was pressure and in his first three appearances of the 1978 season on the road, he gave up three walk-off home runs. At the home opener, Gossage was introduced last because of his uniform number, 54, and he received an “ovation.”
“I brought the house downs with boos,” Gossage recalled.
And he added that teammate Ken Holtzman, standing next to him, pointed out, “They’re not yelling ‘Goose!’”
It took two-and-a-half months for Gossage to turn his game around and it also took a while for the team to get on track. After being 14 games behind Boston, the Yankees went on to win the World Series.
He recalled that on the team’s World Series rings was inscribed “The Greatest Comeback Ever.” And he pointed out to his teammates, “It never would have been the greatest comeback if I didn’t dig us that hole.”
Everything started Monday night when the national anthem was sung by 9-year-old Sam Lindblom and the invocation and benediction were given by the Rev. Steve Wiggers from Panama United Methodist Church. The induction dinner welcome was by Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame president Ron Melquist and Todd Peterson read the introductions of three of the inductees.
The organization also honored 24 area athletes who won state or national honors since the 2006 induction dinner. They are listed below:
Sheldon Battle, University of Kansas
NCAA All-American, shot put; Kansas men’s indoor field athlete of the year.
Blaze Cheer Stars Cheerleaders
Small Coed Division national champions
Chris Conti, Fredonia Central School
96-pound state wrestling champion
Samantha Eimers, Ripley Central School
Class D softball first-team all-state
Adam Erickson, Falconer Central School
Class C football first-team all-state
Female bowhunter class national champion
Andy Frank, Jamestown Community College
NJCAA Division III golf All-American
Fredonia Central School Baseball Team
State Class B champion
Isaac Gatewood, Falconer Central School
Class C football first-team all-state
Vince Gullo, Fredonia Central School
State Class B baseball coach of the year
Brian Gunnell, Falconer Central School
Class B baseball first-team all-state
Andrew Hale, Frewsburg Central School
State pentathlon champion
Jacquie Holmberg, Falconer Central School
State discus champion
13-14 Youth Male Release Division champion
Jamestown Community College Women’s Swim Team
NJCAA non-scholarship national champion
Cael Johnson, Frewsburg Central School
Class C baseball first-team all-state
8-9 Division state all-around gymnastics champion
Member of USA Hockey National Disabled Festival sled hockey national championship team
Alicia Morley, Cassadaga Valley Central School
Class C softball first-team all-state
Abe Rak, Fredonia Central School
State Class B baseball player of the year
Dustin Raynor, Maple Grove High School
Class D football first-team all-state
Northeast Regional BMX champion
Andy Schettine, Silver Creek Central School
Class C football first-team all-state
Sophie Mae Sellstrom
State JV female skiing champion