by Jim Riggs
February 19, 2008
Hall of Fame Quarterback Helps Honor Hall of Fame Inductees
Lakewood – A Hall of Fame quarterback helped the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame induct its newest honorees on Monday night at the Lakewood Rod & Gun Club.Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002, was the guest speaker at the organization’s 27th annual induction dinner where John Alm, Denny Meszaros, Brian Whalen and the late Tom Leach were honored.
Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame president Ron Melquist noted that brings the total of inductees to 118.
And as an added highlight, a 2007 inductee, Phil Gravink was in attendance. He could not attend his induction last year because he was in Europe. However, Gravink traveled from Jackson, N.H., to be at Monday night's induction.
Alm, known as the “Father of Youth Hockey” in this area, was the first inductee honored. He wouldn’t take the credit alone for the success of the sport in this area since the Bemus Point native turned his Driftwood barn into a hockey rink in the 1960s when no other artificial ice surfaces were available.
"I have an endless list of names I could say and we don’t have enough time,” Alm said in his short and humble acceptance.
But later in the program Mike Ferguson, the general manager of the Jamestown Savings Bank Ice Arena, said, “The Jamestown Savings Bank Ice Arena would not be there if not for the efforts of John and his crew.”
The next inductee honored was Leach, a native of French Creek, who was the last surviving player from the 1903 World Series, the first ever played, when he passed away in 1969. He played 19 years in the National League at third base or center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Red. He played on four pennant-winning teams and in two World Series.
His plaque and ring were accepted by Rebecca Brumagin, the vice president of the Findley Lake and Mina Historical Society.
Brumagin said she first learned of Leach from Jamestown attorney and sports historian Greg Peterson who said, “Do you know there’s a major-league baseball player from your corner of the county.”
She studied up on Leach, who was ranked 27th of the top 100 all-time Pittsburgh players in “The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia.” And despite all of Leach’s success, Brumagin said, “His small-town Chautauqua County roots were there. Tommy carried with him the values of Chautauqua County.”
Meszaros, was the baseball coach for 32 years at Falconer Central School and compiled a 509-269 record. In that time, Meszaros’ teams won 13 league championships, they were a playoff qualifier 12 times, they won one state title and were the state runner-up three times.
“What makes all this possible is friends and family,” said Meszaros. “With the support of friends, family and players, it’s easy to accept this award.”
He added, “This is an honor I will remember and appreciate for the rest of my life.”
Like Meszaros, Whalen also was astounded by the family members and friends in attendance for his honor. And he’s had an abundance of honors in shooting by winning numerous state and national skeet and trap shooting honors from the late 1970’s to the present. In 1978, the Jamestown native was the New York State and Eastern Zone skeet champion and in 1991 he was the New York State trap champion.
Whalen mentioned a philosopher once said you can count your worth by the number of friends and said, “Tonight I feel like a millionaire.”
He listed many of the friends he shoots with and capped the list with a special one – “My wife, Bonnie.”
Whalen’s impressive biography, read by Jason Sample of MediaOne, wasn’t overlooked by Kelly, who is also a trap and skeet shooter.
“You might not understand how impressive those stats are,” Kelly said. “Those are definitely worthy of the hall of fame.”
But before Kelly spoke, he had to adjust the microphone, which was a bit low for the former quarterback.
“What did you think, Doug Flutie was coming?,” he asked.
He related the small town atmosphere of Chautauqua County with his life when growing up in East Brady, Pa., where the high school no longer exists because of a lack of students.
How small was East Brady?
“They retired my number away one year and then gave it back the next,” he said.
He had dreamed of playing quarterback at Penn State and was recruited by the Nittany Lions, but when Coach Joe Paterno said they had signed two all-state quarterbacks, Kelly knew he had to look elsewhere.
He chose the University of Miami and as a red-shirt freshman he got his first start at Penn State and led the Hurricanes to a 26-10 victory. But in the fifth game of his senior year season, Kelly severely injured his right arm, his throwing arm, which required three steel rods.
He battled back from the injury and was going to be an early pick in the 1983 NFL draft. He mentioned to his agent the northern teams he didn’t want to play for and said, “I sure don’t want to play for the Buffalo Bills.
And when the Bills selected him as the 14th pick, Kelly recalled, “I cried.”
He went on to sign with the Houston Gamblers of the United States Football League and played there for two seasons in a totally pass-oriented offense.
“That was one of the major reasons why I go to where I’m at,” Kelly said.
In 1986 he signed with Buffalo, which he calls one of his best decisions. The Bills would agree, as he eventually led them to four straight Super Bowls.
But Kelly said the highlight of his life was when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. It was not his induction that stood out, but who was there to witness it – his son, Hunter.
Hunter had been born in 1997 with Krabbe-Leukodystrophy, an inherited, fatal nervous system disease, and he was expected to live only a few years. But he was 5 when he witnessed his father’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
At the conclusion of the dinner, the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame presented a $10,000 check to Kelly’s Hunter’s Hope Foundation.
The invocation and benediction were handled by Pastor Ron Lemon of Koinonia Christian Fellowship in Frewsburg and Tony Dolce sang the national anthem.
Before the four new inductees were honored, area high school and junior college teams and athletes were honored for their accomplishments that were listed by banquet chairman Chip Johnson. Later, master of ceremonies Russ Diethrick asked any former inductees to stand and be recognized. Then with a smile he “warned” the high school and college athletes who had been honored, “That’s what you’ll look like in 30 years.”
The high school and junior college honorees are listed below:
Clymer Central School
ALEX LICTUS: Class D All-State Baseball First Team
MARK RHODES: Class D All-State Football First Team
Dunkirk High School
JOE POLICHETTI : Class A All-State Baseball First Team
Falconer Central School
NEAL NELSON: Class C All-State Football First Team
Fredonia Central School
KENNY BETTS: State 135-Pound Small School Champion
Frewsburg Central School
CAEL JOHNSON: Class C All-State Baseball First Team
Jamestown Community College
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM: NJCAA Academic Team of Year
(3.4 team GPA, Coach Keith Martin)
Maple Grove High School
NICK BLACK: Class D All-State Football First Team
TOM SECKY: Class D All-State Football First Team
Pine Valley Central School
BASEBALL TEAM: Class D State Champions
CHARLES LADUCA: State Class D Coach of Year
JON HOWARD: State Class D Player of Year, All-State First Team
Ripley Central School
SAMANTHA EIMERS: Class D Softball All-State First Team
Southwestern Central School
GOLF TEAM: State Scholar-Athletic Team
Coach Mark Sleggs
FOOTBALL TEAM: State Scholar-Athletic Team
Coach Jay Sirianni
CHRIS STODDARD: All-State Golf First Team
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.