by Jim Riggs
February 16, 2010
Hall Of Fame Population Increases By Five
Art Asquith, the late Ray Caldwell, Dave Criscione, Pat Damore and Tara VanDerveer were the honored fivesome. And after they were inducted, the big “pinch-hitter” of the day, former Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas, presented humor and ended his talk with a serious message to cap the evening.
Former NFL quarterback Ken Stabler was the scheduled guest speaker, but he was unable to attend because of the poor weather conditions in the South and was unable to get a flight out of Atlanta. Thomas was contacted early Monday morning and agreed to be the guest speaker.
The inductees were presented their plaques and rings by Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame president Ron Melquist and the first to be honored was Asquith, who last fall was inducted into the Western New York Baseball Hall of Fame in recognition for his outstanding amateur career. He also played in the minor league for the New York Yankees organization.
After his professional playing days were over, the Cassadaga resident coached numerous sports for more than 50 years at Cassadaga Valley Central School.
Cassadaga Valley football and girls basketball coach Mark Petersen presented Asquith and noted he started at CVCS in 1955, the year Peterson was born. Peterson knew he had obtained the approval of Asquith when he put an “ie” at the end of his name and called him Markie.
Asquith said one of the reasons for being able to coach for 50 years was the support of his wife of 53 years, Judy.
“Many of those years she was wondering where I was going,” he said referring to numerous games, practices and scouting trips.
He also thanked the Chautauqua County officials.
“Every time they pointed a finger at me, I deserved it,” he said.
Caldwell was a former resident of Frewsburg after his career as a spitballer in the major leagues for New York, Boston and Cleveland from 1910-21. He passed away in 1967 in Salamanca and was presented by Russ Diethrick, a past inductee.
Diethrick pointed out his many accomplishments, such as pitching a no-hitter against the Yankees in 1919 and finishing his career with1,016 stikeouts and 21 shutouts. At one time Washington offered to trade Walter Johnson for Caldwell.
He also pitched for Cleveland in the 1920 World Series. His most famous event with Cleveland was when he was struck by lightning after pitching 8 2/3 against Philadelphia. Caldwell was knocked unconscious, but when he regained consciousness he continued to pitch and got the final out for the complete game win.
Caldwell’s step-daughter, Jacqueline Christianson of Jamestown, accepted his plaque and ring. She noted Caldwell played in the majors before she was born, but she recalled him taking her to her first major league game in 1939 which was very memorable.
She was also excited to be on the podium with the guest speaker.
“Thurman Thomas was always one of my favorites,” she said.
The baseball trend continued when Dunkirk native Criscione was honored. He was one of the best baseball players in the North County and took his talents all the way to the major leagues where he played for the Baltimore Orioles in 1977.
He was presented by his older brother, Pete, a past inductee. He noted his younger brother began hitting pitches when he was 2.
“We knew something was going to go right for this guy,” he said.
Pete also recalled when his brother was 12 and playing youth baseball, he was once walked with the bases loaded.
A professional highlight was when Dave was with the Orioles and hit an 11th-inning walk-off home run against Milwaukee.
“It was probably one of the biggest thrills of my life,” Pete recalled.
Dave noted that he played under rather fiery coaches and managers, staring with Al Stuhmiller at Dunkirk and then in professional baseball two of his managers were Billy Martin and Earl Weaver.
He also reflected another past CSHOF inductee.
“One of the toughest competitors I played against was the late Craig Paterniti,” he said. “I wish he could be here.”
In 1979, Damore was named the first commissioner of the State University of New York Athletic Conference, a position he still holds. He is currently the longest-serving commissioner in the NCAA in any division.
That was pointed out by his presenter, Fredonia State athletic director Greg Prechtl, who took that position after Damore held it for 30 years.
Damore had been a successful four-sport star at Oswego High School and Prechtl noted, “The success he experienced as an athlete followed him as a coach (at Fredonia State).”
Damore noted he attended a minor league baseball game in Oswego when he was 8 and that started his love of sports.
“I would like to thank my family for allowing me to pursue my goals,” he said.
He added that his parents came to the United States from Italy and it was his mother who learned to read English and would read the newspaper to her husband. But his father was very upset when his mother read an account of a game in which Damore stole two bases. He recalled his father said, “Take the two bases back and apologize for it.”
The last inductee was VanDerveer, the head women’s basketball coach at Stanford, which is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation with a 23-1 record. She has led Stanford to two national championships and was also the head coach for the 1996 Olympic gold medal team.
VanDerveer has been a summer resident of Chautauqua Institution for nearly 40 years. Her presenter, Nancy Bargar, pointed out, “No one in this room loves Chautauqua County more than Tara VanDerveer.”
VanDerveer was counselor for many summers at the Chautauqua Boys and Girls Club and Bargar noted, “One of the best teachers in sports did her first teaching at Chautauqua.”
She added, “She’s famous all over California. Thank you for making her famous in Chautauqua County tonight.”
VanDerveer was unable to attend because of her team’s schedule, but she echoed Bargar’s comments in a video acceptance.
“I’m a life-time Chautauquan,” she said. “This is a very special honor for me.”
Her plaque and ring were accepted by Wendy Lewellen, who said, “I’m deeply honored she asked me to receive this.”
Lewellen recalled VanDerveer playing basketball against older boys at the Chautauqua Boys and Girls club.
“She was a summer-resort gym rat while we were working on our tans,” Lewellen said.
Guest speaker Thomas said taking the place of Stabler reminded him of his playing days.
“Always filling in, having the quarterback’s back,” he said. “Cleaning up their mess.”
He was impressed with some of the stories about the inductees, especially Caldwell finishing a game after being struck by lightning.
“Most people don’t survive that, let alone get up and pitch.” He said.
With tongue in cheek, the 2007 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee talked about the honor and how it will affect the newest CSHOF inductees.
“Mention hall of fame and you get a lot of free stuff,” he said. “I’ve been doing that for three years.”
On the serious side, Thomas discussed his close relationship with former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, whose son Hunter passed away when he was 8 from Krabbe Disease, a nervous system disease. Since then, Kelly and his wife, Jill, have raised money to fight the disease through Hunter’s Hope. Because of that, Thomas said they have helped save the lives of many babies.
Thomas noted that his son, Thomas III, is also 8 and Kelly has taken him under his wing and stays in constant contact with the youngster.
“To me, that’s a real hall of famer right there,” Thomas said.
The emcee for the event was Dan Palmer, sports director of WDOE radio.
Induction dinner chairman Chip Johnson again presented plaques to outstanding area athletes for their accomplishments over the past year. They were:
Tara Bailey, Clymer: All-state Class D basketball first team
Nat Barone, Jamestown Community College: NJCAA baseball All-American
Kenny Betts, Fredonia: New York State wrestling champion
Lacy Blocker, JCC: NJCAA women’s volleyball All-American
Levi Bursch, Southwestern: All-State Class C football first team
Ryan Buzzetto, Southwestern: All-State Class C football first team
Jasen Carlson, Southwestern: State Class C football co-player of the year
Tiffany Decker, Busti: New York State trapshooting champion
Matt Fox, Maple Grove: All-State Class D football first team
Asa Johnson, Frewsburg: All-State Class C baseball first team
B.J. Monacelli, Cassadaga Valley: All-State Class C football first team, NYSPHSAA Class C scholar-athlete
Robert Nalepa, Dunkirk: All-State Class B first team
Rachel Ottoway, Sherman: All-State Class D basketball first team
Dan Rosemier, JCC; NJCAA wrestling All-American
Chris Secky, Maple Grove: State Class D football player of the year, State Class D basketball co-player of the year
Jay Sirianni, Southwestern: Class C football coach of the year
Zack Sopak, Southwestern: State Class C football co-player of the year
Southwestern cross country team: New York State scholar-athlete team
Southwestern football team: New York State Class C champions
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.