by Jim Riggs
February 22, 2012
However, he had memories of another hall of fame induction when he was the guest speaker at the 31st annual Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner at the Lakewood Rod & Gun Club on Monday night.
“This brings back memories of my hometown of Allentown (Pa.) and being inducted into the Lehigh Valley Hall of Fame,” Reed said before the largest crowd ever to attend a CSHOF induction dinner.
The six inductees were Betty Bartkowiak, the late Ben Bishop, Jim McElrath, John O’Neil, Greg Peterson and Bob Schmitt. And after listening to the stories of their sports successes, Reed stressed to the 34 other athletes who were honored at the event for their successes in the past year, “When you get the opportunity to be the best you can be, take advantage of it.”
He pointed out the motivating talk by inductee Bartkowiak and said, “That lady, she’s an inspiration, right there. You can’t get any better than that.”
Being inducted into hall of fames is nothing new for Bartkowiak, who was the first inductee honored. The Dunkirk native was inducted into the Western New York Softball Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Brockport Sports Hall of Fame in 1988. She is a professor emeritus from Oswego State, where she taught health and physical education and coached a variety of sports.
Bartkowiak was presented by her friend, Valerie Pawlak.
“I thought by this time you would have forgotten me,” said Bartkowiak, who still plays golf and tennis at the age of 81. “It’s been a great ride for me. I tell everybody I went through life with no hits, no runs and no errors.”
In addition to golf and tennis, Bartkowiak was also successful in softball, volleyball, table tennis, and bowling. She said when asked what sport she likes the most, she answered, “I like everything. I like every sport.”
Bartkowiak’s best sport was softball and she said she was successful because “I don’t throw like a girl. I throw like a boy. I throw like the way you should, the most effective, mechanical way to throw.”
She recalled a “highlight” of her career was in college when she pitched and won for a boys’ fraternity team.
“The boys on the team carried me away and that was wonderful,” she said with a laugh.
Bishop was one of the area’s top amateur golfers from the late 1940s into the 1960s before he passed away in 1970 at the age of 54. He was the club champion at Moon Brook Country Club 12 times and the Chautauqua County Amateur champion four times. He also established the MBCC amateur record with a 6-under-par 66.
But his son, Steve, who accepted for his father, noted that not only did he win the MBCC title 12 out of 19 times, but he also finished second three times.
“I knew he had won the Chautauqua County Amateur four times, but what I did not realize was that he finished second six times,” Steve said. “Out of the 15 times he played, he never finished worse than fifth.”
He added, “This was back in the days when you used to have to walk. You had to get a doctor’s certificate to ride. Some of the courses that I’ve played at, I think you need a doctor’s certificate to walk.”
Steve recalled that when his father played in an exhibition match at Moon Brook with Arnold Palmer, he had the chance to caddy for Palmer. However, he chose to caddy for his father.
“Dad was my hero,” he said.
McElrath, who was presented by his son, Mike, who noted, “He never really stopped coaching. He’s a winner and he knows a winner.”
After stellar high school and college basketball careers, McElrath turned to coaching and during a seven-year career at Panama in the early 1960s, the Panthers won four sectional basketball titles in the days before the state tournament was established.
“Basketball is the game that made me what I am,” said McElrath, who has also been inducted into the Mercer County (Pa.) Sports Hall of Fame and the Mercer High School Sports Hall of Fame. “I played it. I coached it. I thought it. I loved it.”
He compared his sectional championship teams at Panama to the team that won a state title in the movie “Hoosiers.” When Panama won those titles, the sectionals were as far as a team could go. And Panama had never won one before McElrath’s arrival.
“I hope I taught them a passion for basketball and a passion for life,” he said about his former Panama players.
Putting family first, he retired from coaching and eventually became the principal at Jamestown High School where he still made an impact in sports as he helped find the correct coaches for the Red Raiders to develop winning basketball and football programs.
"For 18 years of my life, I loved spending time in that environment,” McElrath said about his tenure as the JHS principal.
The feeling was mutual because upon his retirement, the students requested the newly constructed gymnasium be named in his honor.
O’Neil was presented by Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame president Randy Anderson who said, “John has often said that baseball has been very good to him, but John has been very good for baseball.”
The Kentucky native first made Jamestown his home when he played for the 1941 Jamestown Falcons of the PONY League. He went on to play at every level of professional baseball from the Class D Falcons to the Philadelphia Phillies of the National League.
O’Neil also served as a manager, general manager and scout in a baseball career that lasted 45 years.
“There is a big difference between Jamestown and Philadelphia," O’Neil said about the 1946 season as an infielder with the Phillies.
But long before that, he recalled playing for the 1941 Falcons chasing the PONY League title. And O’Neil was named the most popular Jamestown Falcon.
“I was on a good ballclub,” he said. “They were all big strong guys and they were all kind to me.”
He finished out his career playing in the Pacific Coast league.
“It was a nice place to play ball but there were some very long train trips.”
After his playing career was done, he returned to Jamestown and was a scout for the Braves and Dodgers and signed players such as Mike Scioscia and Bill Robinson.
“I tried hard every day and that’s all you can do,” he said.
Peterson is well-known as an advocate and historian of local sports and has interviewed hundreds of sports personalities and shared their stories on video tape. That’s why his presenter, Russ Diethrick, said, “Here’s a chance tonight to highlight Greg Peterson.”
Peterson mentioned, tongue in cheek, that his son called him earlier in the day and said, “Dad, congratulations. What did you do to earn this honor?”
The selection committee didn’t need to know. Not only was Peterson a football player at Jamestown, but he went on to play at Allegheny College. But it was Peterson’s actions off the field that stood out.
Peterson and Diethrick were the driving forces that convinced Rich Baseball to relocate its Niagara Falls franchise in the New York-Penn League to Jamestown to become the Jammers in 1994. And Peterson was the impetus for the 1999 book Across the Seams that chronicles the history of professional baseball in Jamestown.
“I’m so humbled to be in this class,” Peterson said looking around at the other inductees. “Athletics and this community go hand in hand.”
He added, “I’m just thrilled to have had a small part as a participant, a facilitator and a preservationist for the next generation.”
Joe DiMaio presented Schmitt, who he called, “One of the smoothest athletes I ever met.”
After an outstanding basketball and baseball career at Jamestown Community College, Schmitt went on to play for the powerful Jock Shop softball squad that won national titles in 1984 and 1985. But perhaps he is best remembered for his 13 years as the baseball coach at Frewsburg Central School where he compiled a 239-82 records and led the Bears to three state championships.
Schmitt noted, “We played the game like businessmen. We won several sportsmanship awards, too.”
He said the Bears won three state titles because they had the best players.
“If that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t be up here tonight,” Schmitt said.
He said his induction is shared with all those people who made it possible.
Reed wrapped up the evening with some recollections of his 15 years with the Bills, which included four trips to the Super Bowl, but four loses.
“We always came back,” he noted and pointed out how difficult that is to do. “It was the best time of my life.”
Reed said he has been asked if he would trade one Super Bowl victory for his four trips to the game.
“I had to think about that a little bit,” he said with a smile.
Then he said his answer was “Nope.” I could not do that. I wouldn’t trade it with all the guys I was with.”
The master of ceremonies was Chip Johnson and Rev. Adam Rohler of First Covenant Church gave the invocation and sang the national anthem.
Also honored at the event were the following athletes and teams that captured state or national titles in the past year:
Lindsay Beckstrom, Jamestown Community College: NJCAA swimming All-American in 200-meter medley relay.
Holly Eliason, Sherman: State Class D cross country first team.
Zack Fancher, Pine Valley: State Class D baseball first team
Alex Grace, Maple Grove: State Class D football first team
Nick Guarino, Fredonia State: NCAA Division III track & field national champion 800 and 1500 meters.
Tanner Hoose, Southwestern: State Class C football first team
Craig Howard, Chautauqua Striders and Chautauqua Lake Central: USATF National Junior Olympics All-American in decathlon and Division 2 high school state pole vault champion.
Thad Johnson, Frewsburg: State Class D football first team.
Aubree Jones, Mount Union College: NCAA Division III track & field All-American in javelin
Dan Lictus, Clymer: State Class D football first team
Jo-Ann Love-Lewis, Bemus Point: New York State ladies singles trapshooting champion
Maple Grove girls cross country team: State Class D champions
Andrew Marsh, Jamestown: All-American, swimming, 100-meter backstroke
Megan Marsh, Maple Grove: State Class D cross country first team
McKenna Maycock, Chautauqua Striders: USATF National Junior Olympics All-American in pentathlon
Morgan Molfino, Jamestown Community College: NJCAA swimming All-American 200-meter medley relay
John Nickerson, Maple Grove: State Class D football first team
Nick Nocek, Fredonia: State Class C football first team
Jason Pembridge, Maple Grove: State Class D football first team
Dalton Peterson, Frewsburg: State Class D football first team
Dan Petruccello, Southwestern: State Class C football first team
Hope Pietrocarlo, Maple Grove: State Class D cross country first team
Lindsay Torres, Jamestown Community College: NJCAA swimming All-American 200-meter medley relay
John Strickland, Panama: Division 2 state champion high jump
Jake Swan, Southwestern: State Class C football first team
Peter Trathen, Southwestern: State Class C football first team
Nikita Warner, Jamestown Community College: NJCAA swimming All-American 200-meter medley relay
David Waterman, Maple Grove: State Class D football first team
Zeddie Williams, Silver Creek: State Class D football first team
YMCA South County Storm cheerleading team: Level 6 national champions