The Post-Journal

Special Half Dozen

Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame Increases Population By Six

The six newest inductees were honored at the 32nd annual Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner on Monday night at the Lakewood Rod & Gun Club. It was the night to hear about the accomplishments of the inductees, but instead of accepting praise, most humbly praised those who led to their success.

The new inductees are Ron Blackmer, Cal Cederquist, the late Jim Foti, Dan Palmer, Walt Thurnau and Jim Young, and their accomplishments were celebrated before the largest crowd ever for the event.

Each inductee received a ring and plaque from Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame president Randy Anderson.

Each inductee also had a presenter on video and Blackmer’s was his daughter Cindy Furlow.

From 1960 to 1978, Blackmer was the dominant force at both Stateline and Eriez Speedways. The Youngsville, Pa. Native had 133 feature wins in the sportsman division and also won four sportsman championships at Stateline and six at Eriez, along with four S-E Circuit sportsman championships. He also collected 62 second-place finishes and 26 thirds along the road.

Blackmer won 27 late model division feature races at Stateline and Eriez.

He also collected more championships at other tracks.

That’s pretty impressive, but Blackmer said, “My career was up and down.”

That’s because his first four years of auto racing were very successful, but then came a lull. During that lull, Blackmer decided to have a crew chief.

“It wasn’t fair to call him a crew chief because we didn’t have a crew,” Blackmer said. “So we called him ‘chief.’”

With all his successes, Blackmer quit driving race cars at the age of 37 and began driving a school bus.

“I feel bad that I didn’t race longer,” he admitted.

Cederquist didn’t cut short his career as a high school track coach because it lasted more than 30 years and he established himself as one of the area’s finest. It began at Chautauqua Central School in 1972 with a track team that hadn’t won a dual meet or a championship in 40 years. Without any real track facilities and a dozen or fewer athletes, Cederquist turned the program into a winner, claiming three consecutive championships and sending several of his athletes to Section 6 qualifiers.

Cederquist also produced the first girls state qualifier.

“When I first started coaching, all I wanted to do was win a track meet or two,” Cederquist said. That was because, “We had no track, very little equipment and about 9 or 10 boys.”

It took four years for Chautauqua to get that first win with 11 boys against a squad with 20. After finally winning, Cederquist admitted, “I liked it.”

And the winning continued, despite the school superintendent having said, “You’re never going to win a championship here; we’re just too small.”

The final sports event held at Chautauqua before merging with Mayville Central School was a victory for the 1,600-meter relay at the state championships.

The merger produced Chautauqua Lake Central School in 1977 and Cederquist continued coaching there and the result was an individual state champion.

But Cederquist emphasized his best victory to celebrate was that of his wife, Sharon, over cancer 15 years ago.

Cederquist was presented by Tom O’Brien.

Foti, who passed away in 2004,was an outstanding athlete at Jamestown High School and began his coaching career in the Ohio Valley handling basketball and football at Wheeling (W.Va.) Central Catholic High School and Bellaire (Ohio) High School. His basketball teams at Wheeling Central won five Catholic state championships and compiled an overall mark of 117-28.

“When my dad left New York state, he always planned to return to Jamestown,” his daughter, Sally Reynolds, said. “Jamestown was always in his heart. We really wish he could be here tonight. He felt so close to this area.”

She also remembered every summer the family made a trip from Wheeling back to Jamestown, “and we always got lost somewhere in Pennsylvania.”

Reynolds was joined by her sisters, Judy Lothman and Mary Jo Ferda in accepting their late father’s ring and plaque.

“He’s not remembered most for his victories,” Reynolds said. “He’s remembered for his heart.”

His niece and video presenter, Rosemary DiDominico, echoed that with, “He was truly loved and admired by all.”

Palmer has been a radio fixture at WDOE Radio in Dunkirk where he began his sports broadcasting career in 1975 and is still behind the mike. His coverage has included baseball, soccer, softball, volleyball, basketball and football.

“My dad helped insure those games would be memories,” said his presenter and daughter, Jennifer Horton.

Palmer said his love of sports , and later broadcasting, began with listening to sports events on a transistor radio.

“Why am I up here tonight?” Palmer said were his thoughts after accepting his ring and plaque. “Tonight is all about those special people.”

He was referring to many in the audience and others who had success in sports which he was able to broadcast.

“I’m here to say thank you,” Palmer said. “You’re why I am here – thank you.”

He added, “All these people were special in my life.”

For 36 years, Thurnau was the coach of the Southwestern Trojans and his teams posted a 297-97 record and earned two Section 6 Class B-2 championships. Thurnau also coached 62 individual at the Southern Tier League tournament and hundreds of his wrestlers earned tournament titles. He coached 17 wrestlers to the state tournament, including two state champions. After retiring from Southwestern in 2002, he became head coach at Jamestown Community College for five years and 19 wrestlers earned a trip to the NJCAA National Tournament.

“This award is due to the hard work and dedication of so many athletes from Southwestern and JCC,” Thurnau said. “I’ve tried to give back a tiny bit to wrestling that has been so goods to my life.”

Thurnau has always given credit for his success to his predecessor at Southwestern Clarence “Flash” Olson. He said he was planning to enter the military instead of going to college in the late 1960s despite the protests of Olson. Eventually, Olson drove him all the way to Lock Haven State and said, “This is where you belong and this is where you are going to stay.”

Thurnau said it was the best thing that happened to him, but noted, “When I graduated from Lock Haven I knew a little bit about wrestling and nothing about coaching.”

He not only learned from Olson, but also from his wife, Daphne, who coached the Southwestern girls’ volleyball and softball teams. She taught him, “Understanding an individual athlete comes first before technique.”

His presenter, Tom Preiester, recalled Thurnau actually wrestling with his team members during practice. When questioned about it, Thurnau’s response was, “I can’t ask them to do something I can’t do.”

Priester added, “Walt is the total package – a coach and an educator.”

Young’s presenter was his mother, Judy, who knew she had an athlete on her hands when he was a toddler.

“I quickly realized our main toy would be a ball and then many balls,” she said.

And the main one was a basketball.

During the 1971-72 Jamestown High School season, he helped the Red Raiders win a Section 6 championship. Young moved on to St. Lawrence University and led the squad to a pair of the college’s most successful years ever while setting four records. He set marks for most points in a game (48) and most career assists (241). He also set records for free throw percentage and free throws in a season.

He then played for Loughborough of the English Basketball Association and led the league in scoring with an average above 30 points per game and set a club record of 54 points in a single game.

Young now coaches high school basketball at Mendocino High School, which is ranked fourth in northern California and is preparing for its first home playoff game in 31 years.

“My assistant is doing the practice because I am here,” Young said.

And he almost wasn’t at the induction dinner.

“I had no idea what was going on,” he said when his mother informed him of his selection as an inductee. “I just sort of went along with her ‘suggestion’ that I should attend.”

While looking over the packed house, he admitted, “I had no idea how big this really was.”

Young pointed to this key to his success. “I was a basketball junkie and I’ve got an artificial hip to prove it.”

Young recalled playing basketball for eight hours a day, sometimes in pouring rain or with temperatures below freezing. And he added, “The stories I tell are about the fun I had in basketball, not the successes.”

There have been plenty of successes for guest speaker Bruce Baumgartner, who emcee, Jeff Russo, the sports director of WKBW-TV, called “the most decorated wrestler in American history.”

Baumgartner, who is the athletic director at Edinboro University, is a two-time Olympic gold medal winner and has also captured several world titles. But his wrestling career got off to a slow start at the age of 14 in New Jersey. The highest he ever finished in the state tournament was third.

Then Baumgartner headed to Indiana State and a very “non-pep talk” from his father motivated him. His father pointed out he had never finished higher than third in the state in wrestling and was never more than a C student.

At Indiana State, Baumgartner graduated with honors after making three trips to the NCAA Division I finals and winning a national title as a senior.

“The kid from New Jersey who couldn’t win states won nationals,” he recalled.

His said his next goal was “I wanted to be an Olympic champion.”

That happened in 1984 and again in 1992. He also earned a silver and a bronze.

He said his Olympic highlight was carrying the flag to lead the United States team at the 1996 opening ceremonies.

“Don’t trip, don’t drop it; don’t trip, don’t drop it,” he said. “For 400 meters that’s all I thought.”

He said a key to his success had been what some of the inductees had noted – “Surround yourself with good people.”

The evening began with MacKenzie Cass of Frewsburg singing the national anthem. The invocation was given by the Rev. Rick LaDue of Kidder Memorial Church.

The first honorees of the night were numerous athletes, coaches and teams that won championships in 2012. They were:
Reilly Condidorio, Fredonia State, NCAA Division III All-American women’s soccer
Tiffany Decker, Busti, American Trap Association First Team All-American, New York State Singles Champion, NYS Doubles Champiuon, NYS High All-Around Champion
Zach Fancher, Pine Valley, NYS Class D baseball first team
Sarah Ficarro, Fredonia State, NCAA Divisiioin III AllAmerican women’s diving
Frewsburg Central School girls’ basketball, NYS Scholar-Athlete team
Frewsburg Central School boy’s golf, NYS Scholar-Athlete team
Frewsburg Central girls’ softball, NYS Scholar Athlete team
Lyle Howard, Pine Valley, NYS Class D baseball first team
Jamestown Community College women’s swimming relay teams, NJCAA All-Americans, Kelsey Akin, Brittany Ihrig, Courtney Magera, Renee Massa, Morgan Molfino, Emily Windoft
Jamestown Community College women’s swimming team, NJCAA Academic All-Americans
Thad Johnson, Frewsburg, NYS Class C baseball first team
Anna Jones, Mount Union, NCAA Division III track & field All-American and All-American Academic team
Aubree Jones, Mount Union, NCAA Division III track & field All-American, national champion outdoor discus, and All-American Academic team
Nick Lenart, Panama, NYS Class D basketball first team
Dan Lictus, Clymer, NYS Class D football first team
Erin McConnell, Maple Grove, NYS Class D girls’ cross country first team
Maple Grove girls’ cross country team, NYS Class D champions
Andrew Marsh, Jamestown High, NYS champion 100 butterfly
Megan Mietelski, Fredonia State, NCAA Division III All-American women’s lacrosse
Nick Nocek, Fredonia Central, NYS Class C football first team
Hope Pietrocarlo, Maple Grove, NYS Class D girls’ cross country first team
Dr. Robert Rappole, Maple Grove, NYS Class D girls’ cross country coach of the year
Bronco Rollins, Fredonia State, NCAA Division III All-American indoor and outdoor pole vaulting
Oliver Simpson, Maple Grove, NYS Class D football first team
Jake Swan, Maple Grove, NYS Class D football first team
Ben Swanson, Jamestown, NRA national rifle and pistol champion
Trent Thompson, Fredonia Central, NYS Class B baseball first team
Christina Walter, Maple Grove, NYS track & field champion 100 & 200 meters
Corey Wefing, Maple Grove, NYS Class D boys’ cross country first team
Zeddie Williams, Silver Creek, NYS Class D football first team and All-American lacrosse

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.