by Scott Kindberg
February 18, 2020
Justin Johnson had a 44th birthday to remember on Monday.
In the afternoon, he was honored at Jamestown High School for his four-year varsity basketball career with the Red Raiders (1990-94), one that has earned him a place on the Wall of Fame inside McElrath Gymnasium.
The recognition was deserving.
One of the last games he played there, Johnson dropped 51 points on Fredonia on his way to 1,670 for his career, a milestone that stood as the school record until 1999, a year after he graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Just hours later, and a few miles west of his alma mater, Johnson was one of nine people who were inducted into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame. Before a crowd of more than 450 at the 39th annual banquet at Lakewood Rod & Gun Club, Johnson noted in his acceptance speech that “in sports we have the opportunity to learn important life skills,” including: how to communicate effectively; how to work productively in diverse groups and be a team player; how to resolve conflict in a healthy manner; how to push through fatigue, pain and adversity; how to build resilience; and how to face fear and obstacles and strive together to overcome them.
“We learn how to sacrifice for others, how to train the body and mind, and to always give our best effort,” said Johnson, who lives with his wife and three sons in Belton, Texas. “We are able to win and lose, succeed and fail. We can enter the arena filled with fans and adversaries and perform. We can build courage, which is the foundation of leadership. In life, we will all face challenges of some kind, and sports help prepare us. They allow us a space to practice for a future where the consequences are far greater than the result of a game.”
While noting that the night was for talking about “past glories and achievement,” Johnson, who is currently director of strategic initiatives at Baylor Scott & White in Temple, Texas, admitted that his athletic career was a series of “oscillating stories of ups and downs.”
“In basketball, I have had moments of tremendous joy and accomplishment along with other moments of regret and agonizing pain, both physical and emotional,” he said. “So what does one do with that? Hopefully we reflect and remember, taking lessons with us into real life where things really matter. Hopefully we keep growing as a person and do good in the world.”
Joining Johnson in the Class of 2020 are the late George Bataitis, the late Bob Bender, Bob Goold, Christine (Carlson) Jenkins, Tim Nobles, Elly Norton, Mark Orlando, and Mike Tramuta.
Following are snapshots of their remarks:
Bataitis: Considered the “Father of Athletics” at Jamestown Community College, Bataitis’ most important contribution to the young people at the school, according to his daughter, Paula Kirsch, was to “make everyone who took any class from him feel successful.”
“Even if a student of his was not athletically talented, Dad found a way to make that person feel that they had succeeded,” Kirsch said. “He did so with great sensitivity and a kind sense of humor, which I know many of you who are here tonight will remember fondly.
“For my dad, the most important thing that a student could do was to make a genuine effort, even if the skill set that was being taught wasn’t mastered. The sincere attempt was what mattered most to him. (It) is such a valuable lesson for everyone.”
Bender: A passionate baseball fan and a tremendous player in his own right, Bender’s story, according to his son, Gregg, was “typical of the World War II “greatest generation.”
Serving his country in the U.S. Army at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, Bender drove a truck and played baseball after Pearl Harbor. One of his highlights was squaring off against Joe DiMaggio’s Army Air Corps team in a game Bender’s team lost, 1-0, in 14 innings.
“We think part of what made Dad special was his obvious leadership skills,” Gregg said. “At every level of baseball which he participated in, he was chosen as the player/manager. From a small farm in central Pennsylvania, across the world on a team of minor and major leaguers, he was chosen player/manager. The same held true on many of his Jamestown teams. This says a lot (about) his teammates’ level of respect for his leadership as well as his baseball acumen.”
A hard-hitting left-fielder upon his return to Jamestown, Bender retired from playing so he could coach his son’s Little League team.
“There probably could have been a few more doubles to left-center if not for that,” Gregg said.
Bender passed away in 1970, and yet his induction last night allowed Gregg to reconnect with his dad yet again.
“In the movie ‘Field of Dreams,’ Ray Kinsella had a chance to ‘have a catch’ with his father as a way of reconnecting,” Gregg said. “Well, this award and speech have been my chance to do the same.”
Goold: A longtime area high school coach in various sports and athletic director at Frewsburg Central School for 20 years, the Maple Grove High School graduate has also been a strong supporter of Special Olympics for more than 40 years.
“It holds a very dear spot in my heart and has many, many threads woven into my being,” Goold said. “My father always told me, ‘The measure of a man is one who lends a hand.’ Special Olympics was a perfect fit.”
Goold’s travels to Special Olympic events have taken him across the United States and around the world.
“At the Los Angeles Games in 2015, my job was staging director of the power-lifting venue,” he said. “Coordinating volunteers and the lifting lineups was my main duty. A young lifter from Iran, due to a computer entry error, competed in the wrong class. Through an interpreter, we were able to make an adjustment so the next day he competed in the proper class.
Later that day, that same athlete saw Goold, ran up to him and gave his new “friend” a huge hug and, in broken English, a special “thank you.”
“The interpreter told me those were the first words of English he had ever spoken,” Goold said. “Sports is, and should be, the great equalizer of people, no matter their beliefs, race or social stature. Let’s all continue to work toward that goal.”
Jenkins: When she was a young girl, Jenkins said she was given a plaque by her mother that read, “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.”
“I never played a game that my mom did not remind me where my talent came from, and to give God the glory.”
A splendid multi-sport athlete at Panama Central School and a standout volleyball and basketball player at Grove City College where she was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2011, Jenkins thanked her many coaches and her parents, Sharon and Lee, for helping her to become all she could be in athletics.
“As I was going through high school and college, I would spend my days and nights at the Lakewood Beach basketball courts,” Jenkins said. “I feel blessed that the guys let me play pickup games with them, even though I was the only girl. I truly believe this helped me to become stronger, more aggressive, and definitely more confident.”
Years later, Jenkins, who is a teacher in Strasburg, Virginia, is also confident about something else, courtesy of a quote attributed to Erma Bombeck, an American humorist: “When I stand before God at the end of my life,” Bombeck wrote, “I would hope that I would have not a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'”
Concluded Jenkins: “This quote has been a driving force in all I do.”
Nobles: One of the most successful girls basketball coaches in Section VI history, Nobles’ teams recorded 17 league, 12 sectional and six state championships at Pine Valley Central School.
His record during his 31 years as a varsity coach? 537-146.
“Receiving an award for coaching the Lady Panther basketball teams is fantastic, but I’ve told people before (that) it just doesn’t make sense to me; to be honored for doing something that I have loved … doing for more than 40 years,” he said. “In that respect, I should be receiving an award for eating ice cream, because I have loved doing that for longer than basketball, and I’m very, very good at it. And, an ice cream award would truly be my own. Nobody helped me or encouraged me to eat ice cream. I am a natural.
“Whereas, playing and coaching basketball, and to achieve the success that our Pine Valley Lady Panthers have, required the help of many. My induction into the Chautauqua (Sports) Hall of Fame, to me, is a tribute to my dear family, friends, players, coaches and mentors who helped me find this success.”
Along that road to such lofty heights, Nobles said he learned plenty of lessons, including the following: basketball is a game (and) it should be fun; if you don’t know how to play the game, or have the skills to be successful, the game won’t be fun; everybody has a part/role in the success of a team, and they should be aware of what that part is; anyone can coach, and everyone can be a better coach, if they are willing to work at it; anything is possible with determination and enthusiasm; and success leads to success.
Norton: Because he was not yet 15 when he entered Bemus Point High School, Norton didn’t play varsity sports until his junior year.
To suggest he made up for lost time would be an understatement as he was a letter winner in football, basketball, baseball and volleyball.
And that was just the beginning of an athletic journey that would include semi-pro baseball and, later, a minor league stint in the New York Yankees’ organization for two seasons after serving in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. When arm trouble forced him out of the game, Norton earned his teaching degree from Syracuse University, beginning his physical education career at Jamestown High School in 1953. He later became a guidance counselor at JHS, and continued his participation in sports by officiating football for 42 years, basketball for 38, and track and field for 12.
Orlando: After a lifetime in football, including more than four decades as a coach, Orlando called it “ironic” that his time in the game had come full circle and brought him back to Lakewood.
“Fifty-five years ago, I played my first organized football game here with the Westfield Midget League,” he said. “I still remember my first play call at quarterback. It was 26 crossbuck and it went for a 76-yard touchdown. Like many other 12-year-old boys, I dreamed about playing in the NFL. And although that never happened, something better did.”
Using Chuck Crist, Bob Muscato and Bob Palcic — all future Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame inductees — as inspiration, Orlando, who was a quarterback at Florida State University, ultimately became a successful coach at a number of historically black colleges and universities in the south.
“I traveled the small red clay roads of Georgia, through the cotton fields of Mississippi, and the bayous of Louisiana recruiting hundreds of young men, many living in poverty-stricken conditions, who had the same dreams I did,” Orlando said. “I am proud to have been able to help make these athletes’ dreams come true by offering them full scholarships and the privilege of coaching several of them on to the NFL.”
Now entering his 43rd year of college coaching, Orlando said he can sum up his career in a quote from Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.
“The key to coaching is love,” Swinney said. “It’s not knowledge. It’s not discipline. If you love ’em, you can discipline them. If you love ’em, you can yell at them and laugh about it later.”
Added Orlando: “I can tell you, in all honesty, that I have truly loved the hundreds of athletes I have coached. Yes, I coached, but they did the work and they are the ones who have made this day possible for me.”
Tramuta: A high school and college basketball coach for decades, Tramuta fell in love with the game at a young age, ultimately playing for three years at Dunkirk High School, one year at Cardinal Mindszenty and four years at Fredonia State.
“I wasn’t very good at the beginning, but then I heard Coach Vince Lombardi’s words: ‘The will to win and the will to excel,'” he said. “They endure and are more important than my athletic career. In other words, winning and losing will take care of itself, but lacing them up every day and trying to get better is the key.”
Helping people get better has been a mission for Tramuta off the court as well. For the past 30 years, he has been a New York state-certified alcoholism and substance abuse counselor.
“If you are a school superintendent, male or female coach, or an athlete, and you would like me to come to your school to speak to your athletes for a session or individually, contact me at 983-1592.
“I’m sure you’re asking yourselves, ‘I wonder how much this guy charges?’ The answer is, ‘nothing.’ In our program, ‘We give it away to keep what we have.'”
NOTES: Video greetings from Jamestown natives Stephen Carlson, Nick Sirianni and David Hinson were played on TV screens during the banquet. Carlson is a tight end with the Cleveland Browns; Sirianni is the offensive coordinator with the Indianapolis Colts; and Hinson is an area scout with the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. … CSHOF board member and banquet chairman Chip Johnson provided the welcome; Cameron Hurst of Jamestown sang the national anthem; the Rev. Dan Nagle, pastor of First Lutheran Church in Jamestown, delivered the invocation and the benediction; CSHOF president Randy Anderson provided remarks; and Johnson and Anderson presented plaques and rings to the inductees, and recognized teams, athletes, coaches and legacy award recipients.