by Bill Burk
Will The Big Guy Pull the Chain?
This year marks the 40th iteration of George Bataitis Open (GBO) golf tournament, more or less, and the 26th year in its current form as a fund-raiser for the Jamestown Community College athletic scholarship fund. It’s almost always the first such tournament in a season filled with such events…you could play in a fund-raiser scramble from late May until the snow flies in Chautauqua County. The GBO features tons of food, gallons of drink, and a casual friendliness that comes from a JCC-oriented outdoor event in early May when you have an equal chance of getting the first sunburn of the year, or the last good soaking of Spring. It has been called, and rightly so, one of the best tournament values in the jam-packed golf-as-fund-raiser season, and has raised over $130,000 for Jayhawk student-athletes.
And it all happens because of the work of one man, George Bataitis. George ground out 32 years teaching and coaching at JCC. He coached, at various times, the golf, basketball, baseball, and bowling teams. You’d be hard pressed to uncover a local JCC athlete over the age of 40 who didn’t play something for George, or a graduate who didn’t take a class from him. He earned his Bachelor’s degree from Ithaca in 1953, and his master’s from SUNY Buffalo later. After a stint as a Navy submariner (oh what stories submariners must have to tell!) George came to JCC in 1956 and charged up the PHED department, was director of athletics, and an acting dean of students. At the college we like to say he fathered the athletics department, with all that entails. Do Jayhawk athletics exist without George Bataitis? Probably, but they don’t have the history or texture or legitimacy that we now celebrate at the college. Back in the day it was impossible to even consider JCC sports and Phys. Ed without regard for George Bataitis, and that concept plays out today and will into the future.
The GBO is held annually on the lake course at Chautauqua Golf Club, and is a 4-player scramble format. This wasn’t always the case. In 1973 George and a bunch of his former golfers got together and played a round of golf, ala Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and the infamous celebrity pro-am on the shores of the Pacific Ocean at Pebble Beach. Oh to have been a fly on the wall of the 19th hole that day in ’73 at Maplehurst CC (not exactly the like most Pacific coast, but Busti township anyways), hosted in various years by Dick Kimball who was president at Maplehurst back then. In that clubhouse, talking green speeds and rough cuts and buying rounds of drinks, were local golf legends, and former Jayhawks like Dick Cole, Roger Loop, Joe Johnson, Jim Young, Dan Bjork, and Randy Holmes (Greg Fish too!) Low score won a yellow sports coat circa 1904, according to George. And these guys could really play! Winning scores were usually under par, with Dick Cole claiming medalist from 1976-78 (with scores of 66 and 68), Joe Johnson in 1979 (69) and 1980 (65). Back then the tournament was the GBI, an invitational for George and his friends. There was a Fred Foglesanger award for the highest score, well north of the century mark. Like most ventures started with such good intentions, the natural evolution of the GBO was to develop it into a fundraiser for the greater good. After George retired from JCC in 1987 the tournament was resurrected as the GBO, and has been placed to benefit athletic scholarships ever since. The GBO is a major event in the legacy that George earned and deserves at Jamestown Community College. It is more a gathering of friends of the college than a golf tournament, though there’s no mistaking that golf is integral to the day.
This year the tournament is again on the second Saturday in May, the 11th, registration at 7:30 am and shotgun at 8:30 am. Come join the fun, and see for yourself if The Big Guy pulls the chain.
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.