Hopeful Heary

Fredonia legend cheering ‘Billies on during playoff run


Fredonia basketball team in 1994.
OBSERVER File Photo. Pictured is the 1993-94 Fredonia Hillbillies boys basketball team that advanced to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B Final Four.

The Fredonia boys basketball team will play in the New York State Public High School Class B Far West Regional on Saturday afternoon in Rochester.

One of the Hillbillies’ biggest fans will be rooting for them from 375 miles away.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Michael Heary, Fredonia Central School (Class of 1994), from his home in Annapolis, Maryland on Thursday afternoon. “I’d love to see them keep it going. It’s tough as a 10 seed, but at this point you’re in the regionals and anything can happen. Their confidence is growing, growing and growing.”

Heary can relate.

Twenty-nine years ago this month, he led the Hillbillies to the finest hoops season in school history, one that took them to the Class B Final Four in Glens Falls, the first Chautauqua County boys team to accomplish that feat in the modern era.

Michael Heary drives to the basket.
OBSERVER File Photo. In this March 1994 file photo, Fredonia’s Michael Heary drives to the basket against Ben Franklin of Section V in the Class B Far West Regional at the University at Buffalo.

“To be the first was a huge highlight,” said Heary, who is No. 2 on the county’s all-time boys scoring list with 2,235 points. “Obviously, that was our goal. I wished we could have finished it off. … I still haven’t watched that entire tape against Central Square (which defeated Fredonia in the state semifinals 64-63), and I’m not sure I ever will.

“It’s still a great accomplishment. I would love to see this team do that. The foundation we placed as a group at least gives the younger generation something to strive for. It’s a great goal to have.”

Coach Nick Bertrando’s crew is having a postseason for the ages.

After finishing the regular season with back-to-back losses (to Allegany-Limestone and at Olean), the Hillbillies (19-7) have, incredibly, ripped off five straight postseason wins, including a dramatic 64-63 victory over Section VI Class B1 champion Lewiston-Porter in Tuesday’s crossover game.

That sets up a Far West Regional matchup with Newark of Section V at 1:15 p.m. Saturday at Gates-Chili High School. The winner will make the trip to the North Country and Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.

Nearly three decades after Fredonia made the trip to the state Final Four, Heary still gets amped up about the run he and his teammates made. To get there, Coach Dave Polechetti’s group averaged almost 79 points per game, knocking off Class B2 opponents Iroquois, Dunkirk, Kensington and Lackawanna, the latter in the sectional title game, and downing Niagara Falls in the crossover game and Ben Franklin of Section V in overtime in the Far West Regional.

“This run by the current Fredonia team is making the memories flood back,” Heary said.

He hopes the 2022-23 edition of the Hillbillies will continue to make memories on Saturday afternoon.

“When you reached out to me, I was thinking about the matchups and the run (we had),” Heary said. “It’s within the top 10, for sure, of my basketball career across all the years of playing.”

That’s saying something, considering he made two appearances in the NCAA Tournament during his career at Navy where he stands No. 6 on the school’s all-time scoring list.

“I’m super proud of the boys, Coach (Bertrando) and everything associated with Fredonia High School,” Heary said. “Any time you can make a run, it galvanizes the community and it gets everybody excited.”

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