The Post-Journal

Tribute to a Silent Supporter

Sports fans come in all varieties.

There is the fan who follows his team religiously and attends every home game. At the game, he might scream his head off while rooting for his team. He might wear clothes with the team logo displayed or even paint his face in the team’s colors.

Then there was the late Tom D’Angelo.

He was a fan of the Jamestown Community College’s women’s basketball team. But many may not have known that because he was mainly a silent supporter.

Keith Martin first noticed D’Angelo at JCC games after he began coaching the Jayhawks in 1999.

“It was probably my first or second year,” Martin recalled. “He would either sit or stand on the top row or on the railing diagonally from me. I can still see him.”

And he was often perched in his position alone.

“For the most part he came by himself,” Martin said. “He was just supportive. It wasn’t financial, it was just support.”

D’Angelo didn’t have a daughter or granddaughter on the team. He didn’t come to watch the daughter of a friend. He just came to watch the team.

“Here’s a guy who had nothing to do with our program,” Martin said. He was always supportive of the girls. Did he talk to a lot of them? No. Would I talk to him every game? No. But he was always here. He came to every game.”

But on the occasions that he did have a conversation with D’Angelo, it was always beneficial. “When I did get a chance to talk with him, he was always saying nice things about the kids.” Martin was no stranger to D’Angelo.

“I’d known Tommy since I was little,” he recalled. “We’d go once a year to his shoe store (Arcade Shoes) for school shoes. We always had fun going to the shop because Tommy made you feel great. Dad (Ken Martin) was playing softball and Tom was an umpire. I grew up at Bergman Park. Tom and his brother, Ralph, were always umpiring Dad’s games.”

In addition to umpiring, Tom was also a football official.

D’Angelo battled Hodgkin’s Disease in 1970, but in the mid-2000s he developed Parkinson’s Disease and finally succumbed to it in 2007.

Even when D’Angelo was battling Parkinson’s, he continued to attend as many JCC games as he could. And if he couldn’t attend, he would still support the Jayhawks.

“When he got sick, he would call me from the hospital,” Martin said.

“To call the coach from the hospital and say he wasn’t going to make it, that’s something,” said Jim Rissel.

Rissel is another JCC women’s basketball fan without a relative or friend’s daughter on the team, but he is Martin’s next-door neighbor. Rissel noticed D’Angelo, a former bowling partner, in the stands and they would sit together. Rissel noted how D’Angelo thoroughly enjoyed the games.

“He would get a kick out of the plays they would make, offensively and defensively,” Rissel said.

They would also play together in the Jayhawks’ fundraiser golf tournament every summer. “Anybody who played in our foursome, if they didn’t know Tom, they loved him by the end of the round,” Rissel said. “That’s the way he was.”

Martin noted, “He had a way about him that just brought people in. He made people laugh. There was just something about him that made you feel like you were a part of his life.”

D’Angelo was battling Parkinson’s when the Jayhawks played their final home game of the 2005-06 season and he was in attendance. Not only were the sophomore players honored, but so was D’Angelo.

“I wanted to thank him for his support,” said Martin, who presented D’Angelo with a team practice shirt. “I don’t give those out to just anyone.”

Rissel was sitting with D’Angelo in his usual seat high in the bleachers. D’Angelo didn’t want the shirt brought to him, he wanted to walk down the bleacher steps to the court to get it. Rissel’s offer to help D’Angelo down the steps was turned down, so he made sure he walked in front of his friend just in case he stumbled.

“He was struggling and having a hard time getting down the bleachers,” Martin said. “But Tom did it. The kids knew about his illness and appreciated his support.”

D’Angelo passed away on January 18, 2007 which ended up being a memorable day for the Jayhawks.

“The day he he died, we beat Genesee at Genesee for maybe the first time ever, Martin said. “After the game I went over to Jim and we were both started crying. It just felt like Tom had a hand in it. It felt like he was there.”

The following season, Rissel placed a memorial for D’Angelo in the Jayhawks program, but the tributes didn’t stop there.

Every December, the Jayhawks host a tournament named for a sponsor. But this year there is not a sponsor, but instead something more important.

“I thought it was something we could pull off and it came about that way,” Rissel said about the tournament being called the Tom D’Angelo Memorial Lady Jayhawk Classic.

On December 2 at 6 p. m., JCC will take on Westmoreland County CC and at 8 p. m., Columbus State CC plays Niagara County CC. On December 3 at noon, Niagara County plays Westmoreland County followed by JCC taking on Columbus State at 2.

Between games on December 3, a Jayhawk fan will be honored in memory of D’Angelo.

“It is called the Tom D’Angelo Spirit Award in support and enrichment of Jayhawks Women’s Basketball,” Martin said, “because that’s what he gave to the program.”

Rissel agreed and said, ‘He’s in the lore of Jayhawk basketball, whether he wants to be or not.”

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