LAKEWOOD – The nine inductees, six of whom are alive and three who received a posthumous induction, of the 2019 Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame Class come from all different types of sports and different walks of life.
WNYNewsNow spoke to the six living inductees, as well as family members of two of the three posthumous inductees, before the 38th Annual Induction Banquet Monday evening at the Lakewood Rod & Gun Club.
Despite the differences, everyone we spoke to seemed to agree that coaches and athletes should remain determined and humble as their careers progress.
We first spoke with Cheryl Bailey, who ran track & field for Southwestern High School in the early-1970’s. In 1972, Bailey began to run on the school’s boys team after Title IX was passed. Bailey went on to coach multiple women’s sports for multiple universities. Bailey said that her passion kept her motivated to succeed.
“Follow what you love,” Bailey said. “It was easy for me to continue my journey in sports because I loved what I did. Keep the right people around you, as well, and be respectful and continue the process of getting better.”
“If you have a set back, just get back on the road and keep going.”
“It’s very humbling to be among those that have come before us,” Bailey said. “When I went down to the Hall of Fame today, and looked around, the amazing number of individuals who have been in the Hall of Fame from this region. It’s truly humbling because you’re standing among those who have come before and who have been very successful.”
“This is always an exciting time to come back, and when you have somebody you know personally be inducted into the Hall of Fame, it makes it so much more meaningful.”
“I think it’s such an honor to be apart of this group.”
Bailey said that her high school coach, Tom Priester, nominated her for the the 2019 class. Priester was previously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.
Next, WNYNewsNow interviewed Robert “Bob” Palcic, a longtime NFL coach who graduated from the Cardinal Mindszenty High School in Dunkirk. Palcic said, throughout his career, he’s learned the importance of persevering and keeping an open mind.
“You always have to be willing to learn,” Palcic said. “No one knows it all. There’s a lot of great coaches out there, and I was coached by some of the greatest coaches in the country. They taught me the game, and you always have to keep an open mind and willing to learn.”
“Chase your dreams. Set your goals high, don’t let the neigh sayers discourage you, just keep working at it,” Palcic said. “I have an old saying. Hard work, works.”
Palcic explained how being inducted into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame is the biggest accomplishment of his career.
“I’m thrilled. This is the biggest honor of my life,” Palcic said. “I’ve been to a lot of places, and I’ve coached a lot of good players, but this induction tonight puts the frosting on the cake of my career. I’m very happy to be here.”
Palcic said he just returned from Florida, where he spent time training and developing players who just completed their college football careers. Palcic, in addition, works for a company that pays him to write scouting reports on numerous offensive linemen from around the country.
Tom Moore and Jim Gruden, the father of Jon and Jay, were among the coaches that Palcic has worked with.
Vincent Gullo, the longtime Fredonia Hillbillies baseball coach, was the next inductee to be interviewed. Gullo credited the coaches that he learned from in high school, and he said that the most important lesson he’s learned is how to combat adversity.
“I had a lot of great coaches in high school, like Dave Giambrone, Dave Polechetti, and Pete Criscione,” Gullo said. “Two of three are in the Hall of Fame, and Dave Giambrone will be in very soon. They did it the right way, and I learned a ton every step that I took.”
“I learned how to handle adversity. You can’t win all of the time. You have to lose with dignity, and it’s okay to lose as long as your kids try your best. If they do the best they can, then you win.”
Gullo advised current high school athletes to enjoy high school while it lasts.
“This is the best time of your lives (high school athletics). Enjoy it, and give it your all,” Gullo said. “When you get to be an old man like I do, you think about the old days. If you won, it’s the greatest time. And if you did your best, and you had success, remember your high school athletics, so do the best you can.”
Gullo explained that the induction scene was very surreal. In addition, he credited his players, past and present, for the success that he’s experienced.
“Incredibly nervous. Excited, but quite nervous, because there’s a lot of people, a lot of famous people here,” Gullo said. “Just to be the person that they’re looking at is kind of uncomfortable.”
WNYNewsNow continued by interviewing Tiffany Decker, a member of the Busti Trap Club. Decker said she feels very honored to be inducted into the Hall. Decker also said that her friends and family keep her motivated.
“My family and friends are who keep me going, and who introduced me to trap shooting,” Decker said. “It takes a lot of practice to get to where you want to be. Keep practicing, and be positive because it’ll take some time, but you’ll get better.”
Next up was Steven Johnston, who represented his late father, Charles. Charles Johnston served as Fredonia’s boys tennis coach for nearly three decades. Steven played against his father’s team while playing for Brocton.
“My brothers and sisters and I were always trying to beat him,” Steven Johnston said. “It was quite a rivalry, but only in later years, I recognized my father’s record, which is what inspired me to nominate him for the Hall of Fame.”
“My dad was a man of very few words, but when he spoke, you tended to listen, both as children and as players,” Johnston said. “I think the one thing my dad taught me, along with his players, was ownership. If you really wanted to be a better player, it’s up to you. It wasn’t up to the coach to put you in, it was up to you to prove to the coach that you should be put in.”
Johnston said that tennis, as a sport, is typically undersold. In addition, Johnston explained that tennis can serve as a tool for people to learn to limit the amount of excuses that they make because they can only blame themselves for mistakes.
Mike Lopriore, a fellow inductee and Jamestown native, served as an athletic trainer for several years at the minor league and college levels for baseball, as well as a college basketball athletic trainer.
“As you get older, you get to learn how to handle players better,” Lopriore said. “In high school, sometimes the kids don’t want to play and there’s not much you can do about it because the parents get involved. When you go to college, you’re at a different level, especially at Division I basketball. Those guys are studs. And then when you get to professional sports, you got to play. That’s your job. You can’t tell me you have a belly ache and take a day off. That’s not how it works.”
“You learn how to win. In baseball, we used to say, if we’re going to play them, we got to win them. If you’re not going to win, then let me give the other team a call and say, ‘We’ll take the L. We’ll see you tomorrow.’ You’ve got to give a 100 percent, you’ve got to be the best you humanly can be in whatever you pick.”
Terry Kye, the daughter of posthumous inductee Luella Kye, was also in attendance for the ceremony. Luella Kye was the first female umpire east of the Mississippi River, and umpired numerous games in the northern part of Chautauqua County. Terry Kye said her mother was tough on the field, but a gentler person off the field.
“My mom was real tough when it came to umpiring and coaching, but she was pretty much a softy when you got to know her,” Kye said.
Kye said that her mom instilled determination into her family.
Fellow inductee Mark Weaver, a Grand Marshall in Mixed Martial Arts, said that multiple mixed martial artists, like Bruce Lee, served as an inspiration for him to never quit as he grew up.
“Growing up, I used to watch Kung Fu Theater with Bruce Lee on the weekends,” Weaver said. “Chuck Norris, Van Damme, all of those movies (served as inspiration).”
“I’ve learned to never quit. Always put 110 percent into everything you do, and always keep trying harder and harder. Each and every one of us has greatness in us, we just have to be motivated to go after it. Stay hungry, and find goals that you can achieve and go after them.
Jack Harper, a former MLB pitcher and Jamestown businessman, was posthumously inducted. However, Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame President Randy Anderson told WNYNewsNow that they couldn’t find a family member to represent him during the ceremony.
With this year’s induction, a total of 200 people have been inducted all-time.
Sports Reporter Norm Rodriguez contributed to this report.