First Island Athletic Hall of Famers inducted

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Legendary coach Carol Spooner was one of the first inductees into the Shelter Island Athletic Hall of Fame Thursday night. Presenting the honor was School Board Chairman Stephen Gessner, left, and Superintendent of Schools Michael Hynes.

It was a love fest at Shelter Island School Thursday night as a throng of locals and visitors were on hand to honor two former coaches, eight individual athletes and four teams that have put the town’s name on the map.

The occasion was the first induction of members of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, with another group of coaches, athletes and teams to be so honored on November 29.

The most impressive reception was given to  90-year-old coach Carol Spooner, who lives at Peconic Landing  in Greenport. Coach Spooner brought the crowd to its feet as she stood to receive her plaque commemorating both her work with the school athletic program for 17 years and her work in fostering recognition of female athletes. She was a pioneer advocating for Title IX  Education Amendments passed in 1972 that required  doors be open to all  programs, sports included, to all students regardless of gender.

There were a number of shout outs Thursday night for women in the community who likely would have been Hall of Fame candidates, given their athleticism, had Title IX been in effect when they were younger.

Jim Colligan, the evening’s master of ceremonies and the man who spearheaded the Hall of Fame selection committee, said former students of Ms. Spooner called her “a patient lady — very tolerant,” who “always said we could” achieve our goals.

“I’m so surprised and honored,” Ms. Spooner said accepting the award. She added she couldn’t have asked for a better group of students and mentioned the support from the school administration and  the boys’ athletic coach, George Zabel.

Mr. Zabel, another honoree who passed away in 1979, coached basketball, softball, cross country and track and field from 1954 to 1975 . His daughter, Vicky Zabel Gershon, said her dad always told her no one knows a coach as well as his boys and no one knows the boys as well as their coach. Cliff Clark, another member of the selection committee, credited Coach Zabel with getting him involved in cross country running. Mr. Clark almost made it to the 1972 Olympics in Munich, but fell just short of making the team. Mr. Clark, by the way, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in November. But he didn’t want to be in the initial group since he wanted to honor his own athletes — those he had coached in cross country.

Olympic marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson, the winner of the race in 1984 in Los Angeles — the first time the marathon was opened to females — challenged all the athletes to live their own stories and let their stories guide their lives. Ms. Benoit is  in town

“It’s truly all about the story,” Ms. Samuelson said, explaining how her own life story went from skiing to running and how various events informed which races she would enter.

“I still can’t quench that thirst of competition,” she said, noting that she had planned to stop running competitively in 2008, but was driven by special events to keep joining races. She will be running again here Saturday and told the audience that with her fourth trip here, Shelter Island has begun to feel like home.

“Live your dreams and follow your heart; the heart never lies,” she said.

She ran in the recent Boston Marathon,besting her goal of running the race in a 2:50:37.

“Our sport is strong; our sport is resilient,” she said, referring to the bombings that put a damper on the Boston race.

Jay Card Jr. honored the championship boys basketball team of 1932-33, a team his grandfather, Jay Card Sr., coached. The coach was known for being strict but strong, Mr. Card said. Family members of some of the players were on hand to accept plaques.Mr. Card said the team was the first on record to win a championship for Shelter Island. Players  inducted were Charles Smith, William Johnson, Marcus Duval, Chick Hallock, Sylvester Lucas and Bud Simes.

Former Coach Chris Tracy was on hand to honor varsity basketball player Jessie Clark, describing her as “a tremendous young lady” who “had this poise about her and had this smile,” he said. “I saw in her a desire and she kept working at it” to develop her on-court skills.
“She listened; she was like a sponge that soaked it all up,” Mr. Tracy said.

“I’m honored to be standing here,” Ms. Clark said. Mr. Tracy “taught me a great deal about life.”

Fred Simes of the class of 1956 was recognized for his prowess as a cross country runner. He was the first athlete to break the five-minute mile, a record that lasted for more than 20 years, Mr. Clark said. Mr. Simes also lettered in varsity basketball and baseball. Family members accepted his plaque since he’s now living in Chicago.

Former coach Richard Herbert was at the podium to honor the 1977 boys golf team — Scott Lechmanski, John Wallace and Josh Mothner — saying the players were so good, he had little to do. The team had an 8-0 record out-scoring opponents 126-18 and finished sixth out of 40 teams in the Section XI Tournament.

Janelle Kraus-Nadeau, who coordinates the elite runners for the Shelter Island 10k, was honored both for her cross country and track and field career at the school and her post career as a would-be Olympian who trained for the 2008 Olympics, but fell short at the trials when she sustained a hip injury that knocked her out of contention.

“Janelle is just a great human being,” Mr. Clark said. He had helped to coach her during her effort to make the Olympics and said she is “the whole package” with talent and the “mental piece” to use her abilities effectively. She went to Wake Forest University on a full athletic scholarship and remains the most decorated athlete from Wake Forest, Mr. Clark said.

She thanked friends and family and said she doesn’t think her cross country and track and field career would have been what it has been without Mr. Clark’s coaching.

Even though Thursday night’s audience thought the  accomplishments in basketball and baseball were the most important for Bill McManus, Bill Clark, who was Mr. McManus’ teammate on the championship basketball team of 1957-58, recalls that what came first and last was his desire to be a dentist. He announced that intention in elementary school and went on to give it preference over sports, choosing Brown University and then Columbia University over a chance to try out with the Detroit Tigers . He was on hand Thursday night, though now is retired and living in Vero Beach, Florida.

“I just played to have fun,” Mr. McManus said.

“He had a commitment to be the best that he could be” and pushed the others to be the best they could be, Mr. Clark said.

That boys basketball team of 1957-58 was honored. The team was undefeated with a 16-0 record and team members outscored opponents by an average of 29.5 points per game. Members were Guy McGayhey, Bob Tybaert, Bill Clark, Mr. McManus, Joe Satira, Roger Butts, Rollie Clark Gene Mosca. Coach Zabel was at the helm. Mr. McManus remembered the coach going eyeball-to-eyeball with a referee in one game and yelling, “Open your eyes; you’re missing a good game.”

Next up was the girls track and field team of 1996 who were coached by Cliff Clark.
“These people are crazy — every single one of them,” Coach Clark said, describing their road trips as “such a circus.” Of the seven members — Ms. Kraus-Nadeau, Alexis Hamblet, Eileen Sheppard, Michelle Gagen, Amanda Kraus, Charlotte Moore and Fay Rodriguez — four were selected to competed at county championships, winning every race they entered. But while four of the seven actually competed, there was “incredible support” from the entire team,  the coach said.

The Hamblet sisters — Alexis Hamblet Anderson, visiting from Iowa, and Vanessa Hamblet — were among the inductees Thursday night. Both have been involved with cross country and track and field events.

Cliff Clark said of Alexis that she has a “drive and commitment — a fire that burns in the belly” for the sport. “Her grit, her toughness” defy the “gentle, kind person” she is. Among her accomplishments, Alexis was all state in cross country in 1995 and in track and field in 1998. At Auburn University, she was cross country team captain and an NCAA Division I championship qualified in cross country.

She said what attracted her to cross country and track and field was her inability at ball handling and these were sports that didn’t require that skill. Vanessa has “a great passion for excellence in everything she does,” Mr. Clark said.

She is a five time Suffolk County champion in cross country in 1999, the 800 meter and 1500 in 2000 and 2001 and was all state in the 800 meter and 15000 meter in 2001 and all county in cross country in 1999 and 2000 and track and field in 2000 and 2001. Vanessa won Wendy’s HS Heisman Award in 2001 and ran track while at Boston College.

She thanks the committee for honoring her and said it’s “an honor to be part of such a rich athletic community.”

George Wallace played varsity basketball for four years, and hold the Long Island Press Gold trophy for League B-3 in basketball and was also an outstanding catcher and outfielder who attended tryouts for the Milwaukee Braves in 1961, the year he graduated from high school.

He played baseball at SUNY Farmingdale and played in the National Junior College World Series, according to presenter Lance Willumsen.
His sister, Phyllis Wallace, brought down the house when she said she lived through her brother’s four years of high school and, “I thank George Zabel” for getting her brother on the right path.

Gary Blados, who graduated in 1996 was better known around town as “Gary Golf,” according to Garth Griffin. He learned the game from his grandfather, Antone Blados, and former golf pro Bob DeStefano helped with refine his game — of course, with granddad watching and supervising.

“Gary has a golf game like no other,” Mr. Griffin said. Coaching him in his high school years was an honor he said.

More background information is posted on each of the inductees at the Hall of Fame display outside the gymnasium at the school. They display is “a work in progress,” according to Mr. Colligan, who announced that there will be further fund-raising efforts to expand the Hall of Fame.

While the next group of inductees has been chosen for November, the selection committee is already working on next year’s choices and Mr. Colligan said anyone with ideas should submit them. Forms are available on the school website or at the school office.