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Hall of Fame

D. Bruce Lockerbie and his wife, Lory, pose for an Easter Sunday photo. Photo above from D. Bruce Lockerbie

A familiar face in the Three Village area is receiving a special honor from his college alma mater.

On May 4, East Setauket’s D. Bruce Lockerbie will be inducted into the New York University Department of Athletics, Intramurals and Recreation Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a member of its men’s cross country and track and field teams, during a reception at NYU’s Kimmel Center. Lockerbie majored in English and religion at NYU and graduated in 1956.

Bruce Lockerbie during his days on the New York University track and field and cross country teams. Photo from New York University

“Bruce Lockerbie’s accomplishments as a member of the NYU cross country and track teams have stood the test of time and rank him among the greats to ever don the NYU violet,” said Christopher Bledsoe, NYU assistant vice president for student affairs and director of athletics. “We celebrate Dr. Lockerbie’s achievements and look forward to a special afternoon in May.”

Lockerbie, 83, said he was surprised and humbled when he heard about the induction, especially since the university counts numerous world record holders in track and field.

“I thought it was an April Fools joke in September,” he said, adding he had good teammates with him during his stint in track and field.

Among his college successes were his team being named the Penn Relays Distance Medley Relay and Spring Medley Relay champions and winning the bronze medal at an NCAA cross country event, both in 1955. He was also the Canadian Indoor Track and Field 1,000 yards champion in 1956 and missed qualifying for Canada’s Olympic team the same year due to illness on the day of the trials.

Lockerbie was born in Canada and moved to the U.S. as a junior in high school when his father accepted a position as pastor at Bay Ridge Baptist Church in Brooklyn. He soon found himself running for Fort Hamilton High School’s team.

“This is a key time in my life,” he said.

Lockerbie said he almost didn’t attend NYU after high school. The son of Depression-era parents who dropped out of school to work, the former runner said he had no college expectations and didn’t apply to any schools. It was his high school coach who gave him advice at a New York City championship race that changed his life.

“He said, ‘Run the race of your life kid, and maybe God has a surprise for you,’” Lockerbie said.

It was apparent that the surprise was in store, as an NYU coach discovered him, and he received a four-year scholarship.

“It absolutely changed and shaped my life,” he said.

Lockerbie said he doesn’t believe he would have attended college if it wasn’t for that fateful day. After graduation, he would go on to teach and coach at Wheaton College in Illinois and then at The Stony Brook School for 34 years. He was recruited by the headmaster at the time, Frank E. Gaebelein, who had the same coach as him at NYU.

Jane Taylor, former assistant head of The Stony Brook School, who has known Lockerbie since 1973, described the ex-track star as an Energizer bunny. Through the years, she said, he took on many administration roles at the school including chair of the English department, dean of faculty and being involved in various committees.

“He said, ‘Run the race of your life kid, and maybe God has a surprise for you.'”

— D. Bruce Lockerbie

As head of the international consulting team Paideia, Inc. since 1991, she said Lockerbie is well-respected for his educational consultations and workshops she described as thought-provoking.

Taylor added she also remembered him as the kind of coach who actively engaged and ran with his students, and he would carefully look at the running times he felt each student was capable of running.

“His athletes rose to the occasion,” she said.

As for running, it’s something Lockerbie had to give up after a heart attack in 1982, he said, when his doctor told him he would miss his son’s wedding that was scheduled a few days after but would be around for his grandchildren’s.

Despite the setback, Lockerbie said he kept his competitive edge and took up golfing, even winning a car in the past for getting a hole-in-one.

“I just had to replace it,” he said. “Chinese checkers wouldn’t have been as challenging.”

Lockerbie and his wife Lory, who have been married since 1956, have lived in the Three Village area for 62 years where they raised three children. In addition to his successes in track and field and cross country, Lockerbie is the author, co-author and editor of 40 books, and he and his wife are active parishioners in the Caroline Church of Brookhaven.

When it comes to the May 4 induction ceremony at NYU’s Kimmel Center, Lockerbie said he is looking forward to it, and he is still grateful for his time at the university.

“It’s a case of a university having expressed its faith in me, when I was utterly a nobody, and giving me the opportunity to affect other people’s lives all these years in the profession of education,” he said. “The appropriate sentiment is humbling, and I’m grateful.”

Hans Wiederkehr, a former NFL player, decided to leave his playing career behind to coach high school football at Babylon for 15 years. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

T.J. Lynch grew up without a father. With no direction or motivation, all he knew was that he enjoyed playing football. Hans Wiederkehr, the head coach at Babylon High School at the time, struck up a relationship with Lynch like he had with many players before him. He would pick up the athlete early in the morning to make sure he was going to school, take him to the weight room and speak to him about the potential he saw.

“He was the biggest positive influence in my life,” the 1998 graduate said of Wiederkehr. “He was a very caring man, and he guided me. He showed me how to train, breathed words of encouragement and wisdom about life into me and lifted me up. He made you want to be better on the field and in the classroom. He got you excited about life.”

Hans Wiederkehr coaches from the sideline. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

Relationships like the one Wiederkehr had with Lynch are what the soon-to-be Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame inductee had hoped for when he decided to trade in an NFL career for a high school coaching gig back in 1988. Making a positive impact on someone’s life drew him from the gridiron to the sideline, and as a result he’ll hold a special place in Suffolk’s athletic history.

The Shoreham resident was born in Connecticut and played for East Lyme, graduating in 1981. He competed in the state championship his senior year, and after receiving multiple offers to play at the next level, decided to commit to Syracuse University on a scholarship. The 6-foot, 4-inch 322-pound offensive lineman played under defensive coordinator George O’Leary, a Central Islip native who went on to coach at his alma mater, and eventually with the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings. While leading Central Islip, O’Leary mentioned to Wiederkehr, who had a physical education degree, that if things didn’t work out with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was on the injured reserve list following college, that a teaching job and eventually head coaching position would be available at Babylon. While rehabbing, he spent a year as an assistant at Babylon under 20-year head coach Tom DiNuovo, which is where he caught the coaching bug. He returned the following year and took over the helm when DiNuovo retired.

“Probably the most enjoyable part of coaching is teaching a kid something that he really doesn’t think he can do, and then looking into his eyes after he completes something and say, ‘I told you so,’ that’s the biggest kick I get out of coaching,” Wiederkehr said. “You work with kids who are there because they really love the game, and I fell in love with coaching. I decided this is what I want to do.”

The head coach, who went on to enjoy a 15-year career, said he wanted to pay it forward, giving to others what coaches had given to him. When he was a sophomore in high school, his parents moved to Schenectady, but he wanted to stay in Connecticut because he saw potential in his team. Head coach Tom Smyth opened up his home to Wiederkehr and let him live with him until he graduated.

“He was the biggest positive influence in my life. … He got you excited about life.”

— T.J. Lynch

“He was a lead figure in my life next to my dad,” Wiederkehr said of Smyth. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for him. He got my name out there and opened up the doors for me. It’s unbelievable the pedigree of coaches that I’ve had, and all those guys have one thing in common — they preached outworking your opponent.”

While at Babylon, Wiederkehr amassed a 99-41-2 record, good for a 0.70 winning percentage. The Panthers reached the playoffs 12 times and won nine league titles under his guidance, going on to play in nine Suffolk County finals, winning five, followed by two Long Island championships. He coached alongside Rick Punzone, his defensive coordinator, and the pair of 25-year-olds led the team until Wiederkehr retired in 2002, leaving the team in the hands of
Punzone, who has now been the head coach at Babylon for 15 years.

“With his experience we had very successful teams,” said Punzone, the godfather of one of Wiederkehr’s daughters, who considers the coach a best friend of his for the last 28 years. “He’s a brother to me. He was professional, and always gave me free reign over the defense. We weren’t always the most talented but he got the most out of the kids, which is why we were always known as one of the tougher schools around. It’s because of his leadership, work ethic and organization.”

Wiederkehr left coaching to focus on his daughters, and eventually went on to coach his son in youth programs at Shoreham-Wading River.

“He stopped to watch my sisters develop,” his son Ethan Wiederkehr said. “It just shows you what type of person he is. He’s a family first type of guy. He’s not selfish, he cares about others and he’s a humble person. It’s been amazing to call him my father.”

One win shy of the coveted 100, Hans Wiederkehr left the helm of Babylon to work with youth in Shoreham-Wading River school district, including his son Ethan, above at a county awards dinner with wife Karen. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

Punzone also noted Hans Wiederkehr’s work with and attention to detail regarding his position as president of the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association.

“He’s taken our association to the next level,” he said. “I’m a coach in the association and we’ve never had as good a leadership as we’ve had under his reign.”

Joe Cipp Jr., the head coach at Bellport for the 31 years, who has collected his own 202-84-3 record and been a coaching friend of Wiederkehr’s over his entire career, said he took on being president the same way he tackled anything else in his life, giving it 100 percent.

“He puts a million hours in, just like he does with coaching, without getting paid,” Cipp said. “I could say he puts in 150 percent of the effort, but there’s no such thing. He makes the football awards dinner something special to the kids in Suffolk County. He does a tremendous job, and it speaks to the type of person he’s been his whole life. And as a coach, he was able to demand tremendous [effort] of his kids and still be well-liked. It’s the best combination you could be.”

Wiederkehr is one of 11 honorees selected for the hall of fame out of 32 nominees. According to Section XI Executive Director Tom Combs, who was a head coach at Babylon’s rival Harborfields for 13 years, his former opponent is the first to get into the hall of fame his first time being nominated.

“It says a lot about what a good man he is,” Combs said. “It’s very competitive, especially their first time on the ballot, and Hans is just a great coach and mentor to a lot of people. His teams were always very well
prepared and it usually came down to our two teams for the head of our division. There were some fierce battles. He’s a hard-nosed guy but the kids loved that discipline and direction that he provided. You could see he motivated the kids, and they loved him.”

Hans Widerkehr with former players. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

He added that giving up reaching the monumental 100 wins once again shows how he’s always willing to put others before himself. He eventually became an assistant coach to the Shoreham-Wading River varsity team under head coach Matt Millheiser. His son Ethan was part of two undefeated seasons and three straight Long Island championships. The 6-foot, 5-inch 273-pound offensive lineman accepted a scholarship to play at Northwestern University after winning the Bob Zellner Award, presented to Suffolk’s top lineman. He has aspirations of going pro.

“I fell in love with the team aspect of it, the relationships you build with your teammates and extend your family,” Ethan Wiederkehr said. “It’s hard to pinpoint any one thing since he taught be so much, but through hard work and dedication you can accomplish almost anything. I’ve learned to push through difficult obstacles to gain success. There was ups and downs having him in the sideline, but looking back now it’s been a blessing to have him by my side. He’s developed me as a person and an athlete through our experiences together on the field.”

Ken Gray, whose multisport standout son Chris played under Wiederkehr, remembered the first time he met the coach.

“Parents want their kids to win, and he was about teaching them about not always wining at an early age and expanding the program,” said Gray, whose son started playing football at 5 years old. “Shoreham-Wading
River wasn’t a big football community, and I’d say over 10 years he did a pretty good job of developing a pretty good program. I think that’s a result of Hans’ commitment to the community and the kids.”

Babylon athletic director Michael DeJoseph, was one of several who along with Cipp, wrote letters of recommendation for Wiederkehr to be inducted. DeJoseph said he was not at all surprised when he heard the news but, like many, said he wasn’t aware he’d been selected, because the coach remains humble.

“Probably the most enjoyable part of coaching is teaching a kid something that he really doesn’t think he can do, and then looking into his eyes after he completes something and say, ‘I told you so.'”

— Hans Wiederkehr

“It’s beyond well deserved,” said DeJoseph, who was hired by Wiederkehr as a teacher and coach of the junior varsity team, and eventually worked his way up the ladder. “He really cared about the kids, and he showed me and the players blueprints for success. As impressive he is as a coach he’s probably more impressive as a father, husband and family man. He’s a community guy who cares for others.”

Former athlete Drew Peters, a 2002 graduate, also said he knows about his former coach’s devotion firsthand. He played on the varsity team all four years of high school and said he and all of Wiederkehr’s players felt like he cared about him.

“He treated you like you were one of his kids,” he said. “When you’re on a team of 30-plus kids, every one of you felt very special to him, and I think that’s what made you play even harder. He had that father-like figure to everyone on the team and we always wanted to do our best for him.”

Peters spoke of his coaches sacrifices, saying Wiederkehr would drive from Shoreham, even during the winter months, to pick up his athletes at 6 a.m. and take them to the weight room before school started. He said he’ll never forgot how the man with three children would sacrifice his own time to come to each one of his teammates houses to pick them up. He became so close with so many of the players, he even attended
several of their weddings, including Peters’.

“He teaches you a lot more than just the sport, he prepared us young men to go through the struggles that you’ll face in life,” he said. “My senior year we lost in the Long Island championship and it was a tough game for us, but there was a controversial penalty that I was involved in and he took me under his wing after the game and said, ‘Hey, if this is the worst thing that’s ever going to happen to you in life, losing a football game in high school, then you’re going to have a pretty good life.’ And I just remember that being something that obviously at the time was very upsetting but it’s true, it was a game that was very important to everybody, but he definitely had a way of putting things into perspective.”

Girls basketball leader for nearly four decades inducted into state hall of fame

Rich Castellano in the huddle with a Northport team. Photo from Rich Castellano

By Desirée Keegan

When Rich Castellano was asked to fill in for a season as the girls basketball coach at Northport Middle School, he had no idea the chain of events that followed would change the rest of his life.

That decision to head the team led to a 38-year stint as the varsity coach, 613 wins, 24 league titles, 10 Suffolk County championships, five Long Island championships and three trips to the state semifinals. He was named 2011 Russell Athletic/Women’s Basketball Coaches Association National High School Coach of the Year after first receiving the WBCA District Coaches of the Year award, has been welcomed into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame and was inducted into the New York State Public High School Athletic Hall of Fame July 26.

Northrop girls basketball head coach Rich Castellano talks to his players. Photo from Rich Castellano

“I had no idea what it would lead to,” the retired math teacher said. “I’ve been blessed —  I was there at the right time. The sport started to take off. Everything was in the right place.”

After starting at the middle school, he moved up the chain with a handful of students, taking over the junior varsity team the following year, and began his career at the varsity level in 1979.

The Tigers won a league championship that winter, the first of three in a row, and next thing he knew the team was hanging a county championship banner on the gymnasium wall.

“I felt we were going in the right direction,” Castellano said. “The little kids in the stands who were watching us play wanted to become Lady Tigers. Everyone who watched our success early now had the opportunity to be on the court. There’s nothing like playing for your high school in front of your family and friends — it’s a whole different atmosphere.”

He credited the initial achievements to being able to work with the girls year after year until they reached the varsity level with him. But the success didn’t stop there. Northport took home six straight county championships from 1989 to 1994, a feat that had never been done nor never been duplicated.

Rich Castellano speaks to young Northport basketball players during a previous Tigers camp. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“The girls wanted to be basketball players,” Castellano said. “Now, it’s like a self-perpetuating thing. They know what to expect. We’ve really been consistent all the way through.”

Coaching that middle school team was the first time he’d led a group of females. The Selden resident had previously been a football and baseball coach, and has since also coached boys and girls volleyball and softball.

“It was unique, it was different,” he said of his first time coaching girls. “I think they taught me to be a better coach. You take things too seriously sometimes even though it’s just high school sports, and I think they gave me a better perspective.”

To feed into his program, he runs summer camps to keep the kids involved and get the younger generation’s feet wet.

Katie Kelly, a former player who is now the junior varsity coach at Northport, teaches at the camp.

“It was always my dream to end up playing for him,” she said of Castellano. “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had, and I’ve been on many different teams. He’s so dedicated to this program, his team and his girls. Everyone has the same nice words to say about him. He know a lot about the game, he know a lot about being a coach.”

Northport girls basketball head coach Rich Castellano watches from the sideline with union varsity coach Katie Kelly. Photo from Rich Castellano

Kelly, who was a part of two county championship and two Long Island championship seasons with the Tigers, said learning how to be a part of a team was the most important thing she took away from her time at Northport.

“He has always emphasized the importance of being on a team, playing together and cooperation,” she said. “I think that’s what makes the team so successful. And obviously in his career he’s been successful, so it seems to work.”

The head coach has seen the trickle-down effect, too.

Even with a myriad of accolades to his own name and with the induction into the state hall of fame, he said it’s never been a one-man show, crediting his other coaches and players like Kaylie Schiavetta.

“She’s an unsung hero who played her butt off and never looked for credit and did it all for the love of the game and the love of her teammates,” Castellano said. “I never wanted all the attention, I didn’t play one minute in any game. It was all their success. It was all their hard work and all the stuff they had gone through to get to where we were. If you look around the gym, there’s a lot of championships. It’s something I take a lot of pride in, but I wouldn’t be where I am without kids like her. She taught me that.”

Still, he was shocked when he heard of the nomination to the NYPHSAA hall of fame.

Northport girls basketball coach Rich Castellano with former player Kaylie Schiavetta as she signs her letter of intent. Photo from Rich Castellano

“Oh my God, you’ve got to be kidding me,” he said was his reaction when he heard the news. “It caught me off guard. It was a ‘wow’ moment. It took all the girls who played for me to have that feeling. I’m obviously very proud and humbled, but it also makes me reflect on all the girls have achieved over the years and what they’ve helped us achieve.”

Schiavetta was excited to hear of the honor.

“It’s about time,” she said, laughing. “I think everything he’s done for girls basketball is very memorable, whether you played for Northport or not. If you played girls basketball on Long Island you know who Richard Castellano is.”

Inside the basketball arena but outside the court, Castellano brought Coaches vs Cancer to Suffolk County, a program that 95 percent of schools in the county currently participate in. He has led the program to raise tens of thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society since its inception.

“To me, it’s one of my biggest accomplishments,” he said. “Basketball officials get involved by wearing pink shirts, the girls where pink socks, pink ribbons in their hair and pink t-shirts, the girls have me wear a pink tie — we’re into it big time.”

Rich Castellano with young Northport players and alumni during a Coaches vs Cancer game. Photo from Rich Castellano

The charity event hits home for Castellano, because he was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2006. The girls’ shirts have a basketball court on the back with the words “I’m playing for” above it. There’s an empty space to write the name of a cancer survivor or victim the player wishes to honor during the games.

“A lot of the girls put my name on their shirt beside their grandmother or their neighbor or their parents, so that’s kind of cool, too,” he said.

Over the years, the coach has kept in contact with most of his former players. He’s been to almost 20 weddings, christenings, graduations and even spoke at the Northport sports hall of fame induction ceremony for all seven of his honored athletes, all in the last two years since its inception.

Sisters Cami Ruck and Kimberly Ruck, Renee Raleigh, Debbie Ronan (McCabe) and her now-sister-in-law Regina Ronan, Christine Michalopoulos and Jill Byers are all merits of his success.

Rich Castellano with members of a former Northport girls basketball team. Photo from Rich Castellano

Kimberly Ruck’s daughter is in seventh grade at Northport, and will soon be playing for her mother’s coach. Debbie and Regina Ronan have both come back to coach alongside their mentor, and Michalopoulos went on to coach college basketball.

“It validates decisions you made,” Castellano said. “They liked what they were doing and it’s a compliment they’re coaching.”

He will also be inducted into the Northport sports hall of fame this fall alongside Schiavetta, who played for her coach since seventh grade and attended the camp since fourth grade.

“I thought he was really funny,” she said of her initial impression of Castellano. “He always does a good job making the little girls laugh and make them feel comfortable. He has a way of challenging and bringing out the best qualities in a player.”

Her father Lou Schiavetta, who has been a coach at the camp for the last 10 years, agreed.

“Coach Castellano could sell ice cream in the North Pole,” he said. “There are people that are givers and takers — he’s a giver. He’s all for the kids and for his program. As you can see, it speaks for itself with all the banners and honors he’s received. He’s one of the winningest coaches in the county.”

Girls basketball banners line the walls of the gymnasium at Northport High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

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Photo from Three Village School District

Three Village Central School District is now accepting applications for the Ward Melville High School 2016-2017 Athletic Hall of Fame.

To be considered for admission to the Athletic Hall of Fame, candidates must meet the detailed criteria outlined on the nomination form located on the district’s website at www.threevillagecsd.org.

The requirements include having graduated from Ward Melville High School at least five years ago and amassed an impressive list of accolades during his or her athletic career, both in high school and beyond. Candidates are expected to be well-rounded citizens, having worked to make a difference in their community, state or nation, and served as role models for others.

Nominations should be submitted to the district’s athletic office by Dec. 1. All nominations will be kept on file for continued review for a period of up to five years.

The 2016 Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame induction class was honored at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Hauppauge. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Greatness in the world of athletics was on display to be celebrated Friday night. Members of the 27th class of the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame were inducted at a ceremony held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Hauppauge. They will join past inductees like Boomer Esiason and Craig Biggio in the pantheon of impactful Suffolk sports figures.

“Each year we induct the very best of Suffolk County,” Master of Ceremonies and 1999 Hall of Fame inductee David Weiss said to kick off the evening. “These are men and women on and off the playing field who had a positive and lasting impact, and have left a legacy for all of Suffolk County.”

Among the inductees were Northport star lacrosse player Jill Byers; Setauket resident and 27-year New York Jets beat reporter, Rich Cimini; legendary Harborfields football coach and Smithtown football star, Tom Combs; the first varsity boys’ basketball coach at Comsewogue, Frank Romeo; and Deer Park three-sport standout and football All-American at Stony Brook University, Chuck Downey. Richie LoNigro, owner of Port Jefferson Sporting Goods, which has been open since 1973, was also honored with a special recognition award.

Byers graduated from Northport in 2005. She is the only athlete to be named All-Long Island team in three sports during her high school career, playing basketball, soccer and lacrosse. She was a two-time All-American in lacrosse during high school, and also received the distinction four times during her career at the University of Notre Dame. She also competed on the United States women’s lacrosse national team.

“African proverb states that it takes a village to raise a child,” Byers said during the ceremony Friday. She credited, among others, her three older brothers for her success, stating that they never let her win at anything. “Thank you to my village for giving me the opportunity to represent you here tonight.”

Setauket resident Rich Cimini was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a beat reporter for the New York Jets. Photo by Alex Petroski
Setauket resident Rich Cimini was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a beat reporter for the New York Jets. Photo by Alex Petroski

Cimini is the longest tenured Jets beat reporter in team history, working for the Daily News, Newsday and for the past six years, ESPN. He has received awards from the Associated Press and the Pro Football Writers of America for his work over the years.

He joked that he didn’t feel like he belonged in a class with people who accomplished so much on the field, being that his accomplishments took place entirely in the press box.

“I feel like the nerd who got invited to the cool kids party,” Cimini said.

He mentioned his supportive parents and his understanding wife of 25 years, who is okay with planning their lives yearly around the NFL schedule.

“She’s the real hall of famer in our family,” Cimini said of his wife Michelle, who is actually a lifelong New York Giants season ticket holder.

Tom Combs has been the athletic director in the Patchogue-Medford school district since 2003. Before that, he played Division II football at Ashland University in Ohio following his four years at Smithtown. He became the head football coach at Harborfields in 1990, where he won five county championships and two Long Island Championships over a 13-year run.

“I am humbled by the talent and accomplishments of this class,” Combs said. “I’m just very honored and blessed to be up here.”

Combs has two daughters who followed in his footsteps and became teachers and coaches.. He thanked his family, friends and players for helping him to achieve the successes that led to his induction.

“Being a football coach is always something I wanted to do,” he said, adding that his players earning scholarships to attend college and play football was always important to him. “That’s what I’m always proud of as a coach.”

In 1968, Frank Romeo became the first varsity basketball coach at Comsewogue. During a 24-year span, Romeo led Comsewogue to eight league titles, one large school Section XI title and 15 straight playoff appearances. From 1987 to 1990, Romeo’s record was 62-5. He left Comsewogue to become the head basketball coach at Suffolk County Community College in 1992, where he made the playoffs in all of his seven seasons there.

Romeo used the word “we” repeatedly about his spot in the Hall of Fame.

“For all of my former players at Comsewogue and at Suffolk Community College — they were the main ingredient in the term ‘we,’” he said. “They did the playing and they made the sacrifices. Some years we were good enough to win championships and other years we played just as hard and we didn’t win championships. They can now be assured that they made their mark in Suffolk County. They got us to the Hall of Fame.”

Frank Romeo was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as varsity basketball coach at Comsewogue High School and Suffolk County Community College. Photo by Alex Petroski
Frank Romeo was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as varsity basketball coach at Comsewogue High School and Suffolk County Community College. Photo by Alex Petroski

Chuck Downey was a standout wrestler, football player and lacrosse player during his years at Deer Park. He was a part of Stony Brook University’s first football team in 1984, where he still holds nearly 30 school records and 12 NCAA records. He was a three-time All-American while at Stony Brook, which earned him a professional contract with the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles. That marked the first time a Stony Brook athlete signed a professional sports contract. Downey has since followed in the footsteps of his father Raymond, an FDNY Battalion Chief. His father died in the line of duty on Sept. 11, 2001.

Weiss gave Downey a memorable introduction.

“What a great way to end a wonderful evening with an inductee who epitomizes the word hero from a family of heroes,” Weiss said of the last member to be announced.

Downey joked that he’d rather be in a burning building then standing in front of a room full of people to speak.

“I’m truly honored and deeply grateful to be up here tonight along with these other amazing athletes,” he said.

Many of Richie LoNigro’s 12 children, 25 grandchildren and five great grandchildren were present to honor the man who has become a fixture in Port Jefferson.

“I own a business that makes trophies and trophies are things that we’re all very proud of. I brought my trophies with me tonight and they’re all sitting out there in the audience,” he said, talking about his family. “These are my trophies and awards, and I take them with me wherever I go.”

To learn more about the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame visit www.suffolksportshof.com.

2016 Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame inductees Tom Combs, Chuck Downey and Rich Cimini pose for a photo at the induction announcement press conference. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame announced on Wednesday that they will be inducting eight new members in 2016. The class includes Setauket resident Rich Cimini, the New York Jets beat reporter for ESPN; Commack resident Chuck Downey, the first Stony Brook University athlete to sign a professional sports contract; and Setauket resident Tom Combs, the athletic director at Patchogue-Medford High School and a standout football star for Smithtown, among others.

Television and radio host David Weiss introduced the inductees at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Hauppauge during the press conference.

“It’s an honor to be associated with such great inductees, great athletes and coaches,” Cimini said during the press conference after he was introduced. “I’m just a guy who got cut from his varsity baseball team by Bill Batewell. At least he’s a Hall of Famer, so I can say that I got cut by a Hall of Fame coach.”

Cimini graduated from Sachem High School in 1981. He has covered the Jets for Newsday, the Daily News and now ESPN during his long career as a reporter.

“It has been such a great ride that I have a fear that I’m going to wake up one day and realize it’s just been a dream, and that I actually have to go out and get a real job,” Cimini said.

Downey, who is currently a Battalion Chief for the FDNY, credited his parents for instilling values of hard work that led him to be successful in life. His father Raymond, who was also an FDNY firefighter, was killed in the line of duty on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Suffolk is very special, and to be here today with these other inductees — thank you very much,” Downey said during the press conference. He was a three-sport athlete at Deer Park High School, before playing football at Stony Brook University, and ultimately signing an NFL contract with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1988.

Combs has played, coached and been an athletic director in Suffolk County dating back to the 1970s. He is also a member of the Hall’s board of trustees.

“This is quite a talented class,” Combs said. “I’ve been involved with the Hall of Fame for the last five years and I can honestly say this is a very intimidating group with some amazing accomplishments.”

The other inductees include Jillian Byers, a thre-sport standout from Northport who went on to become a four-time All-American in lacrosse; Frank Romeo, who was a longtime boys’ basketball coach at Comsewogue High School who was inducted into the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame last year; and Laura Gentile, Maria Michta-Coffey and Isaac Ramaswamy, all of whom went to Sachem.

Richie LoNigro, owner of Port Jefferson Sporting Goods, will also receive a Special Recognition Award for his dedication to the athletes of Suffolk County. He is one of only six people in the country to receive the Rawlings Sporting Goods Silver Glove Award, which has been given to some of the most respected people in the sporting good industry

The ceremony for the 2016 inductees will take place on May 6, also at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Hauppauge. Tickets are $95. For more information visit http://www.suffolksportshof.com.

Astros second baseman and catcher is originally from Kings Park

Craig Biggio and wife Patty greet the crowd at an MLB Hall of Fame induction parade. Photo by Clayton Collier

By Clayton Collier

Much like he did during his 20-year playing career, Craig Biggio left it all out on the field Sunday.

However, instead of an orange-and-white Houston Astros jersey and eye black, the former catcher and second baseman was donning a navy blue suit and a touch of perspiration seeping from his forehead on the hazy summer afternoon, with the hair above his ears just beginning to show signs of graying.

Instead of coming to bat before a packed Astrodome or Minute Maid Park, Biggio took to the podium in front of an estimated 45,000 people on the grassy plain behind the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown to accept his induction into the MLB Hall of Fame.

Grinning ear-to-ear as he began his 17-minute speech, Biggio spoke at length about the place where the journey to his now-Hall of Fame career began, “in a little town, Kings Park, New York.”

A young Craig Biggio tags out a base runner for Seton Hall University. Photo from Seton Hall
A young Craig Biggio tags out a base runner for Seton Hall University. Photo from Seton Hall

Senator John Flanagan (R-East Northport), who represents the Second Senate District, congratulated Biggio in a statement on his Facebook page saying the longtime Houston Astro is “an inspiration to young local athletes by showing them that they can achieve greatness if they work hard every day.”

Biggio, a member of the 3,000-hit club, said he acquired his work ethic from his parents, Yolanda and Lee. The seven-time All-Star’s voice became shaky as he described them: “two hard-working people who are no longer here. But I know they’re watching.’’

His father was an air-traffic controller who never missed a game. Every day, Biggio said, his father would tie a rope around his waist, then to the backstop while he threw to the young slugger during batting practice to prevent him from lunging at the plate.

“It worked,” Biggio said in his acceptance speech, hours before his plaque was installed in the MLB Hall of Fame. “But I came home every day with rope burns around my waist.”

Biggio said although sports were important, he had a number of commitments that kept him busy.

“Growing up in Kings Park, I had three responsibilities: school, sports and I had a job,” he said. “My job was I had a newspaper route.”

Baseball was not the only sport Biggio thrived in at Kings Park. The now 49-year-old was awarded the Hansen Award, recognizing the best football player in Suffolk County in 1983. Kevin Johnson, the then-assistant football coach at Kings Park, said at the time, he thought Biggio was better at football than he was baseball. Earlier this week at dinner, Johnson said he and then-Kings Park baseball coach John Rottkamp pinned Biggio down to the question of whether he thought his talents were superior in baseball or football.

“He picked the sport with the larger ball,” Johnson said with a laugh. “He thought he was a better football player at the time, too.”

Craig Biggio, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz are MLB Hall of Fame inductees. Photo by Clayton Collier
Craig Biggio, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz are MLB Hall of Fame inductees. Photo by Clayton Collier

Biggio had received interest from major football programs such as Boston College and Oklahoma State University, among others, but Johnson said the schools were looking at him as a punt and kickoff returner — a rough position on the body for any athlete, let alone a 5-foot, 10-inch, 165-pound high school senior.

“That’s not a safe occupation in football when you’re undersized,” Johnson said. “When we found out what colleges were going to do with him, right away we were a little nervous that he was just going to get so banged up. Then the Seton Hall scholarship fell into place.”

St. John’s head baseball coach Ed Blankmeyer, then an assistant coach at Seton Hall University under Mike Sheppard — and now Blankmeyer’s father-in-law — was responsible for recruiting Biggio to the Pirates. Blankmeyer said it was Biggio’s hard-nosed style of play, in spite of his small stature, that initially struck him.

“He played bigger than his size,” said Blankmeyer, who has amassed 688 wins in his 19 seasons as head coach of the Red Storm. “He had some outstanding skills. He could run like the wind, he could hit, he had outstanding instinct, but whether he played good or bad, you always found something good about Craig Biggio and the way he played the game. He played with an intensity; he played with a big heart. You had to go away liking the guy, that’s what it was. I just loved the way he played.”

Despite the multitude of football offers and a draft selection by the Detroit Tigers out of high school, Blankmeyer signed Biggio.

“Not many coaches can say they’ve had an opportunity to recruit and coach a big league player,” said Blankmeyer when asked about the satisfaction in knowing he signed Biggio. “But a guy who played 20 years with one organization, who played three positions, an All-Star and now a Hall of Famer? Boy I tell you, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime situation.”

A young Craig Biggio rounds the bases for Seton Hall University. Photo from Seton Hall
A young Craig Biggio rounds the bases for Seton Hall University. Photo from Seton Hall

After Seton Hall’s catcher Tony DeFrancesco was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 1984, there was a spot to fill at backstop. Sheppard called upon his star recruit, who had experience at catcher, to move back behind the plate.

“Craig used to call himself the retriever who became a receiver because he used to chase the ball back to the backstop,” Sheppard told WSOU, Seton Hall’s student radio station. “But let me tell you, he was so fast he could chase it to the backstop and still throw the guy out at first base.”

Biggio played on a Seton Hall squad consisting of future major leaguers Mo Vaughn, John Valentin and Marteese Robinson. They would capture the Big East regular season title all three years Biggio played for the Pirates and earned an NCAA Regional bid in 1987.

Off the field, Biggio converted to Catholicism and met his future wife, Patty.

“Seton Hall is very special to us,” Patty Biggio said. “It’s where our family began. It’s the roots of our relationship.”

Sheppard’s teams prided themselves on a scrappy style of baseball. Biggio said that it was simply the culture of the athletics program at the time, playing on a field he described as a “dirty, nasty bubble.” A far cry from the current playing grounds of the well-manicured turf of Owen T. Carroll Field. Most of all, Biggio said he remembers a common phrase of coach Sheppard.

“Coach Shep’s motto was, ‘Never lose your hustle,’ which is something I took to my pro career,” he said in his speech.

“He was part of the journey,” Biggio said in his post-induction press conference. “How do you get to the Hall of Fame? You got to have a little bit of talent and a lot of people to help you along the way, and Shep was one of those people.”

Biggio was drafted in the first round of the 1987 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros, going on to play the entirety of his two-decade career in an Astros uniform.

Adam Everett, a teammate of Biggio’s from 2001 to 2007, said he learned a great deal from Biggio about how to play the game the right way.

Craig Biggio, right, is all smiles with MLB Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson as he receives his induction plaque. Photo by Clayton Collier
Craig Biggio, right, is all smiles with MLB Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson as he receives his induction plaque. Photo by Clayton Collier

“There’s only one way to play, and that’s hard,” he said. “I owe a lot of my career to him and I really appreciate what he did for me.”

Biggio amassed 3,060 hits, 661 doubles and was hit by a record 285 pitches while playing second base, catcher and outfield at various points in his major league career. He also drew 1,160 walks and stole 414 bases.

What many do not know, however, is Biggio’s extensive charity work, particularly as the national spokesman for the Sunshine Kids, an organization supporting children with cancer. Biggio said his interest in helping children battling cancer came when a boy from a family on his paper route came down with leukemia.

“The Sunshine Kids are a big part of my life and one of the reasons I stayed in Houston for 20-plus years and continue to live there today,” he said.

It was because of his work with the Sunshine Kids and others that he was awarded the Roberto Clemente Award, something Johnson said is more indicative of who Biggio truly is, rather than his baseball statistics.

“I think that says more about him as a person than all the facts and figures that he amassed over the years,” Johnson said. “People have a tendency to look at what he did as a baseball player, but the Roberto Clemente award says much, much more about him as a person.”

Though Biggio has lived in Houston for more than 25 years, his impact on Kings Park is still felt.

“It’s great having an alum like Craig Biggio, because we can always refer to him to our current student-athletes as to what is possible and what can happen through hard work,” current athletic director Bill Denniston said.

The first three words of Biggio’s Hall of Fame plaque read “gritty spark plug,” an appropriate description of a player known for giving it his all in every game. In return, the game of baseball has given the local paperboy from Kings Park turned-MLB great an even greater gift, immortality.

“I gave the game everything I had every day,” Biggio said. “In baseball, tomorrow is not guaranteed, and I tried to play every game as if it was going to be my last. I want to thank the game for everything. The game has given me everything: my family, my friends, respect, but most of all memories of a lifetime.”

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