It's a chance to say "thank you." It's a chance to recall the good old days. It's a chance for youths and young adults to get a better idea of the athleticism their grandfathers and great-grandfathers possessed during their younger days.
Yes, earning induction into the Niagara Falls Old Timers Sports Hall of Fame comes with a few perks. But the biggest perk, besides the trip down memory lane, is that this Saturday's induction ceremony and dinner will simply be a fun night for this year's class of inductees because they'll be surrounded by family, old friends and even some old rivals who made competitive sports that much more enjoyable.
The 41st class of inductees will be honored at the Como Restaurant starting at 6 p.m.
A limited number of tickets are still available for the event that's expected to draw an estimated 300 people. Tickets can be purchased at Bucky's Barber Shop, 2216 Hyde Park Blvd., or by calling Ben Eodice at 308-6910.
"It means a lot, that the community is recognizing [me]," said inductee Frank Coscia, a 1958 Bishop Duffy graduate who earned All-Catholic honors in football, was also a basketball and baseball standout and coached at the scholastic level for 20 years. "I'm shocked."
Besides Coscia, the Class of 2008 also includes Lou Battino, Edison Brown, Al Kravitz, Joe Tacconi, Richard Kellick, John Luzak, Hank Nichols, Rocco Zendano Sr., Rich Syruws, Al Cirrito and Bill Bradshaw.
Jerry Mick will be inducted posthumously as the Robert Eagler Memorial honoree.
Tom "Guy" Sottile will receive the Pep DeRamio Service Award, an honor given to a member of the Old Timers Sports Hall of Fame board of directors.
The Hall of Fame has been around since 1968. Founded by Harold Quinn and Pep DiRamio, the organization honors those age 55 and over who have contributed to athletics in their community either as athletes, coaches, managers, organizers, sponsors or volunteers.
>Three age divisions
There are three age divisions for the inductees: 55 to 65, 66 to 75, and 76 and over.
"It's a 'thank you,' and a lot of people feel funny being honored, but their families think it's phenomenal," said Eodice, the hall's vice president. "It's just a nice night. . . . We try to keep the memory of these people alive. There have been a lot of people who have done a lot of good things for the city."
Lou Battino, 80, is one of them.
He won a regional Golden Gloves boxing title as a teenager, but his brief time as a pugilist barely scratches the surface of his athletic career. Simply put, Battino was just a great athlete.
He played fast-pitch softball and football in the old Industrial Leagues. He played recreation basketball and has been an avid golfer for 50 years -- with two holes-in-one on his resume. He participated in American Red Cross swim-a-thons for 25 years.
He still hits the heavy and speed bags during workouts at the YMCA, but the former Cayuga Babe Ruth coach (1957-60) loved playing softball the most.
"I'd play two or three games a day if I could and if it rained, I'd cry," said Battino, who played softball against fellow inductee Kravitz. "I feel very honored [being inducted]."
Saturday night will be the first of two Hall of Fame induction dinners in four days for Nichols, a Bishop Duffy graduate who hit .323 during three seasons of minor league baseball with the Cincinnati Reds organization. Nichols, a former catcher who coached from 1964-69 at Bishop Duffy, Trott Vocational and DeSales in Lockport, also will be inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 29 in HSBC Arena.
Nichols, who also played baseball in the old Niagara Falls Industrial League, is perhaps better known for his work as a college basketball referee from 1971-86, working on many occasions with the legendary Pete Pavia. Nichols officiated a record six men's Division I national championship games before starting a 22-year run as NCAA national coordinator of basketball officiating in 1986.
While Nichols hasn't lived in his hometown of Niagara Falls since leaving in 1969, he said it's the best place he's ever lived.
"You can't imagine how thrilling this is to be able to go back home and be honored by people in my hometown," said Nichols, who retired five years ago after a 32-year run as an educator at Villanova University in Philadelphia. He now lives in St. Davids, Pa. "It's humbling because the athletes I played with and against were all just as good as me. I was just honored to be able to compete with them. The competition [then] was just great and magnificent."
Mick died 23 years ago, at the age of 45. The Niagara Falls High grad played football at Adams State College in Colorado and later coached baseball, football and wrestling at Trott. He also was president of the Niagara-Wheatfield Boosters Association for wrestling and started the Trott Vocation Boosters for football.
The 90-year-old Brown has played golf for 80 years and was match play medalist in the 1932 city junior golf championships. He also played fast-pitch softball and basketball.
Kravitz, 82, was a standout pitcher in the Industrial League and helped the German-based Hornsey Red Sox capture the National Championship of England in 1949 during his time in the Navy.
Tacconi, 78, was a basketball standout and later served as a volunteer with the International Special Olympics.
Kellick, 72, served as captain of both football and baseball teams at Duffy. He also played baseball at Holy Cross before serving as a sponsor and coach for girls' softball teams in the city.
Luzak, 72, was a softball and basketball standout in the old Industrial Leagues. During his time in the Marines, he helped his team win a fast-pitch tournament in Puerto Rico.
Zendano, 72, coached and was a member of the board of directors for Midtown Little League for 33 years. He guided Midtown teams to nine league titles, eight city championships and four appearances in the district tournament.
Syruws, 58, is a Niagara Falls Bowling Hall of Famer who in his final year in competitive league play in 2002 bowled a 300 game, had an 800 triple and carried a 232 average. He's also a former club champion at River Oaks Golf Course. The former fast-pitch softball star also played against the King and His Court, the four-man softball team featuring legendary pitcher Eddie Feigner, at Sal Maglie Stadium. Feigner, described by the Washington Post as "the greatest softball pitcher who ever lived" claimed 9,743 victories, 141,517 strikeouts, 930 no-hitters and 238 perfect games.
Cirrito, 66, played high school and semi-pro football as well as fast-pitch softball. He's a longtime Niagara Police Athletic League board member and coach.
Bradshaw graduated from Duffy and was a cross country, basketball and baseball standout. He also coached baseball at Niagara University during the early 1970s.