April 16, 1935 – Nov. 28, 2016
Joseph V. Merlo Jr., a teacher, coach and two-time All-American basketball player at Buffalo State College in the 1950s, died Monday under hospice care at Brothers of Mercy Nursing and Rehabilitation Center after a battle with cancer. He was 81.
An exceptional athlete from grade school through college, he chalked up a remarkable array of honors and accomplishments.
On the basketball court, he was the first Buffalo State player to score 1,000 points. As a baseball player, he hit a 375-foot home run over the left field wall at Offermann Stadium.
At Buffalo School 52, he won an athlete of the year award for basketball, softball and track and was a city champion in the football throw for three straight years.
He went on to Lafayette High School, where he was president of his junior and senior class and earned All-High honors in baseball as a junior and senior, playing shortstop and batting .571 and .410. He signed a contract with the New York Giants and took spring training in 1954 with a team that included Willie Mays.
As a senior, he also was an All-High basketball player and was the Yale Cup scoring champion with a 27.62 point-per-game average. He set a single-game scoring record of 54 points.
He went on to Buffalo State, where he was most valuable player on the basketball team for four straight years and MVP in the first SUNYAC tournament.
He won All-American honors from the Associated Press and United Press International in his junior year, when he sank 30 consecutive free throws in competition. He was All-American again as a senior, when he maintained an 84.3 percent foul shooting average. He totaled 1,322 points for his college career.
On the baseball diamond, he was picked up by the Olean Giants team in 1954 and played briefly that season. At Buffalo State, he pitched and won both games of a doubleheader against Erie County Technical Institute. After graduating from college, he played semi-professional softball for the Buffalo Hot Shots.
He was inducted as a charter member into the Lafayette High School and Buffalo State College sports halls of fame. He joined the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Western New York Baseball Hall of Fame in September.
Mr. Merlo went on to serve for 37 years at North Tonawanda High School as teacher and administrator and 31 years as a basketball and baseball coach. He retired in 1995.
A resident of North Tonawanda for many years before building a home in Wheatfield, he also was active as a baseball official and as an instructor at high school and college basketball clinics. He was official basketball scorekeeper for Buffalo State men’s and women’s games and for women’s basketball during the World University Games.
Survivors include his wife of 54 years the former Betty Jane Murphy; a son, David; a daughter, Dr. Debra Porter; two brothers, Conrad Anderson and Richard; a sister, Aria Ferguson; and three grandchildren.
Services will be held at 7 p.m. Friday in Wattengel Funeral Home, 533 Meadow Drive, North Tonawanda.