Len Jankiewicz surveyed the roster of the 2019 inductees into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, and let the magnitude of the honor sink in for a few seconds.
Jankiewicz coached football and was the athletic director at Lancaster High School for more than 40 years. Yet he wondered how his accomplishments in coaching and athletics administration compared to the individuals who joined him in this year's class, including a United States Olympian, a former second-round NHL Draft pick and one of the nation’s top field hockey officials.
Jankiewicz is one of 13 inductees into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame this year; eight from its 2019 class of inductees were introduced Tuesday at KeyBank Center, including two posthumous inductions.
“All of the inductees have varied backgrounds,” said Jankiewicz, a Lancaster High graduate who also established the Western New York Amateur Football Alliance. “It’s great to see the variety of backgrounds of sports success represented by this class. I’m profoundly humbled to be included among all of them. Out of the 343 in the Hall, I have to be so thankful that I can get in. I’m nothing special, but I’m a product of the people around me.”
Dorothy Jones, who played basketball at McKinley High School and at the University of Louisville, learned of her induction in April.
“It was surreal, it was unbelievable,” said Jones, who officiated Division I women’s college basketball for 10 years and now officiates Division II, II and junior-college basketball games. “At first you say to yourself, ‘am I even worthy of this call?’ And then, after you get off the phone and fall to your knees and thank God for this opportunity. I just never thought I’d get this recognition.
“To be walking in the footprints of these great athletes, and to share the podium with these great athletes, I never thought that. I’m just so overwhelmed.”
In addition to Jankiewicz and Jones, four more inductees were at KeyBank Center on Tuesday: Chuck Crist of Salamanca, who played football at Penn State and in the NFL; Joe Horrigan, a South Buffalo native and executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame; Peter Scamurra, the first player born in Buffalo to be drafted by an NHL team; and Barb Wachowiak of Hamburg, who is one of the top officials in field hockey and was an All-America field hockey player at Ithaca College.
The 2019 class also includes Travis Mayer, a two-time Winter Olympian from Springville who won an silver medal in moguls skiing in 2002; and Jeff Prescott, a three-time high school wrestling champion from Olean and a two-time NCAA wrestling champion at Penn State.
The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame will make five posthumous inductions: Peggy Wattles, a champion golfer in the 1920s and 1930s from Buffalo; Will and James White, brothers who were a pitcher-catcher battery for the Buffalo professional baseball teams late in the 19th century; Adam Beattie Gunn, a track and field athlete who competed in the 1901 Pan-American Games in Buffalo; and Ed Hughes, a Kensington High and Tulsa University football player who was an NFL defensive back and coached the 1971 Houston Oilers.
“It’s unbelievable, amazing, all of those words,” said Wachowiak, a Hamburg High School graduate. “I never thought I’d be in this position, because that’s not how I live my life or my career. I always want to be better than the day before, so this is a huge surprise, and I’m very grateful.
“The people in this class, I’m speechless because I’d never thought I’d be in this position. There are Olympians. There are pro athletes. There are people who are well-known in the community because of the sports they played or because of the things that they’ve done. Dorothy and myself, because of the sports we played, we may not be as recognized as some of our counterparts, but these resumes are unbelievable.”
The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame will now have 343 inductees since its inception in 1991.
Horrigan and Jones addressed the audience in the lobby of KeyBank Center, and Horrigan emphasized the value of sports, especially as it related to the 13 honorees.
“Sports is a unifier, and sports is really about communities,” said Horrigan, a Canisius College graduate. “That’s what the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame does. It unites.”