SHENANGO TWP. — Competitiveness made Mercer County and its proud byproduct — athletics. And the class of 2015 inducted into “the oldest local Hall of Fame in the world” are a testament to that sentiment.
“Everything was so competitive,” recalled former Farrell High basketball standout Bobby Stewart regarding his playground days. “You were living a legacy, and you wanted to be a part of that legacy. ... What it did was make you raise your level of play, ’cause if you wanted to play, you had to play hard and you had to win, ’cause if you lost, you sat down and you may never have gotten back in.”
Those enshrined during the 68th annual gala at The Park Inn-Radisson share, with Stewart, the legacy that only 535 talented — and competitive — people can say they’ve experienced first hand. Saturday’s ceremony had a distinctive Farrell flavor to it, as Stewart — who helped steer the Steelers to the 1969 state championship — was joined by another cager, Larry Prince, who along with Stewart’s brother (and Hall-of-Famer) Danny, forged Farrell to the 1972 PIAA plateau.
Also inducted were Bill Buckley, Bruce Harrold, Peter “Donnie” Johns, Doug Klenovich, Kim (Reardon) Ladjevich, Jim Mondok, and John “Buddy” Wansack. In a unique, unprecedented tribute, Carrie (Gilson) Bastin was enshrined with her mother, Lorraine Gilson, who was inducted posthumously. Last year, Sandi Bittler and her Mercer High cross country coach Jim Waldorf became the initial athlete/coach to be simultaneously inducted into the Mercer County Hall of Fame.
Lorraine Gilson became a Grove City legend for her devotion to teaching the sport of tennis to the community’s youth, including her daughter. “It’s a double-honor for me,” Bastin related. “Me being here, also representing my mom. I wish she could’ve been here, she would’ve been tickled pink — and I believe she is here.
“She was a mother, a friend, a coach, all in one great package, and I was so blessed to have had her,” Bastin added. “She knew the right thing to say to me, she knew how far to go if I was having a tough time. But she was great in knowing that balance, and I wouldn’t have traded anything to have had that.”
Tim Neverett, Pittsburgh Pirates’ broadcaster, and Bruce Drennan of SportsTime Ohio’s “Drennan Live?” program served as guest speakers, while adopted son Lanny Frattare — “the voice of the Hall of Fame” — again served as master of ceremonies.
For the sixth straight year (sharing in 2012) Hermitage School District was presented with the Si Lyman Award, emblematic of having achieved the highest collaborative winning percentage for a Mercer County scholastic athletic program. Athletic Director Barb Dzuricsko accepted on behalf of the school.
Klenovich, the former Greenville grappler who became one of the cornerstones of Athletes in Action, served as spokesman for this year’s class. He reminded his fellow inductees, “Every step taken in your life led you here ... and if you’d turn around you would see footsteps. Those were the people who helped nurture you along.”
Frattare, the voice of the Pittsburgh Pirates for 33 years, admitted, “I love this banquet, I just adore this banquet. I love this banquet so much that I said I would pay the committee to allow me to M.C. ... that might’ve been one of the dumbest things I’ve ever said,” he chuckled, more seriously adding, “The Hall of Fame has longevity and it has its legacy. ... Mercer County has not defined the hall of fame; the Hall of Fame has defined Mercer County.”
“You’ve brought glory and honor to our corner of the world ... and now you have a permanent place in our sports history,” Hall of Fame board of directors President Jim Tamber told those enshrined.
Lorraine Gilson succumbed to cancer in 2008. However her daughter initiated a tennis-related program, “Serve Up a Cure,” in her Texas hometown. While being interviewed by Frattare, Bastin related that her mother taught her, “Never give up in sports, never give up in life.”
Prince related an anecdote to Frattare, in which he played poorly during the first half of a Farrell playoff game against Keystone Oaks. However during the second half, Prince’s self-described appraisal of his play was “brilliant.”
That seemed to summarize the class of 2015 and its athletic accomplishments.
Named for his father, a minister, Stewart shared his sentiments. As a youngster who idolized Willie Somerset, “ ... small ... he could get off the floor ... and he was a winner, and I wanted to be a part of that. “You can’t separate winning and being a champion on the floor without having the proper discipline. That’s part of your life if you want to be productive in your life in anything that you do,” Stewart said regarding his association with former Farrell coaching legend Eddie McCluskey.
“This is a memorable moment, but I never thought about it,” Stewart said regarding his induction. “I’m just glad ... give me my flowers, while I can still smell them. Don’t wait ‘til I’m gone and say, “He did this, he did that.” I’m glad that I can enjoy it.”
Notes: Dr. James Kollar and John Weaver conducted the annual “Let us not forget” segment as a memorial to county athletes who passed away during the last year. ...The event also noted those athletes from Mercer County’s high schools who won Tom Burns Academic Awards for achieving the highest grade-point-average. ... board member Bob Burich was honored with the program dedication for his efforts, particularly with the scholarship fundraiser. ... Hickory High’s Kaitlyn Slezak sang “The National Anthem.” ... The Rev. Milovan Katanic of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church offered the blessing and benediction.