There have been many Western New York athletes to reach the top of the mountain in their respective sport. There were three of them inducted in the 23rd class of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame on Wednesday.
There was a Super Bowl champion, a Stanley Cup champ and a two-time Olympic medalist.
Phil McConkey of Buffalo, Todd Marchant of Williamsville and Jenn Suhr of Fredonia each took their place in Western New York’s most hallowed sports hall before a sold-out dinner crowd of more than 700 at the Hyatt Regency.
McConkey won Super Bowl XXI with the New York Giants. Marchant sipped champagne from the Stanley Cup as a member of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. Suhr achieved Olympic glory in 2012 when she added gold in the pole vault in London to the silver she won in ’08 in Beijing.
“I’m humbled to be a part of this class,” said McConkey, who lives in California and owns a brokerage firm. “Just a culmination of a lot of incredible experiences tonight. … To have my dad here and so many friends from so many facets of life, I’m pretty humbled.”
Others members of this year’s induction class included: ECC two-sport star Pam Amabile, legendary bowler Art Jeziorski (American Bowling Congress champion), former high school football coach Dick Diminuco, longtime News Sports Reporter Milt Northrop and ex-Buffalo State coach and Administrator Fred Hartrick.
The Pride of Western New York, those who were inducted posthumously, included: General Bass (baseball and basketball star at Hutchinson Central, women’s tennis coach at Canisius), Ed Don George (three-time world heavyweight professional wrestling champion), Herbert Mols (father of the Empire State Games), Walter Plekan (national handball champion) and Frank Pytlak (outstanding defensive catcher who played with the Cleveland Indians in 1932-40 and Boston Red Sox in 1941 and 1945-46).
There have been other Western New Yorkers to win the Super Bowl, most recently Turner-Carroll product Corey Graham of the Baltimore Ravens last season, but McConkey was one of the first.
The Canisius High School graduate, beat the odds to make it to the NFL as a 27-year-old rookie in 1984 after serving four years as an officer in the Navy. In the Super Bowl, he caught a touchdown pass that deflected off the helmet of teammate and good friend Mark Bavaro. He also had a punt return and 44-yard catch that set up two other scores in the win over the Broncos.
His favorite Super Bowl memory is coming out of the game being a world champion, but McConkey, whose passion for football developed by being a Buffalo Bills fan, admits he’d give up his ring to see the Bills win the Super Bowl.
Bavaro confirmed this Wednesday at the dinner when he said McConkey, who wasn’t on the Giants during Super Bowl XXV, rooted against a number of friends who helped him get that ring. New York beat the Bills, 20-19, in Tampa.
“He would’ve been the happiest guy in the world had Scott Norwood kicked that field goal,” said Bavaro, who is employed by McConkey. “For him to come back to his hometown and be honored is really nice.”
Marchant helped the Anaheim Ducks with the Stanley Cup in 2007. He played 1,195 NHL games over 17 seasons with the New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Ducks.
He said Wednesday’s honor is for his parents, friends, family and those who all played a role in him reaching the NHL. “All the sacrifices they had to make for me, this is a great tribute to them,” said Marchant.
Suhr wasn’t able to attend but thanked the hall via video message.
Amabile was the first true female athletic superstar at Erie Community College, earning All-America in both softball and basketball. She helped Frontier High School win the first Section VI Class A softball title in 1975. She also played hockey from the time she was a youth until a few years ago. At age 40, she made her first Empire State Games hockey team in 2001. She helped Western win three gold medals and a silver after earning six gold medals and four silvers with the Western Region in softball. “It’s a thrill to be recognized with all of these elite athletes,” said Amabile, who is Buffalo State’s pitching coach.
Diminuco, a two-time state coach of the year, led Albion High School to state football titles in 1983 and 1987. He guided Alden to the state semifinals last year and ranks third in wins in Western New York with 242.
“High school athletics is very important in Buffalo,” Diminuco said. “I think it’s obviously a character builder. It’s an honor to be here and represent high school athletics.”
Northrop has covered the Western New York sports scene for 46 years with The News. He was there for the start and end of the NBA’s Buffalo Braves and has covered numerous Super Bowls and the Stanley Cup finals.
“When I came here … I didn’t even know if I’d stay here,” said Northrop, who is from Connecticut. “It was cold, snowy the night I drove into town. … I walked to work the next day and I’ve been going to work ever since. Now it’s home.”
Jeziorski, a New York State Bowling Hall of Famer, had a career year in 1975 on the team circuit with Ron Chader – winning the Tonawanda, Buffalo and state team titles. He capped the season by winning the team national American Bowling Congress title. He’s also won individual state titles and won the 1993 state Masters Tournament.
He said “it’s unbelievable” that he received this hall call. He’s now a member of four Halls of Fame.
Hartrick coached numerous sports at Buffalo State and served as an administrator, playing a key role in getting the current Sports Arena constructed during the early 1990s. He also coached 14 All-Americans in soccer, including Randy Smith and Cal Kern. He also produced two All-American baseball players.
“This is the best honor I’ve ever received,” Hartrick said.