This is the third in a series of Saturday stories profiling the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013.
By Rodney McKissic
NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
To pinpoint exactly which sport Pam Amabile is connected with might be difficult in part due to the general eclecticism of her athletic ability.
She was a two-sport All-American in softball and basketball at Erie Community College and one of the area’s first female stars in ice hockey. And if someone offered football, she would have played that, too.
Amabile played all of the above while growing up in Hamburg, throwing out boys who dared challenge her arm, uncorking jump shots against hopeless defenders, whizzing slap shots past baffled goalies and scoring touchdowns at a high rate.
So, no, you can’t place Amabile’s athletic career into a comfortable slot for the benefit of clarity. But if there’s a word to describe the new inductee to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, it would be pioneer. And she doesn’t particularly care for that one, either.
“I don’t think of myself as a pioneer but people perceive me as that,” she said. “When you’re playing, you’re just playing because you enjoy it and that’s exactly why I played, because I love competing and I love playing sports. Of course, you do the things that you love and that’s exactly what I did.”
Amabile, 54, who is in the Frontier and ECC halls of fame, is one of 13 inductees this year to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. She may not consider herself a pioneer but it fits.
She entered ECC in 1978 during the infancy of the women’s athletic program. In 1979, ECC honored Amabile as its Female Athlete of the Year, and she excelled in softball and basketball before earning a scholarship to attend Indiana University. While at IU, Amabile was in a sociology class with Hoosiers point guard Isiah Thomas, who always seemed prepared and contributed in class discussions.
She lived on the city’s East Side, where her grandmother owned a home on Doat Street, and Amabile and her family lived in the smaller house in the back. It was nice but sports programs for girls in the city during the 1960s were scarce, so it was a good thing her parents decided to move to Hamburg when she was 10.
“That was a turning point in my life as I look back,” Amabile said. “Had that not happened, I wouldn’t be talking to you, that’s for sure. It was a life changer for sure.”
The playgrounds in Hamburg were scattered with baby boomers who all loved sports so Amabile fit right in. She joined the Lake Shore Little League and played basketball in the Frontier School District.
The best place to play football was at Lou Billittier’s because he lived on a corner lot. Lou’s father didn’t seem to mind because he was usually busy running the family’s restaurant, Chef’s.
“I love football,” she said. “I was like, ‘God, I wish they had football for girls.’ That probably would have been my sport. You played, made sure you were home at 5:30 for dinner, then off you go after dinner playing again. That’s all you did when you were a kid. That was the way to hone your skills, if you think about it.”
This was the time before camps, clinics, trainers and regimented workouts. Amabile improved in the parks, backyards, on the lake and in driveways. Structure? Nah.
“You played for the love of the game because you enjoyed doing it,” she said. “You copied what you saw and basically that’s how you honed your skills. It honed my competitive nature because you were playing against the boys all the time.”
The sport Amabile played the most was hockey. When the Empire State Games offered women’s ice hockey in 1999, the 40-year-old Amabile made the team, winning three gold medals and one silver. After playing for the Southtowns Hawks from 1975-81, Amabile played for the Niagara Falls Panthers for the next 23 years.
Her family lived in a house by a lake and in the winter; Amabile and her friends would scrape the snow off the lake and play pick-up games.
“We could play for a couple of months at a time,” she said. “It was right there for us and we would play constantly.”
If the lake wasn’t frozen, Lou’s driveway was the place for street hockey even though the slap shots ruined Mr. Billittier’s garage door. In the early ’70s, someone started a girls hockey league at the Leisure Rinks in Southtowns and Amabile was one of the first to sign up.
“I saw it in the paper one day and I was so excited because we played all the time,” Amabile said. “Me and my sister and the girls on the street were like, ‘Oh my God they’re starting a league. Let’s get involved in that.’ We did and that’s where I kind of started my hockey. I was playing hockey and basketball at the same time in the winter and in the summer I played softball. That went on until I graduated and went off to college.”
Today, Amabile is an assistant softball coach at Buffalo State and is an active golfer.
“That’s all I can do these days,” Amabile said, laughing. “But I’m still competing.”
The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame’s 23rd induction dinner will be held Oct. 30 at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom. The cost is $85 per person or $750 for table of 10. For tickets, visit http://buffalosportshallfame.com/awards-dinner-tickets