Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

June 5, 2013

Local coach tops Buffalo Hall Class of 2013

Dick Diminuco will be inducted this fall at Buffalo Hyatt Regency

By John D'Onofrio
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal


Respected by his peers for countless years of service to the Western New York high school football landscape, Dick Diminuco leaves an indelible mark on our community and more importantly to all the countless high school athletes he impacted during his career.
And his impact extends far beyond the grounds of Albion High School, where he earned two state football championships.
One of the Niagara-Orleans League’s and Section VI’s most respected coaches and mentors joins former National Football League wide receiver and Canisius College graduate Phil McConkey, along with 11 other former Western New York athletes, administrators and coaches into the 2013 Class of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
Five of the 13 honorees will be inducted posthumously as part of the Pride of Western New York. The 2013 class will be officially introduced in October or November (date to be announced) at the annual GBSHOF Dinner at the Buffalo Hyatt Regency.
A trusted leader and mentor, Diminuco epitomized all of the qualities of a respected high school athletics administrator. His roots began with a standout prep career at Monroe High School in Rochester, then as a star quarterback at Ottawa (Kansas) University, where Diminuco was a four-year letterman in football and a two-year letterman in baseball.
As quarterback for the Braves, he threw for 5,272 yards and 52 touchdowns. In 1972, he led the NAIA in touchdown passes with 26 and ranked third in total passing with 2,188 yards. Diminuco earned All-HAAC honors for three years — First Team one year, and Second Team two years. He was named All-District 10 in 1972 and 1974 and NAIA All-America Honorable-Mention in 1972.
After graduation, Diminuco accepted a job to teach and coach football at Albion High School. His leadership on the grid iron soon led to an expanded administrative role at the school. This move would ultimately initiate a 31-year athletics administrative career, 28 of which Diminuco served as the school’s athletics director.
During Diminuco’s fruitful 34-year coaching tenure, Albion accumulated 204 wins and a pair of New York State championships (1983 and 1987). He twice was named New York State Coach of the Year. Diminuco – a member of the Section V Football Hall of Fame – retired from Albion in 2008.
However, even in retirement, Diminuco was unable to shake the coaching bug and he subsequently returned to coach football at Alden High School. Though he only planned to coach for two seasons, he would ultimately stay four years with the Bulldogs, and went 31-3 in his final three seasons.
He retired from the Alden head coaching position in November of last year.
The GBSHOF Class of 2013 is the 23rd to be inducted since its inception in 1991 and brings total membership to 267.
Here’s a brief look at the other 12 elected this week:
Phil McConkey
Buffalo native and a member of the Super Bowl XXI champion New York Giants, McConkey is a 1975 Canisius High School graduate who played six seasons in the NFL for the Giants, Green Bay Packers, Phoenix Cardinals and San Diego Chargers.
McConkey is best remembered for his performance in Super Bowl XXI, a 39-20 win over the Denver Broncos. His 44-yard reception on a flea flicker set up one touchdown, then in the fourth quarter, McConkey caught a six-yard touchdown reception from Phil Simms that defelected off of the finger-tips of Giants tight end Mark Bavaro.
Always a fan favorite, McConkey would frequently run onto the field waving a towel inspiring the cheering crowd — a tribute to his five years of active duty as a Naval Aviator (1979-84) and a Nuclear Weapons Transshipment Pilot. He was the first Navy Midshipman to join the NFL after years of service since Roger Staubach in 1969.
McConkey’s final career statistics are 67 receptions for 1,113 yards (16.6 avg), two touchdowns, 228 punt returns for 1,832 yards (8.0 avg) and 69 kickoff returns for 1,324 yards (19.2 avg) in 84 total games played.
In his six NFL seasons, McConkey was used as a receiver, and frequently returned punts and kickoffs on special teams. Statistically, his best season was in 1985 when he caught 25 passes for 404 yards, returned 53 punts for 442 yards and gained 234 yards returning kickoffs.
Pam Amabile
A graduate of Frontier High School, Pam took Erie Community College by storm and became the Kats’ first true female superstar, being named All-America in both softball and basketball.
She was named ECC’s Female Athlete of the Year in 1979 and inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1992.
Following her Hall of Fame career at ECC, she pitched the Indiana Hoosiers to the National Championship Series. Her pioneering days continued in 2001 when the Empire Games offered women’s ice hockey and Amabile, then 40, made the team. She went on to win three gold medals and one silver.
For the past 23 years she has served as pitching coach for Buffalo State’s nationally-recognized softball program, helping lead the Lady Bengals to three conference championships and eight NCAA Tournament appearances.
General Bass
One of the very first African American men to graduate from Canisius College, General Bass introduced tennis to inner city youth and was an iconic sports figure and community leader in Western New York.
Bass was born in South Carolina, but lived in Buffalo for most of his 82 years. He was a baseball and basketball star at Hutch Tech. After receiving his diploma from Canisius, he became one of the city’s first black police officers – a job he proudly held for 19 years. 
He went onto develop sports  programs at local centers, and directed the Police Athletic League before being hired by GBSHOF inductee Dr. Daniel P. Starr to coach the women’s tennis team at his alma mater. From 1983-96, Bass posted an amazing mark of 127-66 that included 10 consecutive winning campaigns and nine years with at least 10 wins. He took third three times in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and was inducted into the Canisius Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.
In addition to tennis, General loved the sport of baseball, having played for the Buffalo Negro Giants, a barnstorming team that played games throughout the region. He was quite proud of his association with both Willie Mays and Joe Louis and loved to “show them around town” when they came to Buffalo. He passed away at the age of 82 in May of 2002.
Ed Don George
A Village of Wales native, George made an early mark on the wrestling world when he won a Silver Medal at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam.
After the Olympics and his college career at St. Bonaventure and the University of Michigan, George entered the professional wrestling ring. He won the World Heavyweight Championship in 1930, and regained the title two other times, in 1933 and 1939. However, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, George put his wrestling career on hold to join the Navy as a Navy Commander.  
At the end of the war, George, announced his retirement with a local record of 132-16-16, with an estimate of close to 900 total matches.  In 1948 George formed the Upstate Athletic Club, which eventually controlled wrestling in 92 different communities. 
George also worked as a wrestling promoter in Cuba, until Fidel Castro came to power. He retired from the wrestling business and moved to Florida.  He was later inducted to both the St. Bonaventure and University of Michigan Hall of Fames, before passing away in 1985.
Fred Hartrick
Hartrick is the latest member of the Bengals family to be inducted into the Buffalo Hall.
It took 36 years for Fred to work his way through the athletic department at Buffalo State. 
Referred to as the “Father of the Modern Era of Buffalo State Athletics,” Hartrick led the Bengals through its “Golden Age” from the mid-60s through the 1980s.
Most notably, on the coaching side, he instructed athletes in men’s soccer, baseball, bowling and golf.
He coached 14 All-Americans in soccer and 50 of his young men earned All-New York State honors. He also produced two All-American baseball players and nine of his diamond men signed professional contracts.
Fred found his greatest success on the soccer pitch posting 150 wins and 24 ties in 22 years on the job.
In 1965 the Bengals became the first collegiate soccer team in the Buffalo area to compete in an NCAA tournament, while his 1970 team posted an undefeated mark of 13-0-2 and was ranked No. 7 nationally among all of the 450 colleges and universities sponsoring the sport. Long-time Western New York sports fans will recall that GBSHOF inductee Randy Smith was a key member of that squad.
Fred, and his wife, Kathy, have three children and 11 grandchildren.
Art Jeziorski
Jeziorski’s bowling success spanned five decades from the 1960’s to the early 2000’s. 
His rise to prominence began in the 1960’s when he claimed three straight New York State team titles. His first title came in 1965 with Buffalo Savings Bank, followed by back-to-back titles in 1966 and 67 as part of the Simon Pure team.
In 1967 Art bowled for 10 straight weeks on the local television show “Beat the Champ,” along with five straight weeks on the “Utica Club Show.” To close out the decade Art won the Buffalo Area Bowling Council Kick-Off Bowling Tournament in 1969. 
The 70’s were Jeziorski’s most active and dominant decade and in 1978 held a Buffalo record for highest average ever attained in the summer singles league at Thruway Lanes. He also finished in the money three times at PBA tournaments.
In 1982, he was inducted into the Buffalo Bowling Association Hall of Fame, but wasn’t through yet because 19 years later, he posted the highest average (231) of any senior bowler in the world, and was named the Tonawanda Bowling Association Bowler of the Year.
Todd Marchant
Todd Marchant’s skill and passion for the game of hockey saw him play 1,195 games over 17 seasons in the NHL. During this time, he played for the New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and he capped his career with a Stanley Cup for the Anaheim Ducks.
Born and raised in Western New York, Todd played 10 years of hockey in the Amherst Youth Hockey Association before moving on to play for his high school hockey team at Williamsville East.
After playing in the 1993 US Junior Team at the IIHF World Junior Championships, he was a part of the 1994 US Olympic Hockey Team at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
His pro career started when he was drafted in the 1993 NHL Draft by the New York Rangers. His stint within the Rangers organization wasn’t long as he was traded to the Oilers during the 1993-94 season. It was with the Oilers that Marchant played nine full seasons, became their alternative captain for the last few seasons, and got the reputation as one of the fastest players in the NHL.
He retired from the NHL in the summer of 2011.
Marchant never played professionally in Buffalo, but he has always kept his hometown close to his heart. The summer of 2013 marks the 15th year that he has come back to Buffalo to put on a hockey clinic for kids, where all the proceeds of the camp help support local charities that focus on assisting less fortunate children achieve their goals. The camp has helped raised over $75,000 at this point.
Herbert Mols
In 1964, the voice of Buffalo sports Ralph Hubbell said the J. in Herbert J. Mols stood for Jewel, and a 1979 Buffalo News sports headline dubbed him the “Nerve Center of Amateur Sports.”
It was his vision as head of the Park School science department that lead him to the inception of a sports program at the school and he went on to lobby and win funding for the Amherst Recreation Center and create the Conference of Upstate Private School’s league. Elected to serve as vice chairman of the AAU’s National Basketball Committee, his leadership qualities soon led to his appointment on the Olympic Basketball Committee.
U.S. Olympic officials turned to Herb, to organize, select and manage the first U.S. Olympic Basketball training camp prior to the 1972 Munich Olympics. He took the newly formed team on a goodwill tour of Russia, and to the Pan Am Games in Cali, Columbia. The U.S. team, 10 of whom would go on to be first-round draft picks in the NBA, lost the gold medal game to Russia in controversial fashion.
His Olympic experience, international exchanges, and as manager of the ‘75 World Games in Puerto Rico led Herb to use his network of connections to create New York State’s own “Olympics” the beginnings of what was to become the Empire State Games.
Milt Northrup
One of Northrup’s father’s jobs was directing traffic at Yale football and baseball games. Milt attended those events too. He sold programs at football games and even was the visiting batboy for teams that came to play Yale. At one game he was introduced to two brothers, Seymour and Northrup Knox. Little did he know he would one day meet them again in a more official capacity.
As a student at the University of Connecticut he worked as a student intern in the office of sports information, and initiated his reporting endeavors working as the assistant sports editor of the Connecticut Daily Campus and the college yearbook “The Nutmeg.” Following his 1959 graduation from the university, he served in the National Guard for six years.
Milt began his career at the age of 22, as the Willimantic (Conn.) Chronicle sports editor. In 1960 he joined the New Haven Journal Courier and covered the 1960 NFL Championship game in Philadelphia; the only championship game Vince Lombardi lost as head coach of the Green Bay Packers.
Milt moved to Buffalo in 1967 when he was hired as a copy editor, and he has been a fixture ever since. From 1970-78 he was assigned as a Buffalo Braves beat writer and covered the team during its entire tenure in town. He covered the NBA Championship series between the Lakers and Knicks in 1973, as well as games in the 1976, 1977 and 1978 championship series.
His coverage of the Sabres included the 1974 playoff series against Montreal – the memorable Game Five when Rene Robert’s overtime goal brought the series back to the Aud – and the 1975 Stanley Cup finals against the Philadelphia Flyers with the infamous bat and the phantom fog.
Walter Plekan
A graduate of Lafayette High School, Plekan is widely regarded as one of the nation’s greatest handball players ever.
From his beginnings on the one-wall outdoor courts at Wende playground, the ambidextrous Plekan parlayed his dynamite, hooking serve and unpredictable trick shots to become the greatest handball player in Western New York history. Known for his intensity on the court, Walter captured two state titles by the time he turned 21.
He added the YMCA National Championship and the National Junior AAU titles in 1939. He hit his personal pinnacle in 1951 when he captured the first United States Handball Association 4-Wall national Championship.
While remaining unbeatable at the local level, he was regarded as one of the top four players in the country over a 12 year period. He dominated WNY handball in both singles and doubles competitions for more than 30 years, and he retired from competition in 1953.
He was inducted into the USHA National Handball Hall of Fame in 1991.
Frank Pytlak
At 5-7, 160 pounds, Pytlak was one of the smallest catchers in baseball history. He caught for the Cleveland Indians (1932-40) and Boston Red Sox (1941 and 1945-46). In his career Frankie Pytlak hit .282 with seven home runs and 272 RBI’s. He hit over .300 in four different seasons; 1933 (.310), 1936 (.321), 1937 (.315) and 1938 (.308).
Pytlak was also an outstanding defensive catcher, and once set a Major League record for handling 581 consecutive chances without an error. He was the catcher for Bob Feller when he recorded 18 strikeouts in a game. After retiring from baseball, Pytlak lived in Buffalo and operated a sporting goods store.
Pytlak also became a national celebrity when he set a world record by catching a baseball dropped 708 feet from the Terminal Tower in Cleveland.
Jennifer Suhr
A Fredonia native, Suhr didn’t join her high school track and field team until her senior year, instead opting to excel in volleyball, basketball, soccer and golf. However, in her senior year, she won the state title in the pentathlon. 
She was named the NCCAA Women’s Basketball Player of the Year in 2004, averaging 24.3 points per game and ended her career as the all-time leading scorer at Roberts Wesleyan with 1,819 points.
Suhr also found time to participate in track, winning NCCAA titles in javelin, the 100-meter hurdles and, of course, the pole vault. She set school records in that event, the 100-meter hurdles, the javelin, high jump, 400-meter hurdles, the 4x100 relay and the 4x400 relay.
While a senior at Roberts Wesleyan, she joined forces with legendary pole vault coach Rick Suhr, who had already mentored two national high school champions, and the march to Olympic glory began. Under her new coach’s guidance, Suhr, in just six weeks, jumped 11 feet, 4 inches at the NAIA Championships and finished in sixth place.
She rose to the top of the sport, becoming the U.S. National Indoor Champion in 2005 and 2008, and the U.S. National Outdoor Champion in 2006, 2007, and 2008, earning the ranking of second in the world, with only world-record holder Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia in front of her.
The stage was set to earn a trip to the 2008 Summer Games and Suhr proved she was ready for the big stage as she set a new U.S. Outdoor record of 16’1¾” during the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in Eugene, Oregon. During the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, with two other Russian competitors hot on her heels, she made the jump of her life, coming through with a 15’9” effort to earn the silver medal, and her Olympic dream became a reality.
She then set her sights on the 2012 Olympic Games in Londo, where Suhr vaulted past the competition, earning Olympic gold with her jump of 15-9.