With plenty of time on his hands and over 50 years of experience to draw on, Mike Meola decided it was time to pay homage to the athletes and coaches that have contributed to the rich history of sports in the Capital Region.
Meola, a three-sport standout at Linton High School and a 2009 inductee into the Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame, has put together an 86-page book that offers synopses of the athletes and coaches that stood out at the high school, collegiate, professional and Olympic levels.
“I’ve always been a jock my entire life,” said the 69-year-old Meola, who played alongside Pat Riley in three sports when both attended Linton in the early 1960s. “When I could no longer play sports or was no longer coaching, I was looking for something to do, and an extension of that was that I put together ‘New York Capital Region Sports Memories 1900-2013, Volume 1.’ “
Drawing on memories and those of the contacts he has maintained, Meola put together snapshots of some 400 athletes — both native to the area and who came to the Capital Region to compete.
“I knew some things about some of them, but there are so many in the Capital Region — the word great gets thrown around a lot — but they were great,” Meola said. “Some went on to become legends. And some great players and teams are part of the history.”
Meola intended to include athletes he was most familiar with, those he competed with and against, and the athletes schools they represented.
“I was most familiar with Schenectady County. Then I started thinking about names from Albany and Troy, for example,” he said. “There were some big names I was very familiar with, like Ernie Stautner and Charlie Leigh.
“I started thinking, ‘Let me open this up and include these other guys.’ Then I started doing research into Troy, Albany, Glens Falls.
“I tried to at least touch on every nook and cranny in the Capital Region.”
No sport was neglected.
“It’s heavy toward basketball, but there have been some great football players that have come out of the area,” said Meola, who played college basketball for Johnny Orr at UMass. “I’ve included boxers, bowlers, Saratoga Race Course. This is like one-tenth of one percent of the great athletes in the area.”
Meola chronicles football, from Stautner to Butch Byrd, Leigh, Tim Sherwin, the Dukes brothers (Chad and Chuck) and the Ciaccio brothers (Tom and Chris).
Baseball is represented by the likes of major leaguers like Johnny Podres, John Cerutti and Derek Jeter. Local teams like the Schenectady Little League clubs of the 1950s and the 1980 Rotterdam Babe Ruth World Series champions are honored.
If basketball is your sport, Meola cites Riley, Barry Kramer, Sidney Edwards, Sam Perkins and many more.
Sportscaster Rip Rowan, drag racer Shirley Muldowney, Olympic wrestling gold medalist Jeff Blatnick, boxer Petey Virgin and golfer David Duval are all highlighted. Legendary players like Buck Ewing, Walter Johnson and Lew Alcindor (now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) are all recognized for coming through the area.
Coaches are not neglected.
Meola writes of Larry Mulvaney, Don Blaha, Sig Makofsky, Bill Scanlon, Billy Kalbaugh, Brent Steuerwald and Al Bagnoli, while acknowleding there are many more that could have been included.
“There have been so many outstanding coaches,” said Meola. “Both at the high school and college levels.”
The period from the 1950s through the ’60s may have gotten special recognition from Meola.
“Starting with those Little League teams that Mike Maietta had, and through the ’60s, that was a great time for area sports,” said Meola, the Schenectady Couty football Player of the Year in 1962. “Don Blaha, Billy Kalbaugh, Billy Kirvin, coaches and their teams like that started it off. And you finish off the ’60s with Sidney Edwards, with a 22-0 record.
“You go from Billy Connors setting up Barry Kramer, you move to Pat Riley, you go on to Sidney Edwards, who was probably every bit as good as Pat Riley. They go on to star at the collegiate level, Riley’s an All-American and Edwards starts at Houston.”
Meola uncovered some suprises while doing his research.
“Babe Baldwin, from Mayfield, he lit it up for something like 67 points in one game. without a three-point shot,” Meola said. “I don’t care if they lock you in a barn all by yourself, you’re not going to score 67 points in regulation with no three-pointer.
“But the thing that impressed me the most about Babe Baldwin is he scored 50 or more points five or six times. He was also a baseball star, who I believed was signed, but got injured. He must have been something.
“Doug Erickson, the great football coach at Draper, he played with [future NFL player] Jim Ringo at Syracuse. Ringo beat Doug out for the starting center position at Syracuse.”
“And there were so many players that were the second- and third-best players on their teams, but were so good.”
Meola would like to do a second volume, if he can find the time, knowing there are athletes he left out.
“I had to leave out a guy like Chuck Abba, who played with Sidney Edwards. I had to leave out Billy Supronowicz,” Meola said. “And a young kid named David Modest, who, to me, was probably the greatest basketball player. He would capture your imagination when he played. He was a starting guard with Sidney Edwards.”
Meola’s book, priced at $15.99, is available through his publisher at bookstore.libris.com., and also at Amazon.com. It can be ordered by phone locally at (518) 210-0228, or by calling 1-888-795-4274.
Meola is hoping to market the book at local bookstores.
“People that have read it so far have said they enjoyed it,” he said. “I think there’s a market for it. This area has just had such a great sports history.”