Magic moments in sports last for a lifetime.
For the new members of the Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame, some of those memorable athletic achievements were accomplished while in high school. For others, the memories were forged as collegians or professionals.
But all of them traced their performances back to their years in the Schenectady city school system. It was a special time in their lives.
Scholastic basketball standout Bob DeLuca, high school and professional baseball pitcher Ed Barnowski and the late race car driver Lee Wallard were honored at the 16th annual SCSD Athletic Hall of Fame and Reunion Dinner Monday at Proctors.
For all three inductees, or their representatives, joining the SCDS Hall of Fame was an emotional whirlwind.
“It’s very humbling,” said DeLuca, a 1962 graduate of Linton whose Blue Devils compiled a 32-4 record during his two-year varsity career. “I’m humbled to join the other phenomenal athletes from Schenectady who have already been honored. I never thought of myself in that way.”
“I played with Barry Kramer and Pat Riley, and they were both truly great athletes. But the time I spent playing for Linton was a magical period for me.”
DeLuca, who spends most of his spare time these days on the golf course, where he owns a 4-handicap and four club championships in South Carolina, went on to excel at Cornell, where he was an All-Ivy first-team selection, and he’s been inducted into both the Cornell and the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame.
But this honor stands above them all.
“Playing basketball here set the tone for my life,” he said. “I never would have been able to go to a college like Cornell if not for playing high school basketball here in Schenectady. I didn’t even play basketball until I was 12 years old, and after playing for the Schaefer Brewers for a couple of years, I never played basketball again. But the sense of pride I feel joining this Hall of Fame is very special.”
DeLuca, who retired from the New York State United Teachers nine years ago, said there was no doubt about his “special moment.”
“The game we won against Power Memorial and Lew Alcindor [now Kareem Abdul Jabbar] had to be thing I remember the most. That was the first time I ever played against a 7-footer, and that win was one of the greatest in Schenectady basketball history,” he said.
Linton beat Power Memorial, 74-68, on Dec. 29, 1961. DeLuca and Riley each scored 19 points in that game.
Barnowski was a hard-throwing pitcher who led Mont Pleasant High School to an unbeaten season in 1960. He went on to lead all the minor leagues in strikeouts with 322 in 222 innings and also fired a pair of no-hitters. The three-time minor league all-star eventually pitched parts of two seasons for the Baltimore Orioles.
“I’ve had a lot of great moments in my career,” said the 70-year-old Barnowski, who now lives in Chanhassen, Minn. “But I think my strongest memory was when I was called up to the major leagues. Me and Mark Belanger were both called up from Elmira, and our first game was against the Yankees down in Yankee Stadium. I had been to Yankee Stadium maybe 40 times as a kid, but I had always sat in the mezzanine section. Now, I was in the dugout looking at Mickey Mantle. It was a high emotional situation for me. I think any player will tell you that the first time he played a major league game was always something special.”
Baronowski also said that facing slugger Hank Aaron in a spring training game was so emotional that he couldn’t see home plate.
But coming back to Schenectady to be inducted into the SCSD Hall of Fame stirred some emotions that Barnowski seldom experiences.
“Anybody who knows me will tell you that I’m not an emotional guy,” he said. “I was prepared to have a great time this weekend, but seeing all of my old friends . . . the pure emotion of it all is beyond me. All those old memories are flooding back to me. I can remember how tough it was to go undefeated on a baseball team back then when our Class A league had so many tough teams, like Albany and Amsterdam. We had a tough opponent every game.”
In attendance to accept induction honors for Wallard, who claimed national fame by winning the 1951 Indianapolis 500 and was inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame in Indianapolis, were his nephew, Chuck Wallard, and Chuck’s wife, Marian. They are both 84 years old, and live in Colonie.
“I was very apprehensive when we were first contacted about Lee being inducted,” said Marian Wallard. “Lee was born in 1911, and we both were born in 1929. It’s so long ago. Lee would be 102 if he were alive today. But the Gazette has printed stories about Lee so many times over the years, that we both figured that a lot of people know about him. We really appreciate it that people remember him so fondly. It’s an honor to see him recognized after he’s been gone for so long.”
Chuck Wallard said that he still has people honking their horns at him when he drives his car — with a “Wallard” license plate on it — around town.
“People must remember him, or they wouldn’t beep their horns,” he said.
There are now 48 individual members of the SCSD Hall of Fame, plus one team, the 1954 Schenectady Little League World champions.
Hall of Fame committe chairman Bob Pezzano, along with Chuck Abba, Craig Brown, Karen Corona, Tony Cristello, Donna Frank, Mary Anne Fritz, Joe Green, Mary Ozarowski, Jesse Robinson and Jerry Rosen, put together a phenomenal program for the inductees every year, including a sports clippings/picture collage of every athlete.