He plays on a different playing field these days, but 63-year-old Ron Page remembers a time when he was one of the greatest athletes in Schenectady history.
Page will be among three new members of the Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame, and he has vivid memories of his scholastic exploits.
The multi-sport standout in football, basketball and track, now a pastor at a church in Indianapolis, Ind., recalled how he quickly emerged from a defensive specialist at linebacker into one of Mont Pleasant’s leading offensive performers as the Red Raiders not only went unbeaten, but also were ranked as the top football program in New York in 1967.
“I was recognized for defense first,” Page said. “I was a linebacker my sophomore year, and I was a good one. I was the starting linebacker when we played against Linton in our annual Election Day game. I was also just the third-string fullback.”
But things changed quickly, when the Red Raiders couldn’t move the ball against their archrivals.
“The Linton game propelled me into recognition,” he said. “We were having trouble moving the ball, and coach said, ‘Put the young kid in there. They gave me the ball on 10 out of the next 14 plays just before the half. I ended up scoring our only touchdown, and the game ended up in a 6-6 tie.”
Page believes MP might have won that game if he was able to play in the second half.
“I fell on someone’s spikes, and I needed 14 stitches. I couldn’t play in the second half,” he said.
Page, who was named the Thom McAn Co-Player of the Year with teammate Gale Knull during that unblemished 1967 campaign, went on to become a two-way stalwart for Mont Pleasant. He was named both a Parade and Sunkist All-America, as well as a New York state first-team all-star in 1968.
“Actually, I was the Class A leading scorer both my junior and senior years, but the thing I remember the most is that we won our annual game with Linton both of those years.”
Page said the Red Raiders were sharpened for their unbeaten 1967 campaign by a preseason scrimmage after he and his teammates had already gone undefeated on the JV team the year before.
“One of the things I remember the most is that we scrimmaged coach [Larry] Mulvaney’s friends from Agawam, Mass. That previous year, they were champions of Massachusetts. We saw those guys doing crabs [exercises that resemble crab movements] in the end zone, and coach Mulvaney said we were going to do crabs until we lose. We ended up going undefeated, so we had to keep on doing them.”
It was against the team from Agawam when Page first heard something that would later change his life. “Their coach said I ran like the guys from Syracuse, like Ernie Davis and Jim Brown. So after that, I set my sights on someday going to Syracuse,” he said.
But that came later.
Remarkably, Page also excelled at his other two sports in high school. He was a Section II high- and low-hurdles champion and played four years of varsity basketball, having been brought up to varsity as a ninth grader, very rare at the time.
“I was only 5-foot-10 1⁄2, but I played some forward and a little center because I could jump,” he said. “I was our second-leading rebounder at about 10 a game, and I scored about eight to 10 points a game. It’s funny, because when I first started out, [former MP basketball coach] Dave Bleau thought I was the best player in the area. I played against Gary Pryzbylo from Linton, and he scored 19, but I scored 20. I didn’t realize at the time that my game wasn’t scoring. We had guys like Tony Delgado and Larry Harris who were quality scorers.”
Page said he was proud of the fact that the MP basketball teams improved every season, from 0-18, to 3-15, to 8-10 and finally to 15-6. “We kept progressing every year,” he said.
“I really enjoyed playing all three sports in high school,” Page said. “The hurdles helped me with football, because I was always trying to maneuver around obstacles in my way. Conditioning in football helped me in basketball. One sport helped the other.”
Page eventually earned a scholarship to Syracuse for his football prowess, but his career started slowly.
“I injured my knee my freshman year, so I was redshirted,” he said. “I was finally able to play my sophomore year, but I ended up having a problem with a quad muscle. I had just been named the starting tailback in the morning session of our last practice, but I didn’t want to tell the coach I was hurt because I didn’t want to relinquish my starting role. But I really couldn’t walk. I ended up missing four games my sophomore year.”
Finally, Page got the chance to play against Holy Cross, and the first time he touched the ball for the Orange, he broke loose for a crowd-pleasing, 50-yard touchdown. Two plays later, he scored again.
“They gave me the game ball, and I think we beat them something like 62-14,” he said. “That was so exciting. I’ve got that game on tape.”
Despite leg problems throughout his collegiate career, Page scored four touchdowns as a sophomore and added another as a junior.
“I ended up being a three-year letterman, and I had a great career,” he said. “For my own historical footnote, Jim Brown only scored four touchdowns his sophomore year, as well, but he kind of picked it up after that.”
Page won the 2008 Zunic Award, presented by the SU Football Club to the person who exemplifies courage, self-sacrifice and spirit. He is also a member of both the Mont Pleasant and Capital Region Football Hall of Fame.
“I really enjoyed my life at Mont Pleasant,” Page said.
“But I’m a pastor in church now. My life revolves around trying to save people, and I love it. I serve God now.
“I still keep in contact with all the guys I played with, and I’m always happy to reminisce and visit my old buddies.”
Page said his mother and sister still live in Schenectady. He expects that his wife, his grandson and his great grandson will be making the trip with him from Indianapolis.
“Even though I don’t live in Schenectady, I’m very thankful and grateful for my years with those guys. My life could have gone another way, but the coaches and players back at Mont Pleasant made sure that wouldn’t happen,” he said.