A Mount Rushmore of Rochester Sports

by Paul Casey Gotham

Rochester’s history of sports has had its fair share of legends.  These five make up my Mount Rushmore of Rochester sports.

Alto celebrating the Jr. World Series
Alto celebrating the Jr. World Series

Joe Altobelli – I came into my awareness of sports during the decade of the 1970s.  Many a spring and summer evening I spent at 500 Norton Street in the friendly confines of Silver Stadium.  Joe Altobelli was the face of the Rochester Red Wings.  The hometown skipper led the ’71 and ’74 clubs to the Governors’ Cup – the ’71 team won the Junior World Series.  Alto’s ’76 club earned a first-place finish in the International League’s regular season.  Names like Jim Fuller, Tommie Shopay, Bill Kirkpatrick, Enos Cabell, and Royle Stillman ruled the Summers of my youth.  Alto was the man in charge.  When Mr. Red Wing took the job as skipper of the San Francisco Giants in 1977, I had a new favorite baseball team.  Alto went on to lead the Orioles to the ’83 World Series and later spent some time with the Cubs, but he has stayed connected with Rochester.  In my college years I pedalled pizzas with Joe. Jr.  Another of Joe’s sons was a basketball official – many a game we haggled over a call here and call there.  Imagine my delight when one of Alto’s grand children took a spot in my class room.

1128_largeDon Holleder – Rochester’s All-American graduated from my alma mater, Aquinas Institute, and went on to play football at Army under the direction of Earl Blaik.  Holleder earned All-American honors his junior year playing end and was part of an Army outfit that led the nation in total offense.  When Pete Vann graduated after the ’54 season, Blaik found himself without a quarterback.  Holleder took the helm and sacrificed what was sure to be another All-American season for the good of his team.  His progress would be hindered in the Spring when Holleder broke his ankle.  Although the Cadets struggled through a difficult season, their victory over Navy (with the nation’s leading passer – George Welsh) symbolized Holleder’s leadership and earned his picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Holleder’s sacrifice on the grid iron paled in comparison to his selflessness in battle.  On October 17, 1967 while attempting to save fellow Americans from a Viet Cong ambush, Holleder landed his helicopter and was fatally wounded

Rochester's 'Shoe
Rochester's 'Shoe

by sniper fire.   Since then Rochester dedicated the former Aquinas Stadium (Rochester’s ‘Shoe) in Holleder’s name, and West Point honored the hero with his name on the school’s indoor sports facility.

lancers-77-head-pat-ercoliPat Ercoli – If I wasn’t at Silver Stadium, you could find me at the corner of Mount Read and Ridgeway in Hollder Stadium watching the Rochester Lancers.  During the 70s the Lancers were Rochester’s major-league team playing in the North American Soccer League.  Ercoli roamed the midfield for the Lancers against the likes of Johnn Cryuff, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Oscar Fabianni.

Ercoli’s exploits on the field take a back seat to his prowess on the sidelines.  As the head coach of the Rochester Raging Rhinos, his teams dominated the A-League throughout his tenure advancing to the playoffs every season and winning three league titles (1998, 2000, and 2001).

Ercoli etched his name into Rochester sports lore when his 1999 club won the U.S. Open Cup. The Rhinos became the first-ever non-Major League Soccer (MLS) team to win the Cup. Ercoli’s squad defeated four MLS teams en route to the title: the Chicago Fire, the Dallas Burn, the Columbus Crew, and the Colorado Rapids. The Rhinos also advanced to the Cup final in 1996.

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Jackson running in the Olympic Time Trials

Trent Jackson – I was introduced to Trent Jackson my seventh grade year.  It was then while walking off the baseball diamond that my dad asked if I knew the name of the umpire that day. Little did I know that an umpire could be a world-class athlete.

The ‘Franklin Flash’ ran a 9.4 100 yard sprint in 1961. Thus tying the national high school mark established by none other than Jesse Owens. Jackson later made the U.S. Olympic squad for the 1964 Tokyo games. A hamstring injury in a preliminary race prevented Jackson from winning a medal. Jackson attended the University of Illinois on a football and track scholarship. He played at Illinois with Dick Butkus and helped the Illini to a victory in the 1964 Rose Bowl.

Jackson played briefly in the NFL with the Eagles and ‘Skins.  He returned to Rochester and coached boys basketball at his alma mater.  In 2001 he retired after coaching for twenty-six years.

lesharrisonrochester1Les Harrison – The Les Harrison Court at the Blue Cross Arena has been the site of numerous Division One and Section Five basketball games. A 1923 graduate of Rochester’s East High, Harrison went on to play, coach, and organize professional basketball in the United States.  After owning and coaching teams in the National Basketball League and the Basketball Association of America, Harrison served on the committee that organized the National Basketball Association.  Harrison’s Rochester Royals beat the New York Knickerbockers to win the 1951 NBA title.  In 1980 Harrison was inducted into the basketball hall of fame.

And now my fellow citizens of the Flower City – whaddya say?  Who is on your Mount Rushmore of Rochester sports?

20 Responses to "A Mount Rushmore of Rochester Sports"

  1. KDE   April 13, 2009 at 8:08 am

    I’m in agreement with your picks for Rochester’s Mount Rushmore. All of the individuals have contributed to the success in our area, and have given recognition to Rochester sports.
    Good job Paul !

  2. Smitty   April 13, 2009 at 11:38 am

    I would actually have to include Jeff Sluman and Walter Hagen who are both from Rochester, NY. One is one of the all-time greats in golf – the other has had a pretty lengthy and successful PGA career. He won the 1988 PGA Championship.

    Hagen’s record speaks for itself – 2 time US Open Champion, 4 time British Open Champion ( including being the first American player to win it) and 5 time PGA Championship. No Masters Championships to his name but in all fairness – the Tournament didn’t start up until after his prime.

  3. Smitty   April 13, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Outside of my previous comment – Great list though Casey! Can’t argue with any of them.

  4. Casey   April 13, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    KED – great to hear from you. The Bench is a better place when you are on it. I’m sure you could add a little color to some of my stories.

    Smitty – great call on Hagen and Sluman. I’m not gonna lie. You caught me off guard with the Hagen nomination. I thought about Sluman.

  5. crossword pete   April 14, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Abby Wambach is up there, though I am not sure who she would replace in Casey’s top 5. Has to be a place however for someone with the goals-per game average she has at the international level (isn’t it .85 goals per game compared to Mia Hamm’s .55?) And though not top 5, I think John Wallace would make top 10. Holleder is a GREAT choice. Wish I could have seen him play. Final top tenner (but again not top 5); Bob Thomas.

  6. Casey   April 14, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Pete – great stuff.

    After spending as much time as I did at Holleder stadium, choosing the Major was a no-brainer.

  7. Richard Coreno   April 23, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Very enjoyable read. Each individual came to life through the descriptions.

  8. Rey   April 23, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Abbey Wambach has to be squeezed in somewhere – great call, Pete.

    I remember the old Holleder Stadium. Nobody ever really told me the significance of its namesake. Great historical piece, Casey.

    I remember Trent Jackson Sr. as the Franklin High coach. They went undefeated one year (1992?) to the Section V championship, back when it took 6 or more wins to get the coveted plaque. They beat East High, which I think had Rory Jefferson that year (?) Trent Jackson Jr. was one of the smoothest players I have ever watched in high school.

    But the best athlete bar none was Carl Jefferson. Luckily my dad took me to the championship game at the War Memorial and the stocky PG for Franklin made plays that game I can still recall in my mind. I don’t know what happened to him as far as his collegiate career or beyond, but as far as amatuer athletes in Rochester, Carl Jefferson would be on my Rushmore.

  9. Casey   April 23, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    Rey

    I think that Franklin team was later in the decade. Didn’t they lose the state title to the Elton Brand-led team from Poughkeepsie? Or was that another great Franklin team?

    Tory ‘Jersey’ Jefferson – great memory. ‘Jersey’ got his nickname from none other than Billy Packer. Jefferson went on to play at Rhode Island. During his freshman year on a nationally televised game Jefferson was beckoned from the bench to enter the game. When the whistle blew, the ref signaled for Tory to enter the game. He stood, reached down, grabbed his shooting shirt and pulled it over his his head. It was then that Tory realized he still had his reversible practice jersey on and not his game jersey. And the nickname was born.

    Carl Jefferson – another great memory. First time I ever met Carl was during the saturday morning local aau league. It was my first year in the league and i was an assistant. It was an early morning, and I was sitting on the bench reading the newspaper while the kids went through some lay up lines. I lowered the paper when I heard the rim rattle like someone had dunked it. I looked up and this kid about 5’4″ was walking away from the paint. I thought to myself – no way did he do that. Couple minutes later same thing happened. This time I decided to put the paper down and watch. Sure enough next time through 5’4″ Carl Jefferson went through the line and THREW it down. It took quite an effort to keep my jaw from dropping.

  10. Rey   April 24, 2009 at 7:24 am

    “Rory Jefferson” – not as bad as “Luis Pujols” though.

    I think the year for Franklin’s undefeated run was 1996. Closest information I could find was in Jackson Sr.’s obituary.

  11. Casey   April 24, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Rey

    Don’t worry about it – we are all guilty of committing a ‘fat-finger’ from time to time. 🙂

  12. JIMMY   June 22, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    PAT ERCOLI NOR IS ALTO FROM ROCHESTER, WHAT ABOUT CHARLIE SCHIANO FROUNDER OF THE LANCERS AND FROMER COMMISH OF THE ASL .IF YOU DON’T HAVE BE FROM ROCHESTER , WHAT ABOUT BRANKO SEGOTA , RED HOLTZMAN , BOB DAVIES , JACK TYMAN , MAURICE STOKES
    THE LIST CAN GO ON.

  13. Casey   June 23, 2009 at 7:42 am

    Jimmy

    Thanks for taking the time to comment – great input. You are right. Alto and Pat Ercoli were not born in Rochester (Alto born in Detroit, Ercoli in Toronto), but these legends have left their mark on the Rochester sports landscape. They have come. They have conquered. They have stayed. Both now call Rochester home.

    Thank you for noting ‘Lonesome’ Charlie Schiano. Mr. Schiano is a great man. I went through high school with one of his sons. I even played in a softball tourney with Team Schiano – you don’t need to be ‘Eye’-Talian to play on their team.

    Branko Segota was a comet that flashed through Rochester. I still have my souvenir Branko pin. Holtzman, Davies, Tyman, and Stokes – great stuff. Don’t forget Johnny Antonelli and Mauro Panaggio. Rochester has a rich sports history and Jimmy you know it well. Good job.

  14. mike faber   August 26, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Great list Paul! I would include a wing of the HOF for broadcasters. Wayne Fuller, Joe Cullinane (still alive and kicking here in Denver last I heard), Lanny Frattare. Wayne drove buses for Greyhound or Trailways, ESPN’s Jon Miller told me a great story once about going to the bus station in DC at midnight to pick Wayne up when the Lancers would travel to play the Diplomats. For my obscure Lancers picks, please add Julio Baylon (the original “round mound”) who I recall scoring a PK with a chip shot, Dennis Mepham (Brighton grad I believe) and the immortal Carlos Meditieri. I saw Carlos in the Chicago airport years ago, a bit wider but still looked like he could put the ball in the onion bag.

  15. Casey   August 26, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    Mike

    Many thanks and great additions to the list. We should add Pete Brown to the broadcasters’ wing.

    Love the Lancer memories. I have had the good fortune to come to know Pat Ercoli and his family. You will not meet a better human being.

  16. Javaughn Harris   January 30, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    Well Guys,
    its crazy Im from Buffalo and I remember all these guys I went to Buffalo Traditional Highschool and we were all in Glenn Falls with Carl Jefferson, Elton Brand, damien Foster and Jason Rowe and some other really g ood players…….so young and talented.. does anyone know what these guys are doing now ?

  17. Mike Richardson   February 29, 2012 at 8:00 am

    If there was a 3 point line in the 80’s Terry Brown (Clyde-Savannah) would have never had his Section 5 scoring record broken……

  18. Casey   February 29, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Mike! Helmet Sticker for the Terry Brown call! What a great memory.

    I almost felt badly not cheering for one of Section V’s own in the 1991 title game when his KU Jayhawks lost to Duke.

    Keeping up with Brown: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2010/jul/15/former-ku-guard-terry-brown-finds-second-passion-g/

  19. Thomas Holmes   March 9, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    Respectfully add all of the Olympic athletes of the area: Peter Pfitzinger (’84 and ’88) Marathon; John Tuttle(’84) Marathon; Cathy Turner (ice skater); Jenn Styzinski-Suhr(pole vault); and Scott Bagley(two Olympic trials). Mostlikely, not as prolific as yours. Although, very positive all the same
    Thomas L. Holmes(formerly of Greece,NY) now Fuquay-Varina NC

  20. Casey   March 10, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    Thomas,

    Great insights. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.

    Paul

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