Athletes for the ages

1964 First Inductees (L-R) Ted Freligh, Harry Desmond, Frank Buono, Jack Keeley

The Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame is one year shy of its golden anniversary. Begun by the South Side Men’s Club in 1963 to honor outstanding athletes from the community’s rich past, the Sports Hall of Fame is still just as active today, inducting new members each year at a popular banquet. They hope to someday have a permanent home to host memorabilia and serve as a place of pilgrimage for fans young and old.

Dennis Sheehan is the president of the Sports Hall of Fame. A lifelong resident and 2008 inductee, Sheehan is the Northeast scouting supervisor for the Atlanta Braves, a career that’s given him a unique perspective on Saugerties and its dedication to athletic pursuits.

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“My job takes me around the country and around the world,” Sheehan said. “To see what it means to the people in this town, what Cantine means compared to what I see around the country, Saugerties is second to none.”

Sheehan said he feels the time has come for the Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame to stake a more concrete claim in the community than it already has.

“My goal is to have a permanent room for the Hall of Fame,” Sheehan said. “More and more people are coming into the town for a variety of reasons. We want to let them know the history of sports in this town. I would like to have that in place by our 50th anniversary.”

For now, that process involves sending out letters to gauge interest from potential corporate sponsors and considering where a brick-and-mortar museum might make the most sense. Certainly somewhere in the heart of the town, Sheehan figures. Possibly as an add-on to an existing building at the Cantine Veterans Memorial Complex, the epicenter for so much of what’s led to induction in the hall.

At present, the hall is confined to a fairly comprehensive website, an annual induction banquet at the Glasco Firehouse and the occasional public display of memorabilia at places like the Kiersted House.

The list of inductees is a 4 ½ page document on the hall’s website, a comprehensive list updated to include the five who will be enshrined this year during the banquet on Saturday, May 5. The list shows nothing more than names, years of induction and, in some cases, whether they’ve passed away. But the names may ring familiar to longtime residents or fans of local sports. One name on the list, inducted in 1986, has a history with the hall that goes back to its inception.

If Saugerties is a community filled with local sports enthusiasts, it would be hard to argue that there are few as enthusiastic as Jim Gage. Gage was one of the hall’s co-founders, serving as its chairman from 1965 until he retired at the end of 2006. When the South Side Men’s Club went out of business six years after the hall was begun, Gage led a group of dedicated former members in keeping it going, and when the reins were passed along to the Saugerties Athletic Association in 1974, Gage served as president. In 1987, the Hall of Fame Club was formed, consisting of all elected members of the hall.

Sheehan said Gage’s commitment to Saugerties sports is immeasurable.

“He’s the bridge from the past to the present for me,” Sheehan said. “To see what he’s done and how he’s maintained what the original founding fathers wanted, there’s no words to describe the value of what Jimmy Gage means to the Sports Hall of Fame.”

Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright, one of five inductees for 2012, agreed.

“There are a couple of guys that come to mind,” he said. “Jim is one, and (the late) Jack Keeley. If you think about the influence of sports in Saugerties and you take those guys out, we’re a very different place.”

The hall was strictly a men’s club until 1988, when Gladys Hutton became the first female member. Since then, that number has grown to just five, but in 2012 the hall will induct two women: Sharon Misasi and Sherry Pfeil.

The first induction banquet was held at the Saugerties VFW Hall, but Gage said the popularity saw it moved to the Flamingo Banquet Hall soon thereafter. Though they didn’t know it at the time, the first banquet was the start of an annual thing.

“The first banquet, we had no idea this was going to be a Hall of Fame,” Gage said. “We just called it Old Timers’ Sports Awards Dinner. We did that for the next year, too and when we saw how big it was getting we changed the name to the Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame.”

Another milestone came in 1994, when the Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame Scholarship awarded $500 to a graduating senior involved in athletics. A second scholarship, the Jack Keeley Memorial Scholarship, was introduced in 2006.

While things have changed over the years – inductees used to have to have reached their 55th birthday, but a few years ago that was dropped to 50 – there’s a clear link that connects the past and present.

“To me, it’s carrying on the legacy of the great athletes that have shaped the history of sports in the Town of Saugerties,” said Sheehan. “The people who grew up before me, like the high school football team who won 32 games in a row, basically that was my first real taste of how important it was in this town.”

Carnright agreed.

“Two years ago, the (school district) budget didn’t pass,” he said. “You had one major benefactor come forward and the rest of the community said, ‘We’re going to make this work.’ How many places are you going to see that? It’s a statement about us as a community, and I’m really honored to be a part of all that.”

Gage noted that another similarity is that some inductees love to chat when they receive their award, while others do not.

“I’ve had people come up and say, ‘Thank you very much,’ and take their plaque and walk away,” he said. “I’ve had others, we thought they’d never get off the podium. They told their entire history and story after story. And that’s okay, because there’s no time limit.”

Carnright, who follows his father and other relatives into the hall, was both a student athlete during his time at Saugerties High and a coach as his daughters became interested in softball and soccer. With his induction a few months away, Carnright remains humbled by the honor.

“I’m not sure my credentials match some of the people in the hall, quite frankly,” he said. “To be included with people like that…those guys, when I was growing up, those guys were my role models.”

For more information on the Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame, visit: https://www.saugertieshof.com

 

Slide photo of Jim Gage by Will Dendis

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