Most members of the Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame are there for past accolades, records broken and big games won during their high-school days. That’s at least partly true for Mike Melville, a 1985 Saugerties High alum and 2018 Hall of Fame inductee. He played sports in all three high school seasons, and he played them well. But he’s also being honored for his post-high-school contribution to the local sports scene, up to and including his coaching of the varsity girls’ basketball team, which just wrapped a stellar 16-6 season.
Melville seems a natural fit for the Hall of Fame. His late father Ross Melville was inducted in 1999. But he admits to being humbled by his selection.
“I’m really kind of overwhelmed,” he said. “I’ve been going to the Hall of Fame banquets for 19 years now just in honor of my dad. He passed away in 2007. My mom and my three sisters, we go every year, and I’ve seen the people that have gone in ahead of me, and these are guys I grew up watching. I kind of looked up to them. I just can’t believe I’m considered in their class.”
Melville played numerous sports at Saugerties High, including baseball, football, and the one he’s probably best known for, basketball. He played modified football, moved on to other fall sports for awhile, and then returned to the gridiron as a wide receiver and backup quarterback during his junior and senior years.
By then, basketball had become his favorite sport.
But in the beginning, it was baseball. “It was probably my dad,” said Melville. “We lived in Barclay Heights and we had a little tiny front yard, and he’d be hitting me ground balls when I was four or five [years old] out front. That was his passion, baseball. I used to go watch him play softball up at Cantine with Maurice Hinchey and all those guys.”
Games at Cantine Field, whether watching them or playing them, is a formative part of the lives of many kids who grow up in Saugerties, whether they make the Hall of Fame or not. Melville played there, worked there, and watched his father play softball and the legendary Dutchmen teams play baseball there.
“I remember just being little, and it was like watching the Yankees. I remember riding my bike and being 13, 14 years old and sitting in the grandstand,” he said. Later, Melville joined the Dutchmen himself. “I was playing with a lot of my friends, all the Dodig boys. For me it was social, being with my friends, and playing baseball. It was a great time. Greg Helsmoortel ran the organization, and he made you feel like a professional.”
By then, Melville was a pitcher, a position he later played at Ulster County Community College. Before then he was in the hot corner, third base.
Baseball was the first organized sport in which Melville played, starting with the Grasshoppers, then Little League, and later Babe Ruth. But somewhere along the way, basketball became his favorite. “I think I was twelve years old when I started playing basketball,” he said. “I remember walking around the neighborhood and a friend of mine had a hoop up on a telephone pole, and we started playing one day. I really liked it, and that kind of became my passion.”
Melville played at all local levels, making the varsity team under head coach John Speirs during his junior and senior seasons.
“My junior year we had a really good team,” Melville said. “I played with Steven Freer, who was the all-time leading scorer. I was his point guard for two years. Him and I became best friends. He was the best man at my wedding. I remember the first time meeting him was in eighth grade modified.”
After UCCC, Melville attended SUNY Cortland, where he studied physical education and played football as a wide receiver, free safety, and eventually tight end. He said he used the experiences to help guide him as a coach, something he’d already tried his hand at in his first two years of college. Melville coached modified football at SHS in 1986, as well as starting the school’s modified girls’ basketball program a year earlier.
Not long after college, Melville began dating his wife Dianne (née Longtoe), a 1984 SHS grad, and soon after he began teaching phys ed in an elementary school in the Rondout Valley school district. He stayed there eleven years, during which time his children Scott (now 23, a recent phys ed graduate of SUNY Cortland coaching basketball at The Albany Academy) and Michelle (18, a freshman at Bucknell University playing lacrosse) were born.
Melville’s time in Rondout Valley included a decade as the varsity boys’ basketball coach. His visits to Saugerties were sometimes noted by friends and fans alike. And that led, in a circuitous way, to his return to the district, this time as a phys ed teacher at the high school and a wildly successful varsity girls’ basketball coach.
“It was a Friday evening [in August 2001],” Melville said. “I’ll never forget it. Bobby McCaig was on the school board, and we crossed paths at Land & Sea [Grill]. Me and my wife were playing golf at Palenville — we lived in Hurley — and I was on my way home. They used to razz me a lot when I’d bring my team from Rondout, I used to coach football and basketball, and they’d bust my chops. [McCaig] looked at me and shook his head and said, ‘You need to come back to Saugerties.’ I kind of shrugged my shoulders and said, ‘I’ve been teaching eleven years, it’s kind of late for that.’”
After talking it over with his wife, Melville said he decided to give it a shot.
“We were looking at Bishop’s Gate, where we live now, because we wanted to build a house,” he said. “We had two little kids. My wife’s family is local, my family is here. I said, ‘Well, the chances of my getting it are very slim, but I’ll throw my hat in the ring.’ And sure enough I ended up getting the job. I was very surprised.”
The feelings of nostalgia were sometimes overwhelming for Melville, including one night where his sense memories took a trip through his old neighborhood. “I actually was driving home from the interview,” he said. “I lived in Hurley, but I accidentally drove to my old house where I grew up in Barclay Heights. I hadn’t been in the principal’s office probably since ‘85, and here I am in an interview for a job. I guess I wasn’t really thinking clearly, because I made a right turn at the old G-Tech, where World of Dance is, and I almost pulled into my old driveway thinking I was coming home from school.”
Melville draws a lot on his former playing days as a coach, as well as experiences seeing his heroes — including his dad — play at Cantine Field. It’s all very much part of the Saugerties experience.
“It’s the passion for the sports,” Melville said. “It wasn’t just a hobby, it was a lifestyle. I grew up with the Dodig clan, and for them sports is life. I didn’t have any older brothers. With them, Steve Freer, and my other friends, it was so competitive.”
He remembers summers at Cantine Field playing basketball. “You loved each other and you were best friends, but when you stepped out on the court you were going to win this game,” he recalled. “The level of competition, no matter how trivial the activity was, it was just all out all the time. And that’s how I try to coach, with that energy and passion.”
The 54th annual Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony and dinner will be held on Saturday, April 14 at Diamond Mills, with doors opening at 5 p.m., a cocktail and meet-and-greet hour from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., and the ceremony beginning immediately after. Tickets, which include some drinks and dinner, are $30 and can be reserved by e-mailing Mike Hasenbalg at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 914-388-2348.