Night for the history books
SARANAC LAKE — A family reunion of 350.
That’s what the atmosphere was like Friday at the Harrietstown Hall as North Country Community College inducted the first group of athletes into its new Athletic Hall of Fame.
The actual number of inductees was around 130, and included former coaches, past athletes and four teams that captured national titles for the Saints. But the family members, friends and members of the NCCC community who joined the new Hall of Famers at the celebration made for a packed house at the event.
The community college, which has campuses in Saranac Lake, Malone and Ticonderoga, is celebrating its 50th year, and Friday’s first inductees represented the first 30 years of athletics at the school from 1967 to 1997.
The event, which included dinner and drinks, kicked off a weekend’s worth of activities that will surely include plenty of reminiscing, handshakes and hugs.
Current director of athletics Chad LaDue, who played a major role in helping establish the new hall of fame, praised the efforts of the many people associated with Saints athletics over the school’s 50 years while welcoming the inductees.
“We have a saying in our department — once a Saint, always a Saint. And when I look out at all of you, that statement has never been more true,” LaDue said. “I’m truly honored to be the leader of this department. I wish you nothing but the best tonight, and for the weekend to come. This night is about you, so enjoy your time because you’ve earned it.”
Seven coaches, four teams and men’s and women’s athletes from nine different sports were among the inductees. Former administrator William Borzilleri, as well as distinguished alumni including 2002 Winter Olympic men’s skeleton gold medalist Jim Shea Jr. were also in the mix of the Saints new Hall of Famers.
Tim Gerrish, who coached North Country’s men’s hockey team from 1979 to 1997, returned to Saranac Lake for the event, and is enjoying a reunion with members of the Saints 1995 team that he guided to a NJCAA national championship. Gerrish spoke to the audience as one of the coaches who went into the Hall of Fame and returned to the stage later to join members of his Saints team that finished as the nation’s best.
“To the inductees, I don’t know that I can coach anymore with parents and kids and all the stuff that goes on. I do know that more than often I got off the bus with the best team,” Gerrish said. “I believe that all of you here who are being inducted had special talents that probably most of the time you succeeded as players in spite of us as coaches. You saw the game, you performed and did it at a high level.
“North County offered you time, time to practice,” he continued. “North Country was able to offer you motivation, but what you did is take it to a different level. You didn’t just say I want to be normal — I want to be better than normal and that’s why you’re sitting here tonight.”
New Hall of Famer John Konowitz, who coached the Saints men’s basketball team from 1982-85 and went onto to coach at SUNY New Paltz and SUNY Cortland, provided some laughs as he took the stage. Before speaking, he looked out over the crowd and took a photo with his cell phone.
“I got to a picture of this to show my wife,” he said. “Can everybody wave for a minute. This is unbelievable. It’s really humbling to be included in this.”
Konowitz went on to honor Bob Hudak, who was also inducted as a coach.
“We were only here for three years and I’ll tell you, it was three of the most fulfilling years of our lives as far as teaching and coaching. And one of the main reasons was this young fella right here, that’s still working here, all 50 years, and I don’t know of anybody else who can really say that.”
After the coaches were introduced, North Country’s four teams were honored. In addition to the hockey team, the other squads were Grover Moore’s 1973-74 men’s basketball team, the 1981-82 women’s ski team and the men’s 1988-89 alpine ski team.
Tupper Lake resident Chris Cuttaia, who played for the Saints 1995 national champions was thrilled to be part of the festivities.
“This is great because these guys came from Sweden, Arizona, Boston, all over the place,” Cuttaia said of his teammates who could make it to the ceremony. “They all came back for this. When we won it all, it was like getting the one national title for all the North Country teams, because there were a lot of guys who were here before us and put out a lot of sweat out on the ice and worked really hard. There were a lot of teams that took second, but it was fun to be the team that got one for coach Gerrish, because he was here for so long.”
The Hall of Fame events continue through Sunday.