By John Hartsock
As in past years, the newest inductees of the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame exhibited gratitude, humility, and offered a shoutout to family, friends, coaches and others who were instrumental to their success during the 2018 induction dinner Saturday night at the Blair County Convention Center.
In many cases, they also offered a sense of very interesting perspective.
The Blair County Sports Hall of Fame’s 18th induction class joined featured guest Cael Sanderson (front, center) on Saturday, April 7, 2018 at the Blair County Convention Center. Inductees include, from left, front row: Vince Nedimyer, Sanderson, Jake Webb (Lifetime Achievement winner). Back row: Bill Kagarise, Curtis Miller, Tracy (Slogik) Biesecker and Jim Restauri.
Altoona native Curtis Miller, who played five professional basketball seasons in England after completing an outstanding four-year career at NCAA Divison II New Hampshire, remembered his formative days playing basketball in the Garfield section of town.
“Nobody in my neighborhood could have pictured then what is happening here tonight,’’ Miller said. “I’m very happy to be inducted. It is a great honor.’’
Miller fought back tears and offered a very poignant insight when discussing the passing of his 9-year-old daughter, Jordan, in an automobile accident.
“Only through the help of God was I able to get through this tragedy,’’ Miller said. “Family is much more important than sports.’’
Boxing legend Jim Restauri, who, like Miller, grew up in and still lives in Altoona, also offered an interesting angle on his lifetime accomplishments.
“I fought many battles and learned many lessons along the way,’’ said Restuari, who became Penn State’s only three-time National Collegiate Boxing Association champion. “Lesson number one was perseverance. I used this lesson throughout my life to deal with many difficult times. Lesson number two is about family, friends, and never forgetting where you came from. Altoona is a great town.’’
Tracy (Slogik) Biesecker starred on Altoona Area High School’s first PIAA girls basketball championship team, in 1986, and then went on to become a standout at West Virginia University.
Biesecker thanked the many coaches who had helped her in her early years, as well as her high school coach, Art Taneyhill, and her collegiate coaches.
She also thanked her husband, their two now grown daughters, and her sister, brother and their parents for their support and help.
Biesecker also remembered the fervent backing that Altoona fans gave their sports teams when she was in high school.
“I would especially like to thank all the loyal fans who never missed a game at Altoona,’’ Biesecker said. “I’m humbled to be honored here this evening, and words cannot express how grateful I am for all of your support.’’
Another Altoona native who returned home after an outstanding collegiate football career at Wake Forest University was inductee Vince Nedimyer, who served tenures as head football coach and athletic director at Altoona Area High School.
“This induction is probably the single-most important honor that I’ve ever received because it’s a hometown recognition,’’ said Nedimyer, an offensive lineman on Wake Forest’s 1970 Atlantic Coast Conference team.
Nedimyer also credited some degree of good fortune with playing into his accomplishments.
“I was in the right place at the right time,’’ Nedimyer said. “I played on great teams at Altoona and great teams at Wake Forest, and I played for some great coaches in high school in Earl Strohm and Ron Rickens.’’
Nedimyer succeeded as a college lineman despite his relative lack of size.
“The newspaper in North Carolina (characterized) our offensive line as four midgets and a defensive reject, and I was one of the midgets,’’ Nedimyer said to the laughter of the soldout audience of 850.
One of Williamsburg’s favorite sons, Bill Kagarise, was the other individual inductee.
Kagarise, who now lives in Virginia, averaged double-figures in points as a two-year collegiate basketball starter at American University after an outstanding high school career at Williamsburg in which he led the Blue Pirates to what was then the PIAA Class C championship in 1966.
“I got this terrible, wonderful love for the game of basketball. I was obsessed with winning the state championship, and there wasn’t anything that I wouldn’t do to win it,’’ said Kagarise, who set Blair County’s single-game record with 62 points and scored 1,748 career points.
Kagarise was grateful that his parents exhibited a similar type of devotion toward him. When his father lost his job, he took a job out of town and commuted to it regularly, rather than uprooting and relocating the family.
That gave Kagarise the precious opportunity to continue and conclude his high school basketball career at Williamsburg.
“My parents sacrificed for me,’’ Kagarise said. “My father drove 220 miles to his job every two weeks instead of having us relocate. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank my mom and dad. This is your night.’’
The undefeated Altoona Area High School team of 1962, which compiled a perfect 10-0 record, was also inducted.
“They set a standard, and gave us something to look up to,’’ said Nedimyer, who played at Altoona in the mid-1960s.
Dan McKnight, a captain on that 1962 team, said that achieving a perfect season for the city of Altoona was very rewarding.
“We went 10-0, and it was 10-0 against some great football teams in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,’’ McKnight said. “This is Altoona, and we are Altoona people. A lot of us live out of town now, but we still consider Altoona to be our home.’’
Area physical fitness pioneer Jake Webb was presented with the Hall of Fame’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and graduating senior athletes Jessica Stevens and Jayvion Queen were each the recipients of a $2000 Hall of Fame scholarship from Reliance Bank.
Pittsburgh sports personality Stan Savran again served as emcee for the event, and Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson — whose Nittany Lions won their seventh NCAA team championship in the past eight years last month — was the guest speaker.
“Sports in central Pennsylvania in general, and in Blair County, is amazing,’’ Sanderson told the audience.