By John Hartsock, Altoona Mirror
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life for the entire world since 2020, and it caused a two-year delay for the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame’s 19th induction ceremony.
But for all the honorees and their family members who were finally recognized Saturday night at the Blair County Convention Center, the wait was well worthwhile.
“I am extremely blessed to be recognized by the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame,” Tawney Nardozza Schmitt, a five-time District 6 swimming champion at Hollidaysburg Area High School who went on to become a 19-time All-American swimmer at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and get enshrined into the IUP Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007. “Swimming is a very demanding sport, and participating in swimming put a drive in me to achieve.”
“Tonight, this honor brings my career to its final chapter,” added Nardozza Schmitt, who won six Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championships at IUP.
Nardozza was one of five individual inductees recognized at this year’s event, and two of them were honored posthumously.
Joining Nardozza as an individual Blair Hall inductee on the dais Saturday were longtime former Bellwood-Antis High School football coach John Hayes and world-renowned jet ski champion Eric Malone.
The two posthumous inductees were former Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic and University of Mississippi basketball standout Eddie Miller, and 15-time National Hot Rod Association racing champion John Lingenfelter.
Julie Roseborough, who is currently celebrating her 56th season as the girls track and field coach at Bellwood-Antis, was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hall.
The 1970 Bishop Guilfoyle boys basketball team that won the Pennsylvania Catholic Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Class A state championship was also recognized, as were the Hall’s two latest scholarship winners — current high school seniors Bailey Garver of Claysburg-Kimmel and Parker Gregg of Central.
Pittsburgh television sports personality Stan Savran again served as the event’s emcee, and decorated former college and professional quarterback Doug Flutie was the guest speaker.
Eddie Miller’s son, Patrick, accepted the induction award for his late father, and Patrick’s speech produced more levity than any other for the audience on hand.
Patrick recalled his father’s larger-than-life sense of humor, and his emphasis on the development of personal relationships and friendships over individual accomplishments.
Patrick had the audience in stitches when recounting his father’s recollection of using the rectory of a priest friend in Oxford, Miss. to throw a party — with University of Mississippi sorority members among the invitees — while the priest was out of town.
“My dad had a big smile and an infectious laugh,” Patrick Miller said. “His days at Ole Miss were some of the best days of his life.
“He valued friendships and relationships more than anything,” Patrick said of his father, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 75. “I would like to thank the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame committee for its induction of Eddie. This is a first-class event.”
Hayes won 323 games in his illustrious 48-year coaching career, spending the final 38 seasons at Bellwood-Antis after coaching at the Blue Devils’ neighboring rival Tyrone for the first 10.
Like every other Hall inductee Saturday, Hayes offered kudos to his associates, describing his wife, Victoria, to whom he has shared 52 years of marriage, as “my rock and the wind beneath my wings.”
Under the direction of Hayes, the Bellwood football program became one of the most consistently successful in the state, and still is today.
“The credit goes to many others, including my coaching staffs, the school boards and the great support of our community, but the success that we had as a program became expected and was consistently delivered, and the most important element in that success was the players themselves,” Hayes said.
Hollidaysburg native Malone became the winningest professional in International Jet Sports Boating Association competition, winning 43 titles in his career — including eight world IJSBA titles (seven pro, one amateur) between 1995 and 2010.
Malone recognized his father, Gene, and late mother, Bonnie, as two of the biggest factors in his success.
“My mother helped me to navigate my personal and professional lives, and my dad was my number one fan and mechanic,” Malone said. “I’m extremely honored to become a Blair County Sports Hall of Fame inductee, but you don’t become an eight-time world champion without the support of many people — including, for me, my coaches, teachers and my family.”
John Lingenfelter died at the age of 58 in 2003 from injuries suffered in an NHRA event a year earlier. A native of East Freedom, he made a worldwide name for himself as one of the most prolific drivers, engine builders and tuners in motorsports.
Lingenfelter’s brother, Charles, accepted his induction award.
“John was a humble person, but he had a burning desire to excel at everything that he did,” Charles Lingenfelter said. “John would feel overwhelmed at his selection to the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame, and it’s an honor for John’s family members — many of whom still live in Blair County — to see him inducted.”
Roseborough started the girls track and field program at Bellwood-Antis, and also coached the school’s boys and girls cross country teams and field hockey squads for many years.
“There are people I’ve coached who are now in their 70s, and people who I am coaching now who are still teenagers,” Roseborough said. “I’ve had the privilege of coaching hundreds of girls, and I love them all.”