LITTLE VALLEY—Michael T. Williams Sr. became the 11th graduate of West Valley Central School to be named to the Cattaraugus County Sports Hall of Fame, April 8, at the Little Valley American Legion Post No. 531.
In an ironic twist, the element that Williams lacked in pursuing his most accomplished sport in high school was the same element that propelled him in a different sport to hall of fame accolades – speed.
Most people who witnessed Williams pitch for the Wildcats in the mid-to-late 1950s thought he might be good enough for the professional level, but when the then-1959 high school senior tried out for Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees, he was told his pitching speed wasn’t fast enough.
Today in his mid-70s, Williams is relying on a different kind of speed coupled with endurance in a late-blossoming running career that has seen him win back-to-back Buffalo News Runner-of-the-Year titles in two age classifications that ultimately proved to be the catalyst for his enshrinement into this year’s CCSHOF.
Had Williams been given a chance to pitch for those ‘59 Yankees, he would have been rubbing elbows with Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Enos Slaughter and Mickey Mantle. Perhaps the Yankees standards were higher than most and Williams could have landed with a different organization as the Yankees were involved in five-consecutive World Series around the time of Williams’ tryout.
Current Springville-Griffith Institue head baseball coach Rick DeKay remembers coaching West Valley l to the state baseball finals in 1999 and 2000, and was aware that the previous Wildcat state baseball appearance was 40 years prior with Williams as the star pitcher.
“I’ve been told that [Williams] struck out 11 or 12 batters in the final game and dominated the game, but lost to Panama, 1-0,” said DeKay, the first-ever West Valley CCSHOF inductee, earning the title in 2002.
But after all the accolades in baseball both during high school and after where he continued to be recognized with various teams, Williams’ passion turned to running in his mid-30s. His two running titles are from 2015 and 2016 and he hopes to three-peat this year.
When CCSHOF Chairman Mark Benton introduced Williams and mentioned his 200-plus medals and trophies for long-distance running, Williams’ wife, Linda, of 52 years couldn’t help but chuckle. According to her, their home didn’t have enough room for all of Mike’s running accolades and more than half, if not more, went to the trash. Although moot, she estimated her husband’s haul closer to the 400-500 range.
Benton read the following just prior to presenting Williams with his honor:
“A three sport athlete at West Valley High School, Mike excelled as a pitcher on the varsity baseball team. After high school Mike moved to Buffalo and began to lift weights plus rode a speed bike 15 miles every night in the city. Williams was once recorded running the 100-yard dash in 9.8 seconds. He also played town team baseball for the Franklinville Frankees and slow pitch softball in Ellicottville. But finally at age 36, Mike was hooked on long distance running and has won over 200 medals and trophies. In 2015, Williams was the Buffalo News Runner of the Year in the 70-74 age group. The following year he won the same award in the 75-79 year old age group. Today, he still tries to run 6 miles a day, five or six times a week.”
“I’m honored and humbled to receive this award,” Williams said prior to acknowledging his family members, the person who nominated him and his high school baseball coach Roger Crandall, who took Williams to that Yankees tryout. Perhaps acknowledging he could have been more prepared for that ’59 tryout, Williams said, “If I knew then what I know today about getting into shape, I would’ve worked year-round and tried to do [make a major league baseball roster].”
Williams also kidded the audience that his new hall of fame plaque would “show-up” all the various long distance running trophies and medals. And get top billing on a wall in his home. The former West Valley three-sport athlete (baseball, basketball, track) also recalled winning the sportsmanship award his senior year.
With the induction of the Class of 2017, the CCSHOF now has 180 members with criteria for selection based usually on about 20-plus years of either being an athlete, administrator or coach or combination of the three in conjunction with longevity, dedication and success in athletics.
Other West Valley CCSHOF members include: DeKay (2002), Tom Lockwood (2003), Amy Butler (2006), Bonnie Smith (2008), Tim Gebauer (2009), Patricia Crandall (2010), Richard Ford (2012), Greg Dahlman (2013), Deb Ford Luedeke (2014) and Bernie Truby (2015).
The closest demographic inductee to Springville was Pioneer’s Dick Edmunds. He graduated from Delevan-Machias High School in 1965 and was the second former United States Olympian to be enshrined into the CCSHOF. His rowing team finished fifth at Mexico City in 1968.
The remaining 10 inductees
Robert "Robbie" Jimerson was a three sport all-star athlete at Gowanda Central School and is credited with getting the boys lacrosse program up and running at his alma mater back in 1976.
Barb Duggan was the first female athletic director in Western New York when she took over the reins of the Little Valley Central School program in 1977.
Wayne Marsh was a former Big 30 all-star from Little Valley and coached youth football in the Cattaraugus County Youth Football League for 15 seasons and has officiated high school basketball for the past 28 seasons.
Fred Caya was a contributing member on several championship basketball teams at Portville Central School during the mid 1970s. He also had a successful coaching tenure for the Panthers winning 93 games.
Chad Lyter coached multiple sports at Allegany-Limestone with success. Several of his teams were awarded post-season sportsmanship awards.
Susan Horton has been touted as the best overall female athlete to ever come out of Ellicottville. She flew up from Dallas, Texas to receive her award. Horton traveled three hours each way to practice and played women's professional football for the Austin Rage and the Dallas Diamonds.
Bruno DeGigio graduated from Olean's Bishop Walsh High School as the school's all-time leading basketball scorer. He was awarded a full scholarship to St. Bonaventure University and was a member of the Bonnies’ 1977 NIT championship team.
Royce Ross is a legendary baseball and softball coach at Franklinville Central School. His teams combined to win 18 league and four Section VI titles.
DJ Whitmore played on some of the finest Salamanca Warrior varsity football teams and later created the alumni football game that has raised over $100,000 for charities. He has also won several awards as a powerlifter.
Tommy "The Ironman" Irons, who passed away on June 27, 2015 was inducted posthumously. As a fast-pitch softball pitcher in the Olean area, he won numerous league and tournament most valuable player awards. He pitched seven games in a day on several occasions and recorded 26 career no hitters.