PUNXSUTAWNEY — Featured speaker Les Shoop, a former Punxsutawney Area High School basketball coach, couldn't disagree more with the opinion of those who believe that sports aren't important.
After all, he said, if sports weren't important, Saturday's event at the PAHS cafeteria wouldn't have received such a welcome turnout.
Saturday, at the Punxsutawney Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2011 induction ceremony, more than 100 family members and friends reaffirmed the featured speaker's belief by showing their support for six men who were added to the town's elite athletic group.
Gary Astorino, Dominic "Mickey" Barilar, Roger Raybuck, William Vassallo, George Work and Bruce Chambers, this year's only posthumous member, were inducted as the Hall's 11th class.
Shoop said it was a very special day for him, considering he knew nearly all of this year's inductees during the years in which he led the Chucks to 198 victories on the basketball court.
The first of which was Astorino, a 1976 PAHS graduate who was a three-year letterman in wrestling and football and played Senior Legion baseball. He went on to start for the Edinboro University wrestling team for four years and was on the top-10 win list at EUP.
Astorino said he was very proud to be part of a such a great induction group. This wasn't the first Punxsy Sports Hall of Fame induction that he took part in, as the current Edinboro wrestling coach helped bring Olympic gold medalist and current EUP Director of Athletics Bruce Baumgartner to the Hall's initial induction in 1996.
During the 1996 induction, "I realized what a proud tradition and history Punxsy had," Astorino said.
Astorino said that supportive parents helped him succeed. He also said that his father not only taught him how to compete, but more importantly, how to be a great dad to his children Drew, Lauren and Matt. Drew Astorino is currently a defensive back for the Penn State University football team.
"Athletics have been the better part of my life, and my years at Punxsy started a great, great ride," Astorino said.
Barilar, who went by Mickey to many, is a 1950 PHS graduate. He lettered in football and track and participated in baseball. During his last year at PHS, he competed in the state track meet. Barilar was well known for coaching Punxsy's junior-high and junior-varsity football teams. He said that the only reason his junior-high teams had four undefeated seasons and his JV groups lost just one game was because the players did everything he asked of them.
"No wonder we didn't lose many games," he joked. He also mentioned that having the respect of the players was something valuable to him.
Upon being inducted into the Hall, Barilar said that "it's something that I'll never forget."
Barilar said that he received a few congratulatory cards commenting that it's about time he was inducted. One card was truly memorable to him, as it said that when good things happen to you, the world just seems like a better place.
Raybuck, a 1976 graduate of PAHS, said that this was a night that is special for him, his family, his friends and others who support Punxsy athletics.
Raybuck, who lettered a total of nine times at PAHS in football, basketball and track and field before playing basketball at Washington & Jefferson College, said that high school and college sports had a dramatic and positive effect on his life. He said that if not for athletics and the scholarship he received, he would have never gone to college.
He said that people he played with — who were his friends, not just his teammates — and coaches he played for helped build his character and focus. Those bonds with teammates and coaches, he said, were more important than any trophies he ever won.
Vassallo, who was Shoop's junior-varsity coach before replacing Shoop when he left Punxsutawney, spent 24 years coaching the Punxsy boys' basketball team, compiling 324 career wins.
During the 1991-92 season, the Chucks finished 27-3 and reached the PIAA title game. That season, he was named The Associated Press' Big School Coach of the Year in Pennsylvania.
Vassallo, normally the event's master of ceremonies, had Hall of Fame Class of 2006 member Matt Taladay fill in as this year's MC.
Vassallo said that it was an honor to accept the induction, and he thanked his family, his assistant coaches, Shoop, and all of his players. He said that Punxsy wouldn't have ever reached the state title game if not for great players, and also mentioned that the trip to Hershey for that game was something special that he'll never forget.
Work, a 1947 PHS graduate, lettered in football and later played semi-pro football in New York and Punxsutawney. He was most well-known as a PIAA football official for 41 years, and he also was a baseball umpire in the area for 49 years.
Back when Work played football, he said, football was played without a face guard, and Punxsy always used the single-wing formation. He said that it was a great honor to be part of sports, and it has been a great run. He also thanked everyone who came to see him and congratulate him for his induction.
Two of Chambers' family members — his son, Brian Chambers, and sister, Sherri Chambers Bell — accepted on his behalf. The deceased 1969 PAHS graduate was an All-State football player at PAHS who lettered in football and track and field and also played basketball.
Chambers later won the Zeedick Cup and obtained a scholarship to the Virginia Military Institute.
Brian Chambers said that he always appreciated the time that his father put into his athletics. He said that his father would read countless books and watch countless videos to learn more about sports, and he was always proud to have his father as a soccer coach and being there for him. Sherri Chambers Bell said that Chambers was an outstanding man to get along with and that he would be very humbled by the honor of being inducted into the Hall. She then thanked family and friends for coming and supporting her brother.
Saturday’s festivities were proof that sports were not only important but vital to the enrichment of the lives of six Punxsutawney men.