Former National Football League player Andrew Hawkins set a new standard as the first inductee to accept his Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame induction via the Zoom digital platform on Saturday night.
Hawkins’ heartfelt message echoed similar sentiments of the five other members of the Class of 2020, which was honored at the Frank J. Pasquerilla Conference Center after two previous COVID-19 related postponements.
“I wish I could be there,” Hawkins said remotely from the West Coast. “Unfortunately, it’s the middle of the season. I had three shows yesterday. I’ve got two more tomorrow and three more Monday. It would have been next to impossible and it really bummed me out, but technology has presented me the opportunity to still speak and accept this incredible honor.”
The Class of 2020 included 45-year coaching legend Don Bailey, of Forest Hills High School; Hawkins; former Northern Cambria multi-sport athlete Melissa Myers, who went on to an All-American volleyball career as a player at Juniata College and a coach at Division I Illinois State and Division II California (Pa.); former Pitt-Johnstown Athletic Director Ed Sherlock, of Windber; former United States Naval Academy football player Brad Stramanak, of Westmont Hilltop; and former St. Francis University record-setting basketball star Jess Zinobile.
“To be up here is no small feat and not an honor that I take lightly,” said Hawkins, who thanked God, his family and friends, coaches and teammates.
Technology enabled a crowd of nearly 200 people to watch Hawkins several time zones away in California, where he contributes to the NFL Network and several other sports and entertainment related programs on both television and digital formats.
“To every teammate, every coach, every parent, every opponent that gave me the honor of playing for, with, in front of, against, I don’t get this accomplishment without you and it’s not lost on me your role in this as well,” said Hawkins, who grew up in Prospect before moving onto the University of Toledo, then winning two Canadian Football League Grey Cup championships and finally playing six NFL seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.
His older brother Artrell Hawkins Jr., a former NFL defensive back with the Bengals, Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots, accepted the Hall of Fame award on behalf of Andrew.
“Everybody in Johnstown, everybody in Cambria County, through all these years, this foundation of who we are as an area, the things that were instilled in me, I’ve literally used that as my secret weapon throughout the rest of the world,” Hawkins said.
“It’s an honor to come from where I come from, be connected to the people that I am connected to and to sit in front of you as someone you guys deemed worthy enough to honor.”
‘Luckiest man alive’
Bailey, a local icon who spent four-plus decades on the football sidelines with the Rangers’ perennial powerhouse program, informed the audience that he suffered a stroke three weeks ago and has shown improvement.
“I’m honored and humbled,” Bailey said. “Any success I may have had can be traced to the people I’ve had supporting me in all aspects in all of my endeavors.”
A large group of assistant coaches and former players joined Bailey at the banquet, proving his point. He thanked his wife, Diane, during an emotional moment.
“I’m the luckiest man alive to have my wife, Diane, by my side,” Bailey said.
“She is a saint to have put up with me 49 years,” Bailey added, pausing before saying, “Sometimes I get mixed up on the years coaching and the years I’ve been married.”
The crowd burst into laughter.
The coach also shared the honor with his sons, former Rangers standouts Brandon and Derek Bailey. Brandon Bailey currently coaches football at Richland High School.
Don “It was not always easy being the principal’s son and the coach’s son,” said Bailey, a former administrator at the school district.
Bailey led Forest Hills to a 375-120-8 record with his teams winning 10 district championships and advancing to the state semifinal round five times. The Rangers finished as state runner-up in 1994 after a double-overtime loss to Mount Carmel at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona.
The National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Central Pennsylvania Chapter presented Bailey a Lifetime Contribution to Football Award in 2017.
“All of the success that Forest Hills has had is because of the players,” Bailey said. “The outstanding players we had were always committed. They were always hard-working, hard-nosed, blue-collar players who were tenacious on the field, and hopefully they were gentlemen off the field.”
“They were always willing to sacrifice goals, for the success of the team, giving up their own personal goals.
“They believed in the tradition of excellence and strived for that excellence at all times.”
‘Lift us up’
Myers was Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) Volleyball Player of the Year and a AVCA first-team All-American at NCAA Division III Juniata College, where she also was an All-American performer in track and field. She coached volleyball at California (Pa.) (161-49) in Division II and Illinois State (168-116) in Division I. She is in both the Juniata College and California (Pa.) sports halls of fame.
“No one accomplishes anything without the help of others,” Myers said. “Much like an iceberg, we only see the 10 or 15% that is above the water.
“There is far more below the surface that you don’t see.
“Those who lift us up, support us and keep us floating above water. The family, friends, coaches, mentors, teammates, colleagues and even competitors who encourage, challenge and make us better.”
Myers, who lives near Morgantown, West Virginia, was joined by her mother, who she thanked for taking care of five children while also working in a factory.
“She was the one driving me to every practice, tournament and event all over the state and region,” Myers said. “She demonstrated and exemplifies perseverance, grit, persistence, making the best of any situation and always doing that with a smile. I believe I inherited these traits and characteristics from her.”
Building a program
Sherlock took over as the first athletic director at Pitt-Johns- town in 1970 and guided the program through many key moments and milestones until his retirement in 2001. Sherlock was instrumental in Pitt-Johns- town’s joining the NCAA Division II and the development of the Sports Center and the Aquatic Center on the Richland Township campus.
UPJ wrestling won two Division II team titles in 1996 and 1999, and the women’s basketball program reached the Division II Final Four in 1987.
“I remember thinking when I took the job that I had more money in my basketball program at Windber High School than I had in the whole UPJ sports program,” Sherlock said.
‘A special place’
Stramanak was a two-way star in football and a fierce competitor on the wrestling mat at Westmont Hilltop.
But multiple knee surgeries, including complete reconstruction once on each knee, presented one obstacle after another.
Instead of giving up, Stramanak scored 10 rushing touchdowns as a senior in 1993 and 16 in his career with the Midshipmen. He averaged 3.8 rushing yards a carry in three seasons as a starting fullback.
“This opportunity to return to Johnstown is really a great thing for me and my family,” said Stramanak, who resides in Annapolis, Maryland. “To get to see my five sons here, bringing them back to where it all started.
“This is a special place. The people around here have special values, morals and work ethic,” Stramanak said of a message he told his sons.
“Take a moment to meet someone new. Meet some folks here.
“You’re going to meet someone special while you are here.”
Zinobile, who resides and works in Charlotte, North Carolina, could not attend the banquet. St. Francis University women’s basketball coach Keila Whittington accepted the hall of fame award on behalf of Zinobile, who scored a then-record 2,338 points and had 1,295 rebounds on Red Flash teams that won four Northeast Conference titles and advanced to the NCAA Division I Tournament from 1997 to 2000.
“As the head coach at St. Francis, ‘Can I get another one of those?’ ” Whittington asked, as the crowd responded in laughter. “I would love to recruit another player like Jess Zinobile. She had an outstanding career at St. Francis.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.