Maryvale Athletic Wall of Fame
By Ross West, class of 1963
My induction to Maryvale High School's Wall of Fame is a salient event in my life, probably because it came so late in my life, but not too late for my parents, who were able to attend and relish the fruits of their labors: The end result of the seemingly endless process of feeding me, nurturing me, keeping me out of trouble and, generally, being the best parents imaginable. Too late, however, for Coach Don Hall, who passed away in January 1997. But not too late for Coach Sal Corrallo, who, as the result of my induction, has come back into my life and the lives of several Maryvale athletes and students. And, fortunately, it also came late enough in life for wounds to heal.
On Friday afternoon, March 26, the inductees were invited to Maryvale to address the student body. Wearing my letter sweater, which, by the way, still fits, I entered through the front entrance with Cathie, my wife of 35 years, and my youngest daughter, Caroline. It was a relief not to have to enter through any metal detectors. In the lobby, there was a large whiteboard sign with congratulations to the inductees and signed by all the student athletes. Along the wall, in front of the trophy case, was a table with the inductees' presentation plaques and biographies.
The four inductees and four members of the honored 1964 football team met in the adjoining conference room for introductions and a briefing. Official photos were taken of us in the gym, which now looks so small and the baskets seem so high.
Then we took our places onstage in the auditorium, where the Maryvale Jazz Ensemble welcomed the students-grades 9-12, some 600 of them-as they filed in, with a well-played piece that reminded me of a circus parade. There was no evidence of any dress code that I could detect, except for one, perhaps, drafted by Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. The ensemble then played the National Anthem, followed by the Coral Singers, singing the Maryvale Alma Mater, "On the plains of Cheektowaga stands our Alma Mater...," while I hummed along.
The students were restless at first, and prior to playing the National Anthem, the music director had to admonish them to be quiet and show respect. "After all," he reminded them, "we have honored guests." After that, they were very quiet, respectful and, to a person, very well behaved.
The athletic director welcomed the students, had the varsity basketball team and the two recipients of The Athletic Wall of Fame Scholarship come onstage to be recognized for their outstanding achievements, and introduced the inductees, who each spoke for a few minutes.
During my talk, I asked the students to imagine graduating from Maryvale, and twelve years pass when your father calls, asking you to join him at an event like this. Such is the case for my daughter, I explained, and I asked her to stand. I told them that Caroline had difficulty in high school...or rather the school had difficulty adapting to her learning style. That got a laugh. But she went on, I explained, to graduate with honors from Ball State University, served in Micronesia with the Peace Corps, graduated from the Maxwell School, won an appointment as a Presidential Management Intern, and now serves in Homeland Security. No matter where you are in school, you can start achieving your goals any time now, and people are waiting, I said. I concluded by saying that my class was affected by the cold war, which after graduation, turned hot in Vietnam. I joined the Army and served in Europe, while Wally Reitmeiermy Maryvale co-captain, friend, and the one who will present my award the following eveningwent, like so many, to Vietnam, where he was badly wounded. Here, I lost control of my emotions, but finished what I wanted to say.
Karen Schlifke-Augustine, class of 1963, came backstage to congratulate me. She is a teacher's assistant at Maryvale, aiding a blind student.
After the assembly, we were shown the Wall of Fame, which looked super. I was happy to see the rifle team honored. So many of my friends are surprised when I tell them about the rifle range in the basement of our school. So many of my high school activities prepared me for the tasks ahead, like the stint on the rifle range at Fort Indiantown Gap, with an M1 rifle, shooting at targets that seemed, at the time, to be a mile away.
That night, Cathie and I, our two daughters,Virginia and Caroline, a dear friend, and my sister Gloria helped my parents celebrate their 85th birthdays. We are looking forward to celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary in a few years. We had a lot to celebrate, and we toasted to them all, including my sister's grandmotherhood, Virginia's new office with windows, and Caroline's engagement. It was a memorable night, with my mother giving us all a mounted newspaper photo of me running in my sweats, which I autographed like a rock star, with a Sharpie marker.
The next day was the big event, but I rose late, still tired from the day before. My aunts, Virginia and Elizabeth, came over about noon, and we had a delightful visit. But this left me with little time to prepare my acceptance speech, and to add to the pressure, my dear mother told me how much this meant to her. I'm doomed, I thought.
The induction was held at Salvatore's, a huge place, that can host events like ours, which had nearly 200 people, proms, and weddings-simultaneously.
In my group, there was Wally and Diane Reitmeier, Sue and Dennis Lemley, Jack and Joan Moslow, Harold Dumke, Audrey Seidel, Phil Schuyler (Virginia's friend), and my immediate family. By the way, my sister Gloria and her friend Audrey were Maryvale Flyer cheerleaders, class of 1960. Give me an M. Give me an A. You know the drill.
Wally was going over his presentationsquinting his one remaining war-scarred eye, through thick glassesasking me what I thought. We concluded we should keep it lighthearted. So, Wally left out the part about leaving his legs in Vietnam, but gaining 2 inches with his new ones. Maybe time does heal all. He also left out some somber parts, especially the part about our classmates being on two walls: Maryvale's Wall of Fame and D.C.'s war memorial.
The acceptance speeches before mine were very emotional, reinforcing our decision to keep things light. And to further reinforce it, just before our part, Jack poked me, saying as he pointed to my buddies around the table, that if I cried, they were walking.
When Michael Valentic, a football and wrestling wall of famer, introduced us, Wally walked briskly to the podium, where he knocked them dead with humor and great vignettes. He told about wanting to date Michael's sister Darlene, but thought better of it after considering her tough-guy brothers. Coach Corrallo had given Wally some of his memories about me and the team to present. Wally read the Coach's reminisce of a championship meet, which went into detail about some of the individual accomplishments. Wally got a big laugh when he exclaimed "But no mention of me anchoring the winning mile relay," concluding, "It's all about Ross!" With this, he called me up to the podium.
With an introduction like Wally's, all I had to say is "thank you" and take my seat, but I proceeded with my prepared remarks. In Wally's preceding remarks, he also told a story of me picking him up when he slipped on the toboggan hill at Chestnut Ridge during a cross country race. I wish I could have said how he has picked me up; I wish I could have dedicated my award to him. I wish I could have said it wasn't all about me: It was all about Wally, but I was afraid I would choke on my emotions. I was able to say that Wally made the come back of all come-backs. I went on to introduce my family, explaining the impact they had on my athletic career, my sister's cheerleading, and how we are a Maryvale family.
We had a lot of fun catching up on our lives since Maryvale. Dennis is a sixth-grade inter-city science teacher in Baltimore, and his wife Sue is an office manager at a privately-held water company. They have several grandchildren. Harold is the service director for Western New York's largest suburban car dealership. He has two teenage boys and a 38 year-old adopted daughter, who is an elementary school teacher. Jack is a manufacturer's representative for wholesale office supplies. He has two grown sons, and his sister Joanie is retired from a social services career.
After being wounded in Vietnam while serving as a First Lieutenant with the Marines, Wally returned to Buffalo to begin his long rehabilitation. He renewed his relationship with Diane, whom he met on a double blind date arranged by Maryvale classmate Ginny Travis. Well, the other guy couldn't make it, so Wally had his choice, and he chose Diane. After their marriage, they lived in New York City, while Wally attended New York University to get his master's degree. Wally is retired, and Diane is a registered nurse, working at Children's Hospital. They live in Clarence Center, New York, and have a 32-year old son.
I was told that some inductees didn't attend their inductions, and as a result, the Wall of Fame organizing committee gets a commitment to attend from nominees before proceeding any further. They probably call it the Anderson rule, after a teammate of ours, who failed to show up to receive athletic honors from Maryvale and Canisus College. I can't imagine not attending, showing the kids their old man once was a contender, and, hey, I still am. Let's run the course, now? Huh? Huh? I'll give you a head start.
Well, I'm back to work in Colville, Washington, basking in the afterglow. The memories of being out in front of the pack, with wind in my face, are clearer now than ever before. And now I can say in a clear firm voice, "I dedicate my Maryvale Wall of Fame award to Wally Reitmeier."