Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame turns 50, inducts 8 into new class

One inductee walked on his hands up hills and stairs to build his arms and shoulders for his sport.

That was pole vault and he was so passionate about it that, carrying two, 15-foot poles, he once hitchhiked on the Palisades Parkway to West Point in a blizzard to train.

That kind of work ethic served the late Lance Arietta (Tappan Zee Class of 1976) well, not only vaulting for TZ (he was an indoor and outdoor state champion) but also for the University of Texas-El Paso.

Another inductee probably easily surpassed the milestone 1,000-point level in high school basketball. But during her first three years at Albertus Magnus High, the team played in a Catholic league and, while points were always recorded in scorebooks, no cumulative stats were kept and those scorebooks were likely lost with time.

Mary (Brechbiel) Agnetti, a 1970s Albertus Magnus High School and Mercy College basketball star, will be inducted April 1, 2023 into the Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame during its 50th anniversary celebration.
Mary (Brechbiel) Agnetti, a 1970s Albertus Magnus High School and Mercy College basketball star, will be inducted April 1, 2023 into the Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame during its 50th anniversary celebration.

But Mary (then-Brechbiel) Agnetti (Albertus Magnus Class of 1974) made enough of an impression with her play those three years and during her senior year, when Magnus moved to the local public league and cumulative stats were, indeed, kept, that she became Mercy College’s first female athlete awarded an athletic scholarship.

The quick guard certainly earned that scholarship. She poured in more than 1,500 points for Mercy, pulled down close to 700 rebounds, dished out more than 400 assists and amassed close to 500 steals – perhaps her favorite stat, since Agnetti liked nothing more than swiping the ball from an opponent

Now Agnetti, who was inducted into Mercy’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009, Arietta and six others will be inducted into the Rockland Sports Hall of Fame Saturday during the hall’s  50th anniversary celebration,  a sold-out, 240-person event at Paramount Country Club in New City.

Their inclusion will bring the number of those enshrined since the hall was established in 1974 to 303, a number reflecting both individuals and those inducted as members of teams.

The hall, which is heavily involved in charitable work in Rockland, also includes some of the county’s most successful coaches. But most inductees were Rockland high school sports stars, sometimes in as many as five sports, since, years ago, playing multiple sports a season was permitted.

More than a smattering, like Agnetti, went on to have highly successful collegiate athletic careers, and some had notable professional sports careers.

The list of the nationally-known includes Super Bowl champion (Denver Broncos) and three-time NFL all-pro and Seth Joyner, a 1982 Spring Valley grad, and Walt Weiss, 1982 Suffern grad, who was an AL Rookie of the Year, an MLB all-star and two-time World Series (once as a player, once as a coach) champion.

Most football historians probably know all about the late 1932 Pearl River High graduate Dan Fortmann, who played for the Chicago Bears for eight years, winning three NFL championships.

He did this while first attending medical school, then practicing as a surgeon.

Fortmann, a seven-time all-pro, who’s enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was part of that initial Rockland Sports Hall of Fame Class of ’74.

So was Howie Pierson, who plans to attend Saturday’s gala, where former Pearl River High athletic director and highly successful Pirate cross-country and track coach Tom Doherty, a 2005 inductee, will serve as master of ceremonies.

Pierson will turn 88 in May. But he’s still every inch an athlete.

Pierson, a multi-sport talent at Tappan Zee High (Class of 1954), who took up golf in his 20s, won the Metropolitan Amateur title and later went on to enjoy success playing Senior Tour events with the likes of Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus, works as a golf pro at New York Country Club in Pomona.

The Nyack resident and former Rockland Community College athletic director, whose professional baseball career out of Manhattan College (he was a Phillies draft choice) was derailed by military service, indicated he's looking forward to seeing the newest Hall of Fame members.

His own induction remains special.

“It’s always honoring and humbling to play games and enjoy them and have people honor you (for that),” he said.

By comparison, Agnetti, who grew up in Haverstraw and now lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is a bit of a kid.

But she, of course, has been out of high school for almost 49 years.

That doesn’t mean she isn’t cherishing her induction, which will be attended by many of her family members and friends.

“It’s an honor,” Agnetti said. “It’s been a long time since I played. It’s nice people are around from my generation who remember how I played.”

Return from COVID: After three-year hiatus, Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame to hold banquet Saturday

The best in Rockland: Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame to honor four new members on Saturday

Other inductees

Saturday’s other inductees are Dave Billings, Heidi Higgins-Sermabekian, Shawn Kapusinsky, Kimberly McDole-Gordon, Jim Scaringe and Joe Famellette.

Billings, now a pastor in Middletown, didn’t start running until his junior year at Nyack High (Class of 1972) but set the then-state record in winning the state outdoor two-mile race as a senior. That year, he was also state Class B cross-country champion and national junior AAU cross-country (four-mile) champion. He subsequently became a cross-country All-American at Nyack College.

Kapusinsky, who graduated from North Rockland in 1986, excelled there at golf, skiing (he’s currently North Rockland’s ski coach) and tennis.

He was best known for golf. On the high school varsity since seventh grade, he was a four-time all-section golfer, a section champion and state medalist, as well as South Atlantic Junior Championship runner-up.

Kapusinsky went on to compete for Division I Penn State.

McDole-Gordon was also a high school and collegiate athlete.

The 1983 Ramapo grad, competed in track for Spring Valley High, Ramapo High and the Division I University of Houston.

She was the girls state indoor long jump champion for Spring Valley as just a freshman. In her senior year, she set the then-state record in outdoor girls long jump. She was also a two-time Loucks Games girls long jump champ and runner-up in long jump at the prestigious Penn Relays.

But McDole-Gordon could also run and was part of two state-champion outdoor 4x400 relay teams for Ramapo and was also the stat outdoor 100-meter champ as a senior.

Currently a Dominican University jumps coach and Rockland County track official, the Spring Valley resident medaled in long jump for Houston at the Southwest Conference championships.

Higgins-Sermabekian’s introduction Saturday should include the word “trailblazer,” although that's not the reason for her induction.

The 1981 Spring Valley grad was not only the first girl to play in the Monsey (baseball) Little League but was also the first girl in the state to play high school baseball, passing arduous physical tests boys weren’t made to pass to join the freshman team.

Higgins-Sermabekian, though, is better known in other sports.

She still holds Rockland records for number of saves in a single game, in a season and in a career, playing goal in girls soccer.

But Higgins-Sermabekian, who also starred in softball, earned a full athletic scholarship to Nazareth College in basketball. Despite the passage of nearly four decades since she last took the court as a player there, she remains one of that school’s all-time leading rebounders.

Scaringe was an all-state football player and Daily News First-Team Tri-State baseball player, who was also a top wrestler for Tappan Zee (Class of ’73).

He did the unusual three times in college.

First, he successfully walked on to coach Bobby Bowden’s Division I West Virginia University football team, getting playing time as a freshman. Then he was offered a football scholarship there the following spring.

But Scaringe turned that down and transferred to much closer and much, much smaller Nassau Community College, where he played football for two seasons.

Scaringe, who has lived in Massachusetts for decades and, before retiring, worked as a social worker, teacher and school principal, played football at East Stroudsburg State for a season after Nassau.

Famellette is being inducted as winner of the Joseph Holland Lifetime Achievement Award, named after the Rockland Sports Hall of Fame’s founder, who is also scheduled to be in attendance Saturday.

Hired to teach physical education in 1960 at Rockland Community College, he worked there for 50 years, coaching eight sports.

Between soccer and wrestling, he coached nine All-Americans.

The Katonah resident also coached four (three men’s, one women’s) undefeated tennis teams and it was Famellete who started RCC’s women’s tennis program.

Famellste, a member of Rockland Community College's Hall of Fame, is also a member of the SUNY Orange Hall of Fame, where, playing tennis, wrestling and playing basketball, he was named the college’s Athlete of the Year in 1958.

Famellette, 88, who went on to graduate from Springfield College, was also a member of the U.S. biathlon team at the World Biathlon Championships in 1995.

Nancy Haggerty covers cross-country, track & field, field hockey, skiing, ice hockey, basketball, girls lacrosse and other sporting events for The Journal News/lohud. Follow her on Twitter at @HaggertyNancy.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame inducts eight, celebrates 50 years