My apologies if this piece is a bit self-serving.
But it’s not without significance that two former members of the Times Herald sports staff have been named to the Olean High Athletics Wall of Fame in the past three years … and neither earned that honor for their efforts competitively.
In 2017, Francis Tommasino, now the senior director of athletic communications at Christopher Newport University (Newport News, Va.) was inducted for his work during high school both on WHDL’s Husky Half and as statistician for multiple OHS sports. Later, the St. Bonaventure alumnus, who became the voice of Bonnies basketball, broadcast numerous Olean High football and basketball games.
And tomorrow morning in the school cafeteria, Alfred University Athletic Director Paul Vecchio (‘84) will be joined by fellow inductees Mike Abdo (‘02), Jennifer Raimondi (Tucker, ‘02), Janine Davie (Papili, ‘03) and Ashley Turner (‘04).
Tomorrow’s additions bring to 115 the number of OHS Athletics Wall of Fame members … 10 of them non-athletes, but rather “boosters or benefactors” of which Vecchio and Tommasino are two.
Indeed, Vecchio’s plaque reads: ‘A solid career in athletic leadership and grateful for the influence OHS had on this career path’
“OBVIOUSLY, I’m flabbergasted and humbled. Anita Schmidt wanted me to send her my résumé,” Vecchio said of the wife of Bonnies hoops coach Mark Schmidt, a member of the selection committee. “She said, ‘You should be in.’”
But he wasn’t sure why.
“Up to my sophomore year in high school I’d been a pretty decent athlete … but by then I’d had two minor knee surgeries and I’d dislocated my elbow playing football,” Vecchio said. “I was 5-foot-2, 125 pounds. All of my buddies had grown and I hadn’t.
“Growing up I idolized guys like Clar Anderson, the Carney brothers, the Forrest boys and Robbie Parks. When I was playing youth football and baseball, I thought, ‘I’m going to be those guys some day.’ But by the time I was a sophomore, between my body breaking down and being the runt of the litter, I thought, I don’t know if this is going to happen.”
That’s when a life in athletics offered an option.
“It was about that time Mike Abdo (TH sports editor) spoke to my parents (Charlie and Ellen) and wondered, ‘Would Paul like to come to work at the Times Herald?’ It was sort of like that fork in the road where, am I going to try to keep playing sports or (go to work for the TH) which might serve me for the rest of my life?” Vecchio said.
“It was a really painful decision for me because I could picture myself playing sports for my whole life. And I have, recreationally, but that was more or less the end of my playing days.”
Paul took the Times Herald option and both he and Tommasino worked in the Abdo crucible where, about once a night, Mike would fire an intern, send them outside the building, then retrieve them, an hour or so later, as if nothing had happened.
As Vecchio noted, “Somehow it all comes full circle to where that decision to work for the Times Herald leads me down this whole other path of working in athletics and now being recognized (by OHS) comes true in a way that I would not have thought it could happen.
“It’s kind of surreal and very flattering that the committee wants to recognize people in that way which certainly doesn’t have anything to do with athletic accomplishment.”
AFTER GETTING his bachelor’s in communications from Brockport, Vecchio was hired by a paper in Tiffin, Ohio. But he soon returned to Olean when the Times Herald had a sports opening as Bonnies beat reporter Mike Vaccaro took a job in Fayetteville covering the University of Arkansas.
Paul covered the Bonnies for Tom Chapman’s final season, but then became a victim of TH downsizing.
However, only weeks later he was named sports information director at Alfred University, which began his career in collegiate athletics. That led to his being hired by the University at Buffalo to a similar position and he eventually rose to the position of senior associate athletic director for communications and sports administration.
But when the Alfred AD job opened seven years ago, Vecchio couldn’t pass it up.
“I had such a good experience my first time at AU … frankly, (wife) Dawn and I had a young son and I’m out of a job. Alfred took me in and gave me an opportunity and showed me another side of working in sports that I wouldn’t have thought of previously,” he said.
“I spent three great years there and always stayed in touch with student-athletes from that era and the staff. I only left there because of a really unique opportunity at UB … especially with them jumping to Division I.”
But Vecchio admitted, “I’d always kept one eye on what was going on (at Alfred). It’s such a unique university. Alfred is a unique place with the two colleges and the immersive educational opportunities there.”
He added, “There’s a lot about Division I that you have to get out of to understand where the flaws are. When you’re in it, it’s the forest for the trees. You try to outdo your competition and you’re making a lot of decisions. When I left Division I, I recognized … What were we trying to do? … What were we trying to accomplish from an educational perspective with some of the things we were doing?”
That’s why Alfred appealed.
“I took the opportunity because, one, it was Alfred University and, two, (it’s) Division III, the purity that any athlete at that level is playing for the right reasons,” Vecchio explained. “They’re extending their shelf-life of being an athlete and for no other reason that that. When you remove the money, you remove a lot of the pressures that we didn’t have when we first started playing sports ... that was really appealing to me.
“I’m really happy I did it. There are things I miss about both UB and Division I, but I don’t regret this (Alfred job) for a single day.”
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)