BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – On Wednesday the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame introduced its 12 inductees for the Class of 2021 and there are some big names on this list as well as an inspiring and influential University at Buffalo football team.
Mike Robitaille needs no introduction to hockey fans here in Buffalo. He played for the Sabres from 1971 to 1975 and after retiring became a beloved member of the Sabres’ broadcasting crew.
“It leaves you with a very humbling feeling. You kind of wonder and causes you to pause a little bit and think back over your life and if you belong here or not but I guess I do for some reason or other,” Robitaille laughed.
“You kind of sit back, stunned for a day and you go back over your whole life and you think about the up’s and down’s, the good’s, the bad’s, how you got over things, who helped you out, who was there when things were very difficult,” Robitaille explained.
Robitaille has been doing a lot of reflecting lately, not just because of his induction but after his former teammate and Sabres legend, Rene Robert, passed away earlier this week.
“I was a right defenseman, he was a right winger and so my first pass out of my end was with Rene so I had a real close relationship with him because he was my bread and butter. He had to be there for me so I could bail out and get the puck up the ice. And he did that very well,” Robitaille explained.
Other inductees include former Bills defensive tackle and fan favorite Kyle Williams along with John Beilein whose long, successful coaching career started at Newfane High School with stops at ECC, Canisius and eventually Michigan.
Here is the rest of the Class of 2021:
John Butler (deceased) – Vice-President and General Manager of the Buffalo Bills whose teams went to the playoffs in five of his eight seasons at the helm.
Angela Coniglio (deceased) – Four sport star at Amherst High School who parlayed her soccer talents into a professional career.
Deborah Dourlain – State record swimmer out of Orchard Park HS, who went on to earn Division I and Division III All-American honors.
Gerry Gentner (deceased) – Three-time state championship softball coach at Williamsville South, whose favorite saying was, “Just Show Up”.
Julie Gentner Murphy – Multi-sport all-Western New Yorker from Williamsville South, who went onto become a Division III All-American field hockey star and a championship softball coach.
Ron Moscati – Niagara Falls product considered one of the nation’s premier sports photographers while employed at the Buffalo Courier Express and Buffalo News.
William Russell (deceased) – Youth hockey founder, director, coach and administrator out of Bennett High School.
Lamar Smith – Elite sprinter out of Bennett High School, who holds the two oldest boys track records in Western New York. Was an All-American at Alabama and Buffalo State.
Pete Tonsoline– Multi-sport local high school coach and administrator with more than 1500 wins.
UB football’s team from 1958 is also being honored. The Bulls went 8-1 that year, won the Lambert Cup but declined an invitation to the Tangerine Bowl after the bowl committee would not let two black players compete.
And members of that team were in attendance for the ceremony on Wednesday including one of the quarterbacks from that Bulls squad, Joe Oliverio.
“It’s very exciting. We’ve been honored a number of times and it never gets old and we’re thrilled to represent the University and especially our team here at the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame,” Oliverio said.
Oliverio looks back on that inspiring act by the Bulls backing up their fellow teammates.
“It was kind of an easy thing to do. Back then in the 50’s the character that we brought from our homes and from our schools when we came to the University and entered into the diversity that was at the University it was just doing the right thing,” Oliverio explained.
“It’s not hard to do the right thing especially when it’s for somebody you love. The family unit was very strong in those days so you can imagine the values and morals that we brought to the University and to the football team.”
The entire class will be officially inducted during a dinner ceremony in October.