November 24, 2014

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Elyria Sports Hall of Fame: Inductees celebrate achievements, recall struggles overcome

Jesse (Verhoff) Bendik is introduced Saturday at the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame banquet with her husband, Jayson. She was inducted for her success in basketball and volleyball at Elyria High School. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

Jesse (Verhoff) Bendik is introduced Saturday at the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame banquet with her husband, Jayson. She was inducted for her success in basketball and volleyball at Elyria High School. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — The inductees took time to thank the coaches, teammates and family members who helped them during their athletic careers, but many also discussed the adversity they were forced to face to find success.

Elyria High’s Jessy Verhoff Bendik and Tim Sweigard, Elyria Catholic’s Mike Kozma and Dr. David Krol, Elyria West’s TJ Staton and the 1964 Elyria High football team were enshrined in the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night at the Lorain County Community College Spitzer Center.

Jim Tomsic was honored with the Distinguished Sports Service Award.

Bendik kicked off the night discussing some of the tough times she overcame while rising to the tops of the local volleyball and basketball scenes. She was often the target of taunts from opponents, and said she even felt ostracized by her teammates at times.

Through the support of her three sisters, parents, coaches and future husband, she was able to come out on top and now coaches young area athletes.

“The four most motivating words you can say are, ‘I believe in you,’” she said. “You have to be careful of the words you say to someone. Those words can be forgiven, but they can never be forgotten.”

Bendik thanked each of her family members and her two high school coaches — Carol Russo and Mike Walsh — before leaving the crowd with an inspirational quote from Nelson Mandela.

“I’ve had some small achievements in my life and to receive recognition for such, I am so honored,” she read. “However, they are small achievements in the development of my potential. The real message is my life and what I leave behind.”

Kozma talked about the anguish of being injured midway through his senior track season and having to watch the competition from the sideline. He decided to go down to the state tournament and watch, and was surprised when Amherst coach Dick Cooley brought Indiana University coach Sam Bell over to meet the EC star.

“I don’t know what (Cooley) said to (Bell) but it must have impressed him, because I received a scholarship to Indiana,” Kozma said.

Kozma also got some laughs as he talked about dodging LCCC students when he used to train in the school’s tunnels during the winter, and his encounter with NFL standout Herschel Walker, who ran track at the University of Georgia.

“I got the chance to compete against him (in college),” Kozma said. “I’m glad it was a short distance because that limited how much he could beat me by.”

Krol kept it short and sweet, thanking his family for supporting him through his, “ups and downs, wins and losses,” and talked about his definition of leadership.

“If someone has done something that has made your life fundamentally different … that’s leadership,” he said. “If you don’t think you’ve been a leader, it’s probably just that you haven’t been told.”

Krol then thanked his former baseball teammates, opponents, coaches and teachers.

“You are the leaders here tonight,” he said.

Staton did a fun impression of high school baseball coach Tom Kubuski, who threatened to pull him from a game if he walked the next batter despite Staton already having racked up 15 strikeouts.

“Coach Kubuski believed in two things — work and discipline,” Staton said. “Going from my high school to my professional career, they started me on different programs and it was a cakewalk for me, because I had it harder in high school when it came to the level of discipline.

“I was like, ‘Oh, you’re going to pay me, too?’”

Staton said he took what he learned from his playing days and applies it to his coaching at Staton Sports, his Lorain business.

“The one thing I always tell the kids is, ‘I can teach you a lot of things in this game, but the one thing I can’t teach you is heart,’” he said. “That’s what makes a great athlete — passion, love, work, discipline and heart. If you’re missing that last ingredient, you’re probably not going to experience greatness.”

Sweigard, who won a state wrestling championship in 1972, joined Bendik in attributing his competitive nature to sibling rivalry, saying he and his two older brothers battled in all aspects of life.

“We even had French toast-eating contests,” he said. “We played so much kickball that there was a permanent diamond grooved into the backyard. Every game we played against each other it was like a grand slam in the World Series or a 40-yard touchdown pass in the Super Bowl.

“We still get a little heated now when we get together for Trivial Pursuit games … it’s just that the celebration dances aren’t as pretty.”

The night wrapped up with the induction of the 1964 Pioneers football team, with 10 players in attendance plus assistant coach Don Hunsinger.

“We had 100 kids show up to try out for the football team,” defensive guard Jim Westbrook said. “The guys who got there last got the Knute Rockne leather helmets with the face mask that was the size of a straw. You had to wait for somebody to quit if you wanted to get better equipment.”

Westbrook talked of the team’s accolades — including five former members already being enshrined on their individual merits — and what helped the Pioneers achieve greatness that season.

“The toughest opponents we had to face all year were those during the week (at practice),” he said. “During those practices, you always had at least 10 guys who wanted your job.”

Notes
Several athletes were honored for receiving All-Ohio status in high school sports, the Elyria High softball team was honored for its Division I state runner-up performance last season and the Little League East 12U softball team was honored for advancing to the Little League World Series.

The individuals honored were Elyria Catholic’s Michaela Foisy (track), Joe Begany (baseball), Dakota Tallman (football) and Michael Saddler (soccer), and Elyria High’s Connor Kamczyc (football), Caitlyn Minney (softball), Ben Darmstadt (wrestling) and Kevin Vough (wrestling).

The Hall of Fame awarded four $500 scholarships. The winners were Elyria Catholic’s Danielle Dziak and Kaitlin Pierce, Elyria High’s Kari Wonder and Open Door’s Gabrielle Neubauer.

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @ShaunBennettct.

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  • Linda Gasbarre Halley

    Why no photos or names mentioned of the 10 attendees from the 1964 football team? Many of us do care about that, too. Disappointed.