by Paul Gotham
Rochester’s history of sports has had its fair share of legends. These five make up my Mount Rushmore of Rochester sports.
Joe Altobelli – I came into my awareness of sports during the decade of the 1970s. Many a spring and summer evening I spent at 500 Norton Street in the friendly confines of Silver Stadium. Joe Altobelli was the face of the Rochester Red Wings. The hometown skipper led the ’71 and ’74 clubs to the Governors’ Cup – the ’71 team won the Junior World Series. Alto’s ’76 club earned a first-place finish in the International League’s regular season. Names like Jim Fuller, Tommie Shopay, Bill Kirkpatrick, Enos Cabell, and Royle Stillman ruled the Summers of my youth. Alto was the man in charge. When Mr. Red Wing took the job as skipper of the San Francisco Giants in 1977, I had a new favorite baseball team. Alto went on to lead the Orioles to the ’83 World Series and later spent some time with the Cubs, but he has stayed connected with Rochester. In my college years I pedalled pizzas with Joe. Jr. Another of Joe’s sons was a basketball official – many a game we haggled over a call here and call there. Imagine my delight when one of Alto’s grand children took a spot in my class room.
Don Holleder – Rochester’s All-American graduated from Aquinas Institute and went on to play football at Army under the direction of Earl Blaik. Holleder earned All-American honors his junior year playing end and was part of an Army outfit that led the nation in total offense. When Pete Vann graduated after the ’54 season, Blaik found himself without a quarterback. Holleder took the helm and sacrificed what was sure to be another All-American season for the good of his team. His progress would be hindered in the Spring when Holleder broke his ankle. Although the Cadets struggled through a difficult season, their victory over Navy (with the nation’s leading passer – George Welsh) symbolized Holleder’s leadership and earned his picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Holleder’s sacrifice on the grid iron paled in comparison to his selflessness in battle. On October 17, 1967 while attempting to save fellow Americans from a Viet Cong ambush, Holleder landed his helicopter and was fatally wounded
by sniper fire. Since then Rochester dedicated the former Aquinas Stadium (Rochester’s ‘Shoe) in Holleder’s name, and West Point honored the hero with his name on the school’s indoor sports facility.
Pat Ercoli – If I wasn’t at Silver Stadium, you could find me at the corner of Mount Read and Ridgeway in Hollder Stadium watching the Rochester Lancers. During the 70s the Lancers were Rochester’s major-league team playing in the North American Soccer League. Ercoli roamed the midfield for the Lancers against the likes of Johnn Cryuff, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Oscar Fabianni.
Ercoli’s exploits on the field take a back seat to his prowess on the sidelines. As the head coach of the Rochester Raging Rhinos, his teams dominated the A-League throughout his tenure advancing to the playoffs every season and winning three league titles (1998, 2000, and 2001).
Ercoli etched his name into Rochester sports lore when his 1999 club won the U.S. Open Cup. The Rhinos became the first-ever non-Major League Soccer (MLS) team to win the Cup. Ercoli’s squad defeated four MLS teams en route to the title: the Chicago Fire, the Dallas Burn, the Columbus Crew, and the Colorado Rapids. The Rhinos also advanced to the Cup final in 1996.
Trent Jackson – I was introduced to Trent Jackson my seventh grade year. It was then while walking off the baseball diamond that my dad asked if I knew the name of the umpire that day. Little did I know that an umpire could be a world-class athlete.
The ‘Franklin Flash’ ran a 9.4 100 yard sprint in 1961. Thus tying the national high school mark established by none other than Jesse Owens. Jackson later made the U.S. Olympic squad for the 1964 Tokyo games. A hamstring injury in a preliminary race prevented Jackson from winning a medal. Jackson attended the University of Illinois on a football and track scholarship. He played at Illinois with Dick Butkus and helped the Illini to a victory in the 1964 Rose Bowl.
Jackson played briefly in the NFL with the Eagles and ‘Skins. He returned to Rochester and coached boys basketball at his alma mater. In 2001 he retired after coaching for twenty-six years.
Les Harrison – The Les Harrison Court at the Blue Cross Arena has been the site of numerous Division One and Section Five basketball games. A 1923 graduate of Rochester’s East High, Harrison went on to play, coach, and organize professional basketball in the United States. After owning and coaching teams in the National Basketball League and the Basketball Association of America, Harrison served on the committee that organized the National Basketball Association. Harrison’s Rochester Royals beat the New York Knickerbockers to win the 1951 NBA title. In 1980 Harrison was inducted into the basketball hall of fame.
And now my fellow citizens of the Flower City – whaddya say? Who is on your Mount Rushmore of Rochester sports?