Top Ten All-Time Amsterdam High School Girls Basketball Players

The very first copies of my new book, “Fifty Amsterdam NY Top Ten Lists” have just come off the presses. Even though the title says “Fifty” I’ve actually given readers a bonus by including this 51st bonus list. Who are my picks for the top ten all-time AHS girl’s basketball team? Here are three of them. If you want to see who the other seven are you can now order your own copy of my new book here.

3. Angela Fedullo – One of the pioneers of Amsterdam’s Title IX efforts during the late 1970’s, Angela would have been a star in any era. She played basketball, softball and volleyball at AHS, and earned MVP honors in all 3 sports. On the hardwood, she scored over 800 career points and made the Big 10 All Star Team three seasons in a row. She then attended Siena and starred there in both basketball and softball. She has been enshrined in both the AHS and Siena Halls of Fame.

6. Kerry Ochal – The 1993-94 AHS Lady Rams’ basketball team coached by Mary Girol was at the time, the most successful squad in the program’s history, compiling a 21-2 record, a 19-game winning streak and a Big 10 title. None of that would have been possible without Kerry Ochal jumping center. She scored 385 points that season, pulled down a ton of rebounds and time and time again made key plays at key points of big games. Ochal ended her AHS hoops’ career with 792 career points.

9. Liz Hildreth – Just five feet tall, Hildreth fought the “too short to play basketball” stigma throughout her childhood to become one of the all-time great Lady Rams during her mid 1990’s tenure at AHS. By the time she graduated, she had amassed 651 career points along with the respect and admiration of the entire Big Ten girls’ basketball community.

Top Ten Locally Produced Television Shows enjoyed by viewers in Amsterdam, NY

Amsterdam’s earliest owners of television sets were blessed with a strong and steady stream of local programming. This was in large part due to the fact that General Electric Company was a pioneer in the television broadcasting industry and the company’s flagship WRGB studio was one of the first television stations in the world and located just twenty miles west of the Rug City. That programming business model of course changed as first television networks and then technology all but made cost effective local station programming other than news weather and sports reporting pretty much obsolete. This top ten list takes a look at locally produced television programs that were particularly popular with Amsterdam’s small screen viewers back in the day and highlights specific Amsterdam connections to these shows. In today’s blog post I feature four such programs. The complete list of ten will appear in my new book; Fifty Amsterdam New York Top Ten Lists, which will be available in September of 2017.

1. Teen Age Barn – Long before American Idol became a smash hit, there was a local version of a televised talent show that took Amsterdam, NY and the entire Capitol District viewing audience by storm. The first Teen Age Barn episode was broadcast by WRGB in Schenectady, NY on April 9, 1949. The last one aired on January 29, 1966. During the show’s 17-year-run, just about any area teenager who could sing, dance or play an instrument appeared in one of it’s Friday evening broadcasts including the one and only Arlene Fontana, who I like to describe as Amsterdam’s version of   a young Liza Minelli. Another talented Amsterdam native who became a regular on this show was Chet Kukiewicz, who would go on to a long career as Boston’s most popular television news personality under his stage name “Chet Curtis”. Teen Age Barn was the brainchild of Albany, NY native Tommy Sternfeld, a professional dancer with credits in both Vaudeville and Broadway productions. He owned and operated a dance studio in Albany, NY and he liked to run talent competitions for youngsters as a way of drumming up new dance students. The competitions themselves became so popular that Sternfeld was able to sell WRGB on the idea of televising them and “Teen Age Barn” was the result. By 1959, it had become the longest running locally produced variety show in the country. It was a staple in my grandmother’s house every Friday night and I can remember a dozen of us cramming into her tiny living room to watch the local acts on her 11-inch black and white Philco. Regardless of how well any of them performed my Aunt Edie would always issue the verdict “She’s all right but she’s no Arlene Fontana, that’s for sure!”

2. Breadtime Stories (aka The Freddie Freihofer Show) – This legendary Capital District children’s show enjoyed the same 17-year run as Teen Age Barn, from 1949 to 1966 and on the same WRGB Channel 6 station. There were six different hosts during that time but the most famous person to ask the assembled guest children the classic question “Who wants to squiggle?” every afternoon was undoubtedly the last one, Uncle Jim Fisk, who filled that role during the show’s final ten years on the air. Over 4,400 live shows were broadcast and they featured a total of right around 250,000 area children, including my future wife as on-air guests. My two older brothers and I watched it every night. In fact, I clearly remember learning to spell my first word “apple” during the segment of the show when Uncle Jim would reveal that day’s mystery scrambled word, which always had something to do with a baked treat produced by the show’s sponsor, The Freihofer Baked Goods Company. Everyone who owned a TV back then had memorized the words to the show’s popular opening jingle which started with the line, “Freddie we’re ready”. Long before the days of Sesame Street, Breadtime Stories served the role of educational television for Amsterdam toddlers.

3. TV Tournament Time – Back in the 1960’s the names Joe Donato, Skip Vigars, Johnny Walthers, and Big John Germann, were as popular and well-known among Amsterdam sports fans as any professional baseball or football player or big time wrestler. Who were they? This foursome was among the most popular bowlers ever to appear on WRGB’s Sunday afternoon televised bowling show, TV Tournament Time. From 1958 until 1986, bowling fans in the Carpet City went to church on Sunday mornings, stopped to get the Sunday papers and a loaf of bread or a dozen doughnuts on the way home and then tuned their television sets to channel 6 just in time to hear the show’s host Howard Tupper welcome his youngest viewers with his trademark line “Hi ya small fry.” During the next hour, two of the Capital District area’s top bowlers would go head-to-head in a three game match to see who would reign as that week’s “King of the Hill.” I can clearly remember the amazingly neat penmanship of Tupper’s score-keeping sidekick, Charlie Bechard (photo), which would keep viewers posted of each bowler’s score. I also remember when a veteran Amsterdam bowler named Shep Romano appeared on the program. Romano lost his match. Ray Sabatini, a Schenectady native who was later hired to manage Amsterdam’s Windmll Lanes had multiple appearances on TTT. The show was sponsored by the Utica Club Brewery and was originally broadcast from the former Schades Bowling Academy in Schenectady, NY. It became one of the longest running sports shows in the history of television thanks to consistently excellent bowling. Walthers, for example, averaged close to 230 in his scores of TTT appearances back when a 200 average was considered great. On April 10, 1960, Donato made television history by bowling a perfect game during his TTT televised match!

4. Answer’s Please (and its predecessor “Little Red School House”) – This was an especially popular locally broadcast show among Amsterdam, NY viewers because one of this program’s most popular hosts during its almost tree-decade run on Channel 6 was Tim Welch, who was a native of Amsterdam. Originally called “Little Red School House,” the first show aired on WRGB in 1963. The format matched two four-student teams representing Capital District high schools against each other in a competition to see which team could answer the most questions about academic subject matter. In addition to Welch, moderators included, Dave Kroman, Jim Brennan, John Wagner and popular news anchorman, Ed Dague. Welch took over as host in 1981. One of the biggest challenges producers had with the program was finding folks who could write the questions that would be asked during each show. Welch told Times Union television blogger Chuck Miller that he enrolled his younger brother, former Amsterdam fireman Bernie Welch, as a question writer at one point. Teams from both Bishop Scully and Wilbur Lynch High Schools competed on the program and then in 1989, a team from Amsterdam High School won three consecutive contests and retired as an undefeated champion.

5. The Earl Pudney Show – Every weekday late afternoon right around supper time during the 1950s and ‘60s, this pianist and his band would provide Capital District music lovers with a fifteen minute set of after dinner music on WRGB. I distinctly remember that Pudney’s piano had a mirror mounted on its base, perpendicular to the keyboard so that the camera could pick up Pudney’s fingers working their magic on the ivories. Why just fifteen minutes? Back then, the typical local news broadcasts lasted just ten minutes, beginning at six p.m. Channel 6 would then give you fifteen minutes of Pudney’s music followed by five minutes of local weather which led to the half hour NBC network nightly news broadcast, The Huntley Brinkley Report. I was a grade schooler back then and needless to say, I was not a fan of Pudney or his music but my Mom watched or listened to it nghtly and often sang along with the standard tunes he and his band would play. Pudney was also a morning announcer on WGY Radio. His WRGB show ran from 1958 to 1967.

Top Ten Best Amsterdam High School Girls’ Sports Teams

What are the Top Ten Girl’s Sports Teams in Amsterdam High School History? The complete list will appear in my new book; Fifty Amsterdam New York Top Ten Lists, which will be available in September of 2017. Seven different sports are represented in this well-rounded compilation. Here’s a preview of five of the teams that made the list!

1982 Amsterdam Girls Softball – The first AHS girls sports team to ever reach a sectional final. Coached by Pat Reilly (photo), the varsity squad posted an overall record of 12 wins and 6 losses including NYSPHSAA Section 2 playoff wins over Schenectady (Linton), and Catholic Central (11-0 shutout) before falling to Niskayuna, 7-3 in the final. Members of the team included pitcher Margaret McNeil, Chris Poulin, and current Amsterdam Sports Hall of Famer, Sue Blazejewski.

1998-1999 Amsterdam Girls Volleyball – The 1998 AHS varsity volleyball team defeated Schenectady in their senior night home finale to wrap up their share of a program first Big 10 Conference title. The 1999 squad claimed the title outright and along the way won their first tournament title in the Tartan Invitational at Scotia- Glenville High School. Coached by Christine Sherlock, members of the team included Kelly Quist, Erica Quist, two-time league MVP Jessica Meliosky (photo), Lindsay Burtt, Erika Squillace, Jessica Close, Kate Smullen, Lindsay Boris, Chelsea Morini and Vicki Martin.

2004 Amsterdam Girls Cross Country – Coach Stu Palczak’s varsity team started the season ranked 12th in the state among Class A teams. Led by Jenna Krong, Krissy Welch, Evelyn Marrero (photo), and Michaela Catena, the Lady Rams won the Big 10 Conference title in 2004 continuing a history of success by AHS girls cross country teams in the first decade of the 21st century. Welch set the school course record with a time of 18:48, and Marrero nearly qualified for states before her career was done.

2009-2010 Amsterdam Girls Tennis – Beginning in 1997, the AHS girls tennis teams’ won every Big 10 title until the league folded in 2014 and then won the schools’ first Foothills Council team title in any sport. But, the 2009-2010 team did something the others did not do. They made it to a NYSPHSAA Section 2 final. Coach Tony Orapello’s squad made it all the way to the final match and were runners up that year. The team was led by Anna Dyakiv (photo), who was the squad’s number one singles player and went undefeated in the Big 10 in 2009- 2010.

2007-2008 Amsterdam Girls Basketball – The next AHS girls hoops teams to go undefeated and win the Big 10 were Coach Eric Duemlers’ 2007- 2008 teams. Ranked in the USA Today’s top 25, and tops in the state, the Lady Rams were led by NYSPHSAA Section 2 All Stars Brittany Stahura and Megan Gaugler, along with starters Megan Power and Ashley Welytok. Both teams reached the Section 2 playoff semi- finals before falling to Suburban Council teams Shenendehowa and Bethlehem Central. Both Stahura and Gaugler went on to play in college. Stahura received the programs first full athletic scholarship and played for Bryant University. Gaugler (photo) finished her college basketball career among the all time leading scorers at Skidmore College.

Editor’s Note: Once again, I owe a huge thank you to Mohawk Valley Compass sports editor Scott Mulford for contributing a list to my compilation of Amsterdam All-Time Top Ten Lists. He is without peer when it comes to an in-depth knowledge of the female-side of our local scholastic sports scene. Thank you Scott for another great list!

Ten Nice “What Happened After They Left Amsterdam” Stories

I’m not a math wizard but if you figure seven generations have lived in Amsterdam since it was incorporated as a city in the late 1880s I’m guessing between 100,000 and 150,000 different people have called this place home at one time in their lives. Many of them left for one reason or another and created families and careers elsewhere. This list includes the stories of ten of those people. Four are previewed below and the rest will appear in my new book; Fifty Amsterdam New York Top Ten Lists, which will be available in September of 2017:

John Lauriello – was a bit more than a bit wild in his younger days growing up in Amsterdam, NY. When he left here in the early seventies, he had decided to take a job as a bartender in Miami, FL. But he ended up in Birmingham, AL by accident, both literally and figuratively. While on route to the bartending gig he was involved in a horrific car crash which nearly killed him. Injured, broke and estranged from most of his family, he reached out to an Uncle in Birmingham, AL who sent him a one-way bus ticket to that southern city along with a stern warning that he needed to straighten out his act when he got there. And he did. He went back to college and to pay for his tuition, got a job selling clothes in a mens’ apparel store on nights and weekends. The owner of the store took a liking to him and became a mentor in his life. He also got his real estate license, hoping to earn some additional income selling houses in his spare time. Today Lauriello is the owner and founder of Southpace Properties. What began as a two-man operation in a small office in 1984 is now the largest independent commercial real estate firm in Alabama. With 22 full-time brokers and a staff of 25, Southpace offers office, retail, land, warehouse and industrial sales and leasing, tenant and landlord representation, development, asset management, consulting, investment sales and property management. Considered one of Birmingham’s most influential business  executives, his untiring development and civic efforts over the last quarter century have helped spark a revival in that city’s skyline and economy.  But Lauriello has not forgotten where he came from and continues to maintain strong ties and do very nice things for the city of his birth.

Leslie Lawrence Sullivan – Many Amsterdamians remember when Peter Lawrence was the principal of Wilbur Lynch High School in the late sixties and early seventies. He and his wife and five children lived in this community for three plus years and his kids still consider this upstate community their hometown. One of them, daughter Leslie went on to get her degree in journalism from the University of South Carolina and soon thereafter landed a job in the media department of the Chicago White Sox baseball team. Within five years became the team’s Director of Broadcasting. She then went to work for Major League Baseball in 1985 and when she left there in 2001, she had become Sr. VP of Broadcasting and one of the most respected names in the business of sports media. Leslie helped transition the league’s broadcasting business model into the digital age and worked hand-in-hand with all of the teams and major networks to integrate the rapid pace of technology into baseball’s most watched events.

Dr. Richard Picciocca – I served on the Greater Amsterdam School Board during the mid 1980’s and had the fortunate opportunity to closely observe both formally and informally a very special group of young Amsterdam men and women make their way through high school. They seemed to work hard at everything they did both in the classroom and on the fields of athletic competition. They respected their parents, their school, their teachers, their coaches and each other. And they had a sense of ambition that drove them. Don’t get me wrong. They had their share of screw-ups among their ranks but as an adult, whenever you were around them you sensed their confidence and seriousness (and their senses of humor too!) Rick Picciocca serves as a classic example of what I’m describing. Good kid from a great Amsterdam family who grew up eating his grandmother’s sauce, playing sports and video games and working hard in school. After graduating from AHS he went to Union and got a degree in civil engineering and then began a career as a bridge designer for the state of New York. But after a few years into that, he decided he wanted to switch careers and go into medicine. That’s what I’m talking about. This group of Amsterdam kids had a confidence about them that broke difficult challenges down into matters of more time, a tighter budget and more hard work. Picciocca got his medical degree from Downstate Medical College in Brooklyn, completed his training as a general surgeon at Albany Medical College and then studied thoracic surgery at Wake Forest. He is now a practicing surgeon in the state of Florida, a husband and a dad but still one of those Amsterdam kids from back in the mid-eighties and still making his family proud.

Michael Slezak – I admit it. I was a huge fan of “American Idol” the Fox Network’s revolutionary new-age talent show that dominated television ratings during its early years on the air. Almost as entertaining as the show itself was a blog/column being written by Amsterdam native Michael Slezak that critiqued each and every episode, performance, contestant and judge that appeared on “Idol” during its amazing run. My kids had appeared in the same Amsterdam Recreation Department’s summer productions as Slezak did in his younger days and I worked with his brother-in-law so I had kept track of his progress as a writer. I remember when he first went to Manhattan to work for a technical magazine. By the time Idol debuted in 2002, he was on the writing staff of Entertainment Weekly, a popular magazine that covered the entertainment industry. The publisher had also launched a sister web site Within just a few short months, Sleazak’s extensive, wise and witty online reviews of each Idol episode were drawing millions of hits and becoming must reading for fans of the hit show. He quickly mastered the capabilities and possibilities afforded to him by the rapid advance of Internet technologies and his link-filled columns and video features soon became entertainment in and of themselves. In 2011, he became on of the original staff members of a new entertainment site called TV Line, where he continued his coverage of Idol while also expanding his talents deeper into the reality genre, by providing his patented morning-after commentary on The X Factor, The Voice, Dancing With the Stars, Project Runway, Survivor, The Next Food Network Star, So You Think You Can Dance, The Glee Project, and Glee, among others

Top Ten Amsterdam High School Wrestlers

The Amsterdam wrestling program officially began competition during the 1965-1966 school year under the leadership of coach Pat Reilly. Only three varsity coaches have led the Wrestling Rams including Reilly (1965-1993), Ken Benton (1993-2014), and Ken Pfeiffer (2014-Present). Many outstanding associate coaches have also helped lead the way for the AHS wrestling program and the coaching continuity has made a significant difference over the years.

Anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 wrestlers have trained and competed in the “Patrick H. Reilly Gymnasium” over the last 50 years. AHS wrestling teams have dominated the former Big Ten Conference capturing 22 conference team championships as well as capturing five Section 2 Team Championships, three Runner-up Section 2 titles, and two 6th-Place finishes in the 85 team Eastern States’ Classic. Individually, the AHS wrestling program has produced three NYS champions, three NYS runner-up champions, along with 12 other state place finishers, 25 Section 2 champions, and 48 Section 2 class champions. The AHS wrestling program has been a magnificent ambassador for the Greater Amsterdam School District, the community of Amsterdam, NY, and the Greater Capital District for over 50 years.

When I asked Ken Benton to give me a list of the 10 wrestlers who won the most matches during their Wrestling Rams grappling careers he suggested there might be a better and more fairer criteria to produce a compilation of Amsterdam’s top mat men. He then worked with the members of the squad’s current and former coaching staff to produce one. He was absolutely correct. I am thrilled to include their complete Top Ten List of Amsterdam High School Wrestlers in my new book;  Fifty Amsterdam New York Top Ten Lists, which will be available in September of 2017. In today’s blog post, I preview their top three selections:

1. Brandon Lapi: Class of 2014 (138 lbs)

This phee-nom’s combination of speed, skill, power, and technique made him pretty much unbeatable. Lapi used his six years of varsity wrestling experience to hone his skills and techniques to capture a NYS-Federation title in his senior year. Brandon broke virtually every Amsterdam wrestling record and finished his career with 265 wins. He tied Brian Benton with five Section 2 Class championships, was the first 5-time Section 2 champion, the first 4-time NYS place finisher including a NYS-Federation championship and an Eastern States Classic championship.

Significant Accomplishments:

  • 2014 NYS-Federation State Champion
  • 4X NYS Place Finisher
  • 5X Section 2 Class Champion
  • 5X Section 2 Champion
  • 2014 Eastern States Classic Champion
  • 265 Career Victories
  • Scholar-Athlete (4 years)
  • DeMeo Award Winner
  • Wrestled Division 1: University of Buffalo 

2. (Tie) Giuseppi Lanzi: Class of 2010 (152 lbs)

Lanzi’s senior season on the mat was nothing less than spectacular and probably the best in the program history as he completely dominated his competition finishing the season undefeated. Lanzi’s composure, speed, strength, and agility allowed him do things on the mat that others just couldn’t do. Lanzi was Amsterdam’s first NYS-Federation champion earning Most Outstanding Wrestler (MOW) honors in both the Section 2 championships and the NYS championships.

Significant Accomplishments:

  • 2010 NYS-Federation Champion – MOW
  • 2X NYS Place Finisher
  • 3X Section 2 Class Champion
  • 2X Section 2 Champion – MOW
  • 2010 Eastern States Classic Champion
  • 250 Career Victories
  • Scholar-Athlete (4 Years)
  • 2010 Dapper Dan Champion
  • DeMeo Award Winner
  • Wrestled Division 1: Brown University

2. (Tie) Brian Benton: Class of 2008 (130 lbs)

Benton’s technical skills, speed, power, and natural instincts helped him overwhelm the vast majority of his competition. Benton earned Amsterdam’s first NYSPHSAA state championship, the program’s first Eastern States Classic Championship earning Most Outstanding Wrestler (MOW) in the process, and was the first AHS wrestler to break the 250 career victory mark.


Significant Accomplishments: 

  • 2008 NYS Champion (138 lbs)
  • 3X NYS Place Finisher
  • 5X Section 2 Class Champion
  • 3X Section 2 Champion
  • 2007 Eastern States Classic Champion – MOW
  • 253 Career Victories
  • Scholar-Athlete (4 Years)
  • DeMeo Award Runner-Winner
  • Wrestled Division 1: George Mason University

Top Ten Amsterdam High School Female Athletes since 2000

Few if any know more about girls’ sports in Amsterdam, NY than Scott Mulford. A 1983 graduate of Amsterdam High School, Scott started covering and writing about this community’s lady athletes and their teams back in 1995 when he went to work for the old Amsterdam Star Newspaper and he continues in that role today with the Mohawk Valley Compass. This explains why I was thrilled when Scott graciously agreed to contribute this list to this book. It includes his choices for the top ten Amsterdam High School female athletes since the year 2000. He took into consideration all AHS girls sports, so they are equally represented. Here are five of Scott’s ten picks in no particular order. I will include all ten in my new book: Fifty Amsterdam New York Top Ten Lists, which will be available in September of 2017.

Nina Fedullo (girls basketball) – The all time leading scorer in the history of the Amsterdam Lady Rams basketball program. Fedullo graduated in 2017 having scored 1500 points, recorded 856 rebounds, and helped the Amsterdam girls varsity basketball team reach back to back New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Section 2 Class A title games in 2016 and 2017. Remarkably, Fedullo put up her impressive numbers in only four seasons on the Lady Rams varsity. She was twice a member of the NYSPHSAA Section 2 Class A All Tournament Team, was named a Foothills Council First Team All Star, and was Foothills Council MVP for the 2015- 2016 season. Fedullo was named to the NYSPHSAA All State team the past two seasons, and is currently in the NYSPHSAA top 50 in scoring for girls’ basketball. Fedullo signed her letter of intent to play for The College of St. Rose before the start of the 2016-2017 high school basketball season, and became only the second girls basketball player in the AHS programs’ history to receive a full scholarship, joining Brittany Stahura, who played for Bryant University.

Anna Dyakiv (girls tennis)- A 2010 Amsterdam High School graduate, Dyakiv was part of perennial Big 10 Conference championship teams during the late 2000’s and was the number one singles player for the Lady Rams. A Big 10 and NYSPHSAA Section 2 All Star, she went on to play women’s singles and doubles tennis for Nichols College (MA) where she was named Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) player of the year three times, and was an inter-collegiate Tennis Association (ITA) All Academic scholar athlete. The Lady Bison reached the CCC championship match all four years with Dyakiv leading the way.

Sarah Adamowski (golf)– A 2012 graduate of Amsterdam High School, Adamowski was captain of the AHS golf team where she earned a varsity letter, and twice was named a Big 10 Conference All Star. Adamowski continued her athletic career playing for West Liberty University of Charleston (WV). She was an honorable mention choice on the All Mountain East Conference team as a college sophomore. Adamowski is the founder and head of FORE The Girls, a non profit organization that helps provide scholarships for high school girls with an interest in golf.

Brittany Stahura (girls basketball, girls tennis)- A 2008 graduate of Amsterdam High School and varsity letter winner in girls basketball and girls tennis. Stahura, won back to back Big 10 Conference titles with the Amsterdam Lady Rams varsity basketball team that went undefeated in league play in 2007 and 2008. The Lady Rams basketball team was ranked in the USA Today’s top 25 in 2008 after defeating some of the top high school girls basketball teams in the state including Christ The King High School. Stahura was the Big 10 Conference MVP in girls basketball in her senior year, and finished her AHS career with 1000 rebounds, tops on the list all time at AHS. She ranks third all time in scoring with 921 points. Stahura received a full scholarship to NCAA Division 1, Bryant University where she played all four seasons, started 60 games, and finished her college career with over 500 rebounds, and more than 150 assists for the Lady Bulldogs.

Olivia Lazarou (girls cross country, girls track and field)- The first girl in the history of the Amsterdam High School cross-country program to qualify for the NYSPHSAA state and federation championships. Over the past three seasons Lazarou reached the NY State Meet in 2014, and 2015, and ran at the Federation Meet in 2015, and 2016. As a junior in 2016, Lazarou finished among the top twenty runners in the talent laden NYSPHSAA Section 2 Class A championships at Saratoga State Park among Suburban Council powerhouse teams including Saratoga Springs and Shenendehowa. Lazarou has posted top five finishes at the Foothills Council Championships during the last three years as part of the AHS varsity team and will be looking to add Foothills Council individual and team titles to her impressive resume’ when she begins her senior year in the fall of 2017. Lazarou is also a school record holder in several events with the AHS girls indoor and outdoor track and field teams.


Editor’s Note: Robert Going’s poignant book “Where Do We Find Such Men?” is the definitive source for information about Amsterdam’s role in WWII. As his well-researched writings have documented, this Mohawk Valley community of ours has produced some incredible tales of courage, valor and sacrifice in defense of our freedom and the freedom of people around the world. I was thrilled when Mr. Going agreed to put together a list Amsterdam’s most valiant WWII heroes for my new book. It is an honor for me to include it in this compilation. I preview five of his selections in today’s post.I will post the complete list in my new book: Fifty Amsterdam New York Top Ten Lists, which will be available in September of 2017.

Paring this list down wasn’t easy. Over 4,000 Amsterdam men, and quite a few women, served during World War II. The final list includes some chosen for their warrior skills, others for courageous displays of humanity, and some for both. Some died in battle, some came home and tried to live normal lives. There is no ranking here. They all deserve perpetual honor:

Tech. Sgt. Richard Marnell: Amsterdam’s most-decorated soldier. Distinguished Service Cross for action on November 15, 1944 when, under constant fire, single-handedly destroys two, German machine gun nests and captures seven soldiers. It went along with two Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts and five battle stars

(Reverend) Anthony Sidoti: Catholic chaplain, on November 8/9, 1944 assisted in the 90th Division crossing of the heavily flooded Moselle River, and then made numerous return crossings escorting the wounded while under heavy artillery fire for the next thirty-six hours. Awarded Silver Star. Spent November 25 removing wounded from the battlefield and earned Purple Heart when artillery shell bursts over his head. Returns to duty on March 13, 1945 and earns second Silver Star on March 17 in Germany rescuing wounded from the battlefield and incidentally inspiring disorganized American troops to rally and achieve victory.

PFC John (Jack) Blanchfield: While training to be an officer is suddenly called up with others as replacement troops after Normandy invasion and sent straight to the front in the summer of 1944. Taken prisoner, he organizes a POW work crew, essentially assuming the duties of Captain of a company. In a manner worthy of Hogan’s Heroes they continuously outwit their German captors often at risk of their lives, and build a concrete wall to block Russian tanks, which promptly disintegrates at its dedication. Late in the European war they escape en masse and Blanchfield leads his company behind enemy lines for several days before linking up with advancing American forces. He leaves all that out in his debriefing and is rewarded by promotion to corporal.

Cpl. Allen Pileckas (USMC): An Amsterdam High graduate from Hagaman. Already commended for bravery on Guam and with a Purple Heart from action there, he is serving with the Third Marine Division on Iwo Jima on March 1, 1945 under heavy rifle, mortar and machine gun fire. Crawls fifty yards through the thick of it alone and takes out the well-defended nest with a perfectly placed grenade. He then takes shrapnel to the head and dies two days later at the age of 24.

Staff Sgt.. Fenton Brown: A former Wilbur H. Lynch athlete, during Battle of Naples, October 3, 1943, earned Bronze Star and Purple Heart, crawling out of his foxhole to rescue a wounded comrade and administering First Aid under fire. In August of 1944, in France, he found himself in command of a 35-man platoon assigned to cover a retreat. He organized his men, personally killed or wounded 25 Germans with his machine gun, then picked up his M-1 rifle and shot two more, organized a counter-attack and regained the lost ground, earning a Silver Star. Killed by a sniper on October 5, 1944. According to his Class of 1938 yearbook he hoped to become a football hero.


Ten of Amsterdam’s Most Memorable Musical Groups

This Amsterdam Top Ten List was a tough one for me because I was very familiar with the Amsterdam bands of the sixties and early seventies that played top 40 tunes of their day and not at all familiar with the local music scene of today. So I asked for help and the result was what I feel is a great representation of the music Amsterdamians loved to play and more importantly, loved to listen to from the beginning of the Twentieth Century until this past weekend! Here’s five groups that made my Top Ten List. What about the other five? I will post the complete list in my new book: Fifty Amsterdam New York Top Ten Lists, which will be available in September of 2017.

Eljer Band: These guys were red hot in the early-to-mid seventies, when bell-bottoms were in and right before disco took over the music charts. Formed in April of 1972 by Amsterdam natives Adrian Lizotte and John Tucci, the name of the group was inspired by the make of the toilet at the band’s practice site! Two other guys I went to high school with, Larry Bursese (keyboards) and John Chiara (drums) were also part of this group for a spell. They were good enough to tour the northeast for about a ten-year stretch. I remember them playing at Meadowbrook and I think the old Bronze Bell. They had a terrific sound and great stage presence.

The Tony Brooks Orchestra: Tony Brooks’ tenure as one of Amsterdam’s busiest and most popular musicians began right before World War II and continued into the 1970s. He was the Amsterdam version of Tommy Dorsey. He played a mean trumpet and led a 16-piece ensemble that produced a big band sound, which was featured at all the biggest local events plus toured throughout the entire upstate region. His musicians included Frank Intilli, Zeke Romelski, Marty Dybas, Ray Iwanski, Hermie Bianco, Johnny Carbone, Jerry Ciulick, Chick Martuscello and Marty Fontana. Brooks also ran a popular music store in downtown Amsterdam for a while.

Dusty Miller and the Colorado Wranglers: For over fifty years, Elmer Rossi, a.k.a. Dusty Miller was the Rug City version of Roy Rogers, the singing Cowboy. Of course Elmer did not shoot a gun, do rope tricks, own a famous horse like Trigger, or star on his own TV show but as Dusty, he did have his own musical group called the Colorado Wranglers and he did perform in the Grand Ol Opry and he did have his own highly rated (in Amsterdam)
radio show on WCSS. And for many of those years him and the Wranglers were one of the most in-demand, live country & western musical acts not just in Amsterdam but also the Capital District, northern New York State and Vermont. Back in the 1940’s and ‘50’s the Wranglers included Barry Frank on guitar, Curly Dean on the accordion and fiddler Flash Gordon. By the time I got to know Dusty and his music, it was the early 1970’s and he was playing regularly at Ralph’s on Amsterdam’s lower Market Street, where I served as bartender. By then Joey Iannotti and Johnny Costello were his band mates.

Tony’s Polka Band – No list of great Amsterdam bands could be complete without a great polka band and one would imagine that all the great polka bands from Amsterdam played their final notes back in the days when Amsterdam’s Polish-American community was at its apex of growth. There certainly were several great polka ensembles active in our city during the mid decades of the Twentieth Century but none were any better than Tony’s Polka Band, an eight-piece, high-energy group of musicians who got together as high school students in the 1990s and committed themselves to carrying polka music into the Twenty First Century. The foundation of the band is Amsterdam’s talented Banewicz family. They’ve put together a playlist of traditional and modern sounds that blends polka with country, rock, pop, Latin and even disco and performed it at venues throughout the northeast, winning a major national polka competition in the process. Do yourself a favor and Google this group and check out their discography.

Alex Torres y Los Reyes Latinos: When Alex Torrez was growing up in the Bronx, his Mom made sure their apartment was always filled with the hot and sensuous beat of Latino music, including the likes of Machito, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez. The family moved to Amsterdam in 1980, when Alex was just 14 years-old and he was shocked to find that there was no radio stations in this area that played the Latino genre. So he formed a band of his own, teaching himself how to play bass guitar and then teaching a dozen of his neighborhood and school buddies to play instruments he had never played himself. It wasn’t long before the band caught on big in Amsterdam’s Latino neighborhoods and soon thereafter in Latino communities outside of Amsterdam as well. Before you knew it, they began recording their own music and were getting invited to bigger and bigger events throughout the northeastern United States. They started winning awards and getting asked to play for bigwig public figures including New York Governor George Pataki and Bill and Hillary Clinton. They hit the big time officially in 1999 when the group’s fourth album entitled Entre Amigo was a Grammy Award semi- finalist.

Ten Things Folks From Amsterdam Have Been Able to Do Since At Least 1950

Here are four of the ten things I’ve identified that folks in Amsterdam have been able to do since at least 1950. I’ll share the other six in my new book: Fifty Amsterdam New York Top Ten Lists, which will be available in September of 2017.

Order a pizza at Bottisti’s – The pizza at Amsterdam’s first ever dedicated pizzeria hasn’t changed since Herm Bottisti started making them in the late 1940’s. His sons and now his grandchildren are carrying on the great tomato pie tradition at this Van Derveer Street Landmark.

Get their car serviced at Sikorski’s – Cas Sikorski built the business with hard work, great service and by treating his customers fairly. Cas’s son Fran has doubled down on that formula plus filled the garage at the foot of Locust Avenue with a crew of top-trained mechanics and the latest auto technology.
Get a shot and a beer at Russo’s – and don’t forget a sausage sandwich and maybe fries with gravy too. Started out as an illegal speakeasy during Prohibition behind John Russo’s West Main Street “Mohawk Grocery Store.” Two generations of the Russo family have kept it going since and today, John’s talented grandson Mike Russo is running Amsterdam’s most popular eatery and watering hole. No truth to the rumor that Mike is running an illegal grocery store in the back of the place.
Purchase Insurance from the DiBlasi Agency – Meadeo and Catherine DiBlasi started an insurance business inside their Division Street residence right after he got home from service in World War II. His sons and now his grandson are keeping that business going in the DiBlasi Agency’s Guy Park Avenue location.

Amsterdam’s All-Time Top Ten Fraternal and Service Organizations

Throughout Amsterdam’s history, fraternal and volunteer service organizations have contributed greatly to the fabric and spirit of our community and fortunately for all of us, many still do. In today’s post, I write about six such organizations. I’ll include five more (there was a tie for one of the slots making this a top 11 list) in my upcoming book of Fifty All-Time Top Ten Amsterdam Lists:

Amsterdam’s Elks Lodge 101 was organized in 1888 at the long ago demolished Red Men’s Hall, which used to be located on East Main Street. Their mission statement was summed up into four tenants; Justice, Charity, Brotherly Love and Fidelity. It wasn’t until 1909, when membership in the local lodge had exceeded the 500 mark that the local chapter had enough money in its treasury to afford their own clubhouse and the one they built on lower Division Street, alongside the Amsterdam Savings Bank was indeed one of the finest fraternal organization homes in the history of the Rug City. The early charity of the lodge focused on the unfortunate and underprivileged of the community and for years, their trademark philanthropic effort was the distribution of Christmas baskets to Amsterdam’s neediest families. Many of Amsterdam’s leading male citizens joined the organization over the years. Well-known local names like former School Superintendent Raphael J. McNulty and Mohawk Finishing founder Frank Pabis took on the title of Exalted Ruler. Urban renewal took the lodge’s regal clubhouse in the 1970’s. The organization is still going strong today, thanks to the efforts of familiar names like Fran and Jackie Sikorski, Rich Boice, Cliff Gillis, Vic Sperduto and a host of others. They are now lodged in the former St. John’s Club Social Center on Fourth Avenue in Amsterdam. Their much appreciated community good will and charity efforts go on. They continue to visit the needy and the sick among us, took over sponsorship of Amsterdam’s Halloween parade from the Kiwanians in 2004, and donate teaching tools about the U.S. Constitution to local schools. In 2013, the Amsterdam Elks Lodge No. 101 celebrated their 125th anniversary.

Amsterdam Rotary Club: The very first Rotary Club was started in Chicago in 1906, as a cure for loneliness in a big city. Four businessmen got together and decided they would continue meeting every week, rotating the sight to each of their offices, hence the name Rotary. Fourteen years later a group of prominent Amsterdamians replicated that Chicago get together in the dining room of Amsterdam’s Barne’s Hotel on Market Street. These Rug City businessmen weren’t lonely but they loved the idea of getting together regularly to brainstorm about business and do good things for their city. Fast forward 98 years and those regular Rotary luncheons are still going on here in Amsterdam up at Raindancer Restaurant but now women members are welcome too. During their almost century of existence, Amsterdam’s Rotary Club has done so many good things for this community I could fill several pages of this book trying to describe them all, from sponsoring Amsterdam’s first farmers market on a vacant lot on Railroad Street in 1919, to creating a college loan fund for Amsterdam students who wanted to further their education; from establishing the Amsterdam Community Chest which evolved into the United Way to planting 28,000 tulip bulbs imported from Amsterdam, Holland in 1969. Their fish fries and summer variety shows have become favorite Amsterdam traditions. What an outstanding organization the Rotarians have been for this community.

Lions Club – The Amsterdam chapter of the Lions Club was formed in 1951. The first president of the local chapter was Robert Young. The mission of the Lions Club is to empower volunteers to serve their communities, meet humanitarian needs, encourage peace and promote international understanding. In the 1920’s the international organization took on the cause of eradicating blindness and providing whatever aid was possible to the blind and vision impaired. Amsterdam’s Lions Club members took this to heart. They led the local effort to garner eye donations for corneal transplants and then organized a delivery system to get those donations to their recipients in the prescribed amount of time. They donated books printed in braille and extra large print along with audio books to the Amsterdam Library. They sold record amounts of Blind Seals to help pay for their programs. They collected old eyeglasses, refurbished and redistributed them to the neediest of the sight impaired. More recently, the Lions have initiated a similar support and assist initiative for the hearing impaired and victims of natural disasters. And as of the summer of 2017, the Amsterdam Lions Club is still going strong. They meet twice a month on Thursdays at Bosco’s Restaurant on Amsterdam’s Division Street.

Century Club – Women in America had not yet been given the right to vote when an Amsterdamian named Mercy Annie Allen Trapnell gathered 25 of her lady friends together to talk about the plays of William Shakespeare and the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Trapnell then suggested each attendee invite three of their friends to a subsequent get together. Now since the majority of these ladies came from the upper portion of Amsterdam’s late 19th Century Society, the task of finding three friends to attend their next gathering was not a particularly challenging one and sure enough a total of 100 women showed up at the next meeting. That’s when the decision was made to formalize the group into a club that would be dedicated to providing members with exposure to culture, knowledge and self-improvement. Since there were 100 ladies in attendance, they named their new organization the Century Club and initially limited membership to 100. By 1908 the cap had been raised to 250 and after another 25 years of nomadic gathering around town, ground was broke on what would become one of the most elegant clubhouses ever constructed in the city of Amsterdam, on Guy Park Avenue. During the subsequent decades the members of the Century Club have accomplished some great things for this community, among them the establishment of the free milk program to the kindergarteners in Amsterdam’s schools and the development of the Sassafras Bird Sanctuary. In addition, their beautiful clubhouse has hosted a multitude of community events and activities of which the annual Festival of Trees during the Holiday season is a classic example.

Historic Amsterdam League – One of the newest service organizations in our community, the League was established in 2010, in conjunction with the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the 1885 chartering of the City of Amsterdam. HAL’s official mission is to preserve, promote and protect the physical, cultural and natural heritage of the city. Based on the success of HAL’s program initiatives during the first seven years of their existence, this organization has absolutely nailed that mission. Led by a group of intelligent and enterprising lovers of Amsterdam heritage, HAL has pulled the dusty covers of time and lack of attention off of some of this community’s most treasured history. Using wonderfully creative reenactment tours and commemorative books, the organization shines bright lights on the remnants of places, people and things that still exist in every section of our city and tells us their stories. They spend time, money and effort to seek official recognition and legal preservation status for some of Amsterdam’s most valuable historical artifacts and also work hard to restore them. HAL’s members are people who truly understand that learning the lessons of the past is the key to charting a more successful future plus they have a heck of a good time teaching us all these amazing things.

Knights of Columbus – This fraternal order began in Connecticut in 1882. Fifteen years later, Amsterdam Council 209 was formed by several of the male members of St. Mary’s Church. The local chapter grew quickly aided by the dramatic growth in Amsterdam’s Roman Catholic population during the pre-WWI years. Called Knights because they took vows to defend the Roman Catholic faith, members were also expected to promote the values of charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism in the world. Those of us who served as altar boys in Amsterdam’s Catholic churches in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s remember fondly the many times the Knights who reached the fourth degree level of membership would march in processions during special mass celebrations at our respective churches. Carrying swords and dressed in feathered hats and capes, they were an impressive and appreciated sight. Though their clubhouse on Market Street was not as old-world elegant as the nearby Elks Lodge, it was one of the finest and most functional venues in town for special events and epic Bingo nights. The Amsterdam K of C did a whole lot of good for this community as well. The Knights made huge contributions to the construction funds of both Bishop Scully High School and St. Mary’s Hospital. They donated truckloads of modern hospital beds and special convalescent chairs to both St. Mary’s and the Mt. Loretto Nursing Home. They sponsored youth sports teams for many years and consistently did whatever was asked of them on behalf of Amsterdam’s elderly and our special needs population. Like most organizations in this depressed old mill town, as jobs and young people disappeared the membership numbers of the Knights suffered. But it still continues. Thanks in large part to the efforts of Jeff Stark and a bunch of guys who had fathers in the organization, the Knights of Amsterdam are making a comeback. They have a new down-sized clubhouse on West Main Street and have begun a new tradition by sponsoring an old-fashioned street festival in that neighborhood every August to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. I wish them every success.