Honored for accomplishments

Since winning the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Class B baseball title on June 8, at Union-Endicott High School, in Endicott, members of the Fredonia Hillbillies have begun to receive individual honors.

On Tuesday, however, it was the team that was honored for winning the school’s second state baseball title, as Village of Fredonia Mayor Stephen Keefe recognized the team for its accomplishments.

“Whether our local athletes are winning or not, we take great pride in supporting their activities as they represent our community,” Keefe stated in his proclamation. “But we share their celebration with this great accomplishment throughout this baseball season.”

Mayor Keefe opened the ceremony with a few kind words about Fredonia head coach Vince Gullo.

“The Gullo family has a tradition of pride and integrity,” Keefe said. “And the best thing I can say about Vince is, he’s a Gullo. He lives with those attributes of the family.

“When you read the paper and you follow the (Sports section),” Keefe continued, “and you see what’s going on … every victory belongs to the players. Every mistake belongs to Vince. And even when they won the championship, who does he give the credit to? His coaches. Does he take any of the credit? No. Does he deserve a lot of credit? Yes.”

WDOE’s Dan Palmer served as Master of Ceremonies and spoke about the Hillbillies’ successful season to the gathered crowd standing before the Village Hall steps.

“When I look at that date of June 8, 2013,” Palmer remarked, “that’s a date that these young men will be remembering for a long time. It’s a date that marks the completion of a long journey for them. A long journey that was not quick, and it was not easy. It had begun many, many years ago when they were all little boys 8, 9, 10 years of age playing Little League baseball. And through the great work of great coaches and great support of parents, these young men learned how to play baseball. And they learned how to play baseball extremely well.”

Palmer handed the mic off to Gullo, who thanked Dave Dengler, who came up with the idea to honor the team, Mayor Keefe and Palmer.

“We appreciate this,” Gullo said “I think Dan stole my speech talking about these kids. We went into the year with a great goal – too high a goal if you ask me. (The players) worked hard, they never gave us a hard time. They’re a class act. I’m so proud of them and what they’ve done. I’m so proud of this coaching staff, they’re all volunteers, they’re all residents of the Village of Fredonia giving their time. And they made it easy on me, but these kids came to play every game. They set a great example.”

As one might expect, the excitement and satisfaction of winning the state title has yet to set in for the players and coaches.

“I don’t even think so,” Hart said of whether or not it has sunk in that he and his teammates are state champions.

“The fact that high school baseball is over hasn’t really sunk in either. And I don’t think it will for a while. I’m just trying to enjoy it right now and ride the good times as much as I can.”

Hart, who was one of three Fredonia players named All-Western New York, was excited to see his name amongst the area’s best when the all-star teams were announced earlier this week.

“It’s only a handful of guys throughout Western New York (that are named to the team),” Hart said. “To be named one of those guys is an honor. A couple of them even got drafted, so to be in the same category as those guys is just a great accomplishment for me.”

For senior Christian Saden, a three-sport athlete who also started on the football team and wrestled this past winter, winning the state title was something that was a long time coming.

“It feels fulfilling,” Saden said. “It’s what we’ve worked our entire athletic careers for. I’m going to miss my teammates the most.”

The Hillbillies will lose Hart, Saden, Zach Buckley, Trent Thompson, Jude Gardner, Matt Coyle and Sebastian McAfee to graduation, but will have back hurler Cameron Voss and a host of other underclassmen for 2014. And if freshman third baseman Jarod Burmaster has it his way, he will continue to fill the shoes of the departing seniors as he finishes off his last three years of varsity baseball.

“They accepted me right off the bat,” Burmaster said of the upper classmen on the team. “And they were great role models. It just gives me something to look forward to at the end, to be just like them.”

Tuesday’s recognition by Mayor Keefe was just more icing on a season that won’t soon be forgotten by Gullo and the rest of the Hillbillies.

“This was fantastic of Dave Dengler and the Mayor setting this up, and Dan Palmer for coming,” Gullo said. “It’s really nice. The village is pretty proud of these boys. They’re great role models for the community – and what a great way to end the season.”