John Purcell/Recorder staff

Rep. Paul Tonko speaks as he accepts his induction into the Greater Amsterdam School District Hall of Fame during a ceremony Friday at the Perthshire banquet facility.

By JOHN PURCELL
Recorder News Staff

PERTH — Amsterdam pride rippled throughout Perthshire banquet facility Friday as Greater Amsterdam School District Hall of Fame inductees were honored among family and friends.

Around 165 people filled The Bridge Walk at Perthshire on Friday evening for the third annual GASD Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, which had five academic inductees and five individuals and an entire team for the athletic wing. The academic inductees included Rep. Paul Tonko, Judge Felix Catena, Joseph Emanuele III, Dr. Peter Diamond and Paul Ochal. The athletic inductees included Nick Alexander, Joe Hage, Donna Nevulis, Dave Weissman and Dan Russo, along with the original “Rugged Rams” football team of 1967.

The Class of 2017 inductees will also be honored Saturday during the school district’s homecoming parade and football game.

Tonko, who graduated from Wilbur H. Lynch High School in 1967, said the induction ceremony was a celebration of the community and the foundation the school plays in the lives of those who attend it.

“It was at Amsterdam High School that I was further nurtured by excellent teachers who cared so deeply about the development of their students. People who gave all their time that we required in order to further strengthen us as we so required,” Tonko said.

Tonko, a lifelong city resident, said the education he received from the school district prepared him well for Clarkson University, where he pursued his bachelor’s degree in mechanical and industrial engineering, which he earned in 1971.

Tonko said his GASD years instilled a sense of civic responsibility within him, which has guided him throughout his life.

His career in public service began in 1976 when he was elected to the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors and at 26 years old he was then the youngest person to serve on the board. He held this position until 1983 when he was elected to the New York State Assembly, where he served for 25 years.

“Whether it was at the county, the state, or federal level, caring about Amsterdam, Montgomery County and the regions I represent has been upmost important to me, but there’s a special tug of hope in hometown that requires you to give back the ultimate,” Tonko said. “Giving back to that sense of place is what I think we can all celebrate this evening.”

Nevulis, of the Class of 1975, was inducted for being a barrier-breaker at Wilbur H. Lynch High School, because in 1974 she personally petitioned school administration to create a girls softball team in compliance with federal Title IX laws. Nevulis played under another GASD Hall of Fame member, Pat Reilly, on the inaugural softball team.

“I never thought in a million years that my actions back then in the early 70s would influence girls sports the way it did,” Nevulis said. “Girls sports now in Amsterdam are just phenomenal, exploding. They have all the equal opportunities just as the boys do and there’s just as many of them signing up and interested to play, which is a fantastic thing.”

Nevulis continued her softball career post-graduation and won a national fast-pitch championship with the Binghamton Reds while earning All-American status in 1978. She also traveled to South America to help teach the Peruvian national softball team in its preparation for the Pan-American Games.

In 1983, Nevulis began teaching at Amsterdam and continued until her retirement in 2013, serving as both a softball and golf coach.

Catena was inducted under category of Professional to the Academic Wing. He joined his brother, Dr. Tom Catena, who was inducted as part of the inaugural Hall of Fame class.

“I have been blessed over the many years with the association of so many wonderful people without whom this tonight for me would not be possible,” Catena said.

Catena graduated with honors from Amsterdam High School in 1975 and went on to earn his juris doctor degree from California Western School of Law in San Diego. He was elected in 1999 to the position of Montgomery County Court Judge, which he still holds today.

From 1990-92, Catena served as assistant district attorney for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. He then served as corporation counsel for the City of Amsterdam from 1992-94. He went on to serve as judge for Amsterdam City Court from 1995-99. He also had a private law practice from 1990-99.

Dr. Diamond, a 1969 graduate of Lynch High School, was inducted under the category of Medicine to the Academic Wing, but he was also a three sport athlete during high school. He went on to attend Siena College and then the Philadelphia School of Osteopathic Medicine, where he graduated in 1976.

Diamond returned to his hometown and served as director of Emergency Room Services for St. Mary’s Hospital. Two years later, he opened his own family practice in Amsterdam and would become the largest private practice in the city. He also served as chief medical officer for GASD and could be seen patrolling the sidelines during football games.

Diamond said his father, Jim, gave him the best advice of his life: to be his own boss. Diamond said his father also placed great importance on academics.

“He encouraged me to stress academics first and athletics second,” Diamond said about his father. “When I was in the fourth grade he bought me a speed reading kit before he bought me a football. I was a little embarrassed to tell all my friends that fact, but it paid off.”

Alexander, the only posthumous inductee this year, was a three-sport captain as a varsity athlete in the 1930s. A 1935 graduate of Wilbur H. Lynch High School, Alexander was a standout baseball, basketball and football player who played a year of basketball at Providence College before returning home following the death of his father.

Alexander enlisted in the armed forces at the beginning of World War II and received the Purple Heart after being wounded in France. After returning home, Alexander played semi-pro football with the Schenectady Bluejackets, Amsterdam Weavers and Amsterdam Zephyrs. He died on May 4, 1977.

Emanuele was inducted under the category of Service in the Academic Wing, but he did shine as an athlete while participating in high school track, basketball and football. He graduated from Amsterdam High School in 1974.

Emanuele said several people who influenced his life were in attendance from coaches to teachers and family members. He said the morale of the high school played a part in his success, with activities surrounding sports playing a big role in creating the positive environment.

“That team spirit and school spirit sparks a lot of interest and that’s why we have so many people who really enjoy coming out for homecoming events or even just the spectators that we get at our football, baseball and basketball games or track team events,” Emanuele said. “Amsterdam really has a lot of tradition and the high school is part of that tradition.”

For more than three decades, Emanuele was a teacher in the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District. He also has been involved in politics, with him first elected in 1997 to serve as an alderman on the Amsterdam Common Council. He retained his seat as an alderman until being elected mayor of Amsterdam, which he served one four-year term commencing in 2004.

Russo, a 1975 graduate, was a three-sport athlete in high school who played baseball, basketball and golf, but it’s on the links where he has made his legacy, continuing to be one of the top amateur golfers in the Capital Region to this day.

Russo is a longtime contender in area and regional tournaments. He was a 2009 amateur qualifier for the U.S. Senior Open and remains a mentor to many young golfers in the area. He is the CEO of Upstate Utilities.

Weissman, a member of the Class of 1972, was a three-sport athlete in football, basketball and track who was a tailback under John Los in the early 1970s when the Rams won back-to-back Class A championships following a 22-year drought. Weissman went on to attend Brown University, where he continued his football career.

“I’d like to thank Bob [Noto] and the entire Hall of Fame Committee for this honor. It means a lot to me and my family to be remembered and appreciated here this evening,” Weissman said.

After graduating from Brown University, Weissman worked as Head of Securities for the American Exchange and he served as the chief financial officer for numerous trading companies.

Paul Ochal, a 1964 graduate of Wilbur H. Lynch High School, was inducted under the category of Service for his years of dedication to the wrestling program in Amsterdam.

His hobby of photography introduced him to the wrestling program as he attended home matches and then became the team photographer. He would present pictures of each individual wrestler at the annual banquet.

Ochal also branched out from the school district’s wrestling program and directed Amsterdam Peewee Wrestling, Amsterdam Wrestling Club, Amsterdam Premier Club, Firebirds Wrestling Club. He also directed the Amsterdam JV Wrestling Tournament and organized wrestling banquets.

Hage, a 1974 graduate, was a stellar football and baseball player during his high school days in Amsterdam. During his senior football season of 1973, he ran for more than 1,200 yards. Hage went on to play football and baseball at Southern Illinois University and spent three years as a minor league baseball player with Niagara Falls and the Paintsville Yankees.

He also passed his athletic prowess down to his children, as his son Joey was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals out of high school and his daughter Nicole was an All-American golfer at Auburn University who spent time on the LPGA Tour.

This year’s team honoree is the 1967 football squad that gave Amsterdam High School its nickname.

Prior to 1967, teams from the district were known as the Hilltoppers, but the 1967 team’s defense, under coach Gene White, was so ferocious that it allowed only three touchdowns from scrimmage the entire season. Former Recorder sports editor Art Hoefs called the team “The Rugged Rams,” and the nickname has stuck ever since.