Photographs by Georgette Gouveia
WAG is grateful to Coach Pat Mediate, chairman of the Greenwich High School Sports Hall of Fame, for allowing this rookie to share in the inaugural induction ceremony and dinner held Oct. 20 at the Hyatt Regency in Greenwich.
Some 350 people were on hand as the school honored John “Zeke” Bella (Class of 1947), former New York Yankees’ outfielder and umpire; Sue Merz (Class of 1990), Olympic gold and silver medalist in women’s ice hockey; and Steve Young (Class of 1980), former San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback and Super Bowl MVP, who is, of course, no stranger to halls of fame.
Perhaps the emotional highlight was Zeke Bella’s acceptance speech, delivered from a wheelchair at his table. After telling the crowd that he had “been on the DL” – this was his first public appearance after heart surgery – the East Port Chester native said, “This is very special to me being surrounded by my family and friends.”
Indeed, he was so overcome that he couldn’t continue with his speech, and witty master of ceremonies Mark Yusko read the rest, after which the audience rose as one.
It was that kind of night. With candor and self-deprecating humor, Sue Merz remembered a shy girl going through a tough time. Sports and teams at Greenwich High meant “instant friendships.”
“That support,” she said, “helped me excel in athletics and in my professional career,” which has included the first-ever gold medal in women’s hockey at the 1998 Games in Nagano and a silver medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
Merz, who clearly has a teasing kid sister relationship with Young, told the crowd how she introduced herself to him at the Games in Salt Lake City, where he was born and where he was one of the first Olympic volunteers.
“I said, ‘Hi, I’m from Greenwich, too,’ and he said, ‘Oh.’”
For his part, Young said that his wife, Barbara, chided him, “You’ve never been rude to anyone in your life,” then he recalled meeting Joe Montana, his legendary 49ers’ teammate, for the first time.
“He said, ‘Hi, I’m Joe Montana, and I said, ‘Oh.’”
But don’t think for a minute that this ESPN analyst is tongue-tied in social situations. He delivered a funny, eloquent address – without the benefit of notes – that no doubt crystallized what so many in the room were thinking and feeling.
“The moment I was elected to the (Pro Football) Hall of Fame, these images flooded in,” he said. “But the images that flooded in were the images created here. Why were those the images? It’s your roots. It’s where you began. It’s who you are.
“If it takes a village to raise a child, you were that village for me.”
For more on the Greenwich High School Hall of Fame, look for WAG’s January “Super Power,” issue, our super-duper salute to the NY/NJ Super Bowl, the Winter Olympics, superheroes and super people – like you.