A night to remember for Ammirante at OVAC?Hall of Fame

Another class of Ohio Valley Athletic Conference hall of famers has taken it’s rightful place inside WesBanco Arena.

A class of 18, including OVAC Family, coaches, media, contributor, athletes and legends were recognized for their work and efforts during their playing or professional careers.

If the induction wasn’t enough, former Bellaire High School head basketball coach Gene Ammirante left the ceremony with a gift that no other hall of famer, in the nine-year history of the event, has received.

After each of the honorees spoke, recognized their families, coaches, teammates and shared a few stories about their careers, inductee Tom “Bear” Bechtel returned to the podium in an unprecedented event at the Hall of Fame ceremony.

Bechtel called Ammirante, who is his classmate and best friend of about 40 years, back to the stage where he read him a greeting card from Joey Galloway, who Ammirante coached at Bellaire.

“I thought he just wanted to say something on behalf of Joey since he wasn’t able to attend,” Ammirante said. “This was just a great evening and a great honor to be inducted to this hall of fame.”

Upon reading the card, Bechtel told Ammirante he can now drive home in his new vehicle and tossed him a key to a brand-new Cadillac, which sells for some $50,000.

Ammirante and his family were stunned.

“Wow! I’ve never had a car like this,” Ammirante smiled. “I think my house only cost $48,500.”

After a few minutes of mingling as the crowd left the arena, Ammirante called Galloway to thank him for the gift and the card, which he would have been just as happy with.”

Ammirante was greeted with the vehicle, which was parked directly in front of the arena, as he walked outside, but he was still in a state of shock and just stared at the Caddy as his family just shook their heads at the gift.

Eventually, Bechtel finally convinced Ammirante to get into the driver’s seat as his wife Pam got in the passenger seat.

“It’s really nice, obviously, but to be honest, the friendship I have with (Galloway) and those guys who graduated with him means more to me than this car,” Ammirante said.

So where is Ammirante planning on driving his new car first other than to work at the Wheeling Recreation Department?

“I’ll probably go out to Columbus and visit Joey,” Ammirante said. “He’s let us use his tickets to Ohio State before, so we go out there quite a bit.”

So how did this all go down without anyone except Bechtel, OVAC Executive Secretary Tom Rataiczak and a few members of the WesBanco Arena staff knowing?

“I love Gene to death, but he doesn’t catch on real quick because he’s a little naive,” Bechtel said. “Joey called him a few weeks ago and I walked over and asked to speak to him and I really had no reason to talk to him, but he asked if I could get somewhere where we could talk in private.”

So, still on the phone, Bechtel left his office and walked down the hallway and Ammirante basically didn’t even notice.

“Joey proceeded to tell me that he wanted to give Gene this car and he needed me to talk to (Tom Rataiczak) and see if we could do it and he wanted to know if we could drive into the arena, but with how the stage was set up, we couldn’t do that.”

The car was stashed at Doug Costain’s house. He then drove it to the arena.

“I knew I couldn’t keep it at my house because I live three doors down from Gene and if he saw it in my driveway, we’d be in trouble because he’d know I didn’t buy a Cadillac,” Bechtel said. “This was just a fabulous night and to have Gene inducted the same year as me really made it special for me.”

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It wasn’t tough to realize how much Martins Ferry, the Ohio Valley and his hall of fame induction meant to former Martins Ferry baseball standout Doug Swearingen.

His speech was one of the best of the evening and he stressed to everyone to pay attention to the “three Ds … desire, dedication and determination” to be successful.

Swearingen – along with crediting his family – also spoke about all of his coaches who taught him how “to carry on the sports tradition of Martins Ferry and play hard for teammates.”

After his prep career, Swearingen attended The Ohio State University to play on the diamond.

“I was truly in the right place at the right time,” Swearingen said. “I am forever grateful to have grown up in the Ohio Valley.”

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It’s disappointing that former Cadiz High star Denver Williams had no representative at the induction ceremony. Williams is a college football coach in New England, so his absence was understood.

However, not one person was able to come to accept on his behalf? That just seems bizarre to me. There had to be someone in Cadiz, who knew Denver, followed his prep career closely or meant a lot to him while he grew up that could have came to Wheeling and spoke on his behalf.

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Other local products who were inducted include: Gary Sprague (Linsly baseball coach), Bill Tonini (baseball umpire), Eudie Joseph (Linsly athlete), Art Hehr (Bridgeport athlete), Joe Maroon (St. John Central athlete), Alex Welker (Linsly athlete), Chris Starr (Buckeye Trail athlete), Shawn Vincent (St. Clairsville athlete) and Kenny Howell (St. John Central athlete).

Staskey can be reached at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com or on Twitter @TLSportsSeth