It was a night to celebrate high school athletics as more than 600 people gathered to honor the 37 athletes, coaches, administrators and contributors who were inducted into the Dr. James Tolle Nassau County High School Athletics Hall of Fame Thursday. The dinner was held at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury.
“We have athletes that went on to greatness in collegiate and professional sports,” said Pat Pizzarelli, executive director of Section VIII, the body that governs Nassau’s scholastic sports. “This is a fantastic collection of outstanding student-athletes from the past that graced our athletic fields and will be forever remembered for their accomplishments in our Hall of Fame.”
“Too often we celebrate collegians and pro athletes, and we forget where it all started,” said former Newsday sportswriter Mike Candel of East Rockaway, who serves on the Veterans Committee for the Nassau Hall of Fame. “The selection of these people we honored came with the emphasis on what they accomplished in high school.”
Each inductee was introduced with their career highlights noted. Here is a sampling of some of the inductees and their accomplishments.
EMILY ROSE LIPARI, ROSLYN CROSS COUNTRY
Lipari is one of the most-decorated cross country and track and field athletes that Long Island has produced.
“The Hall of Fame [induction] was such a great experience and an honor,” Lipari said. “To be recognized with so many people who helped distinguish Nassau County in athletics was amazing. There were so many people with so many great accomplishments.”
She piled up a stunning collection of accomplishments at Roslyn where she was a state public school and state Federation champion nine times and was twice named New York State’s Athlete of the Year in cross country. She earned a national profile by winning four national championships in the mile, twice each indoors and outdoors.
“It’s easy to make the case that she was the best runner of her generation,” Candel said. “And maybe the best of all time.”
At Villanova, Lipari was named All-American 11 times and was an NCAA champion — once as a member of the cross-country team, once with the Wildcats’ distance medley relay and another as an individual in the mile.
“You don’t really appreciate your achievements when they are happening,” Lipari said. “This event was a nice reminder, and I am grateful for it.”
Lipari has competed professionally in the nine years since graduating from college. She qualified for the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 5,000 meters but could not compete because of a torn meniscus she suffered in training. She is running again now, and looks to make the U.S. Olympic team.
AL WILLIAMS, HEMPSTEAD BOYS BASKETBALL
One of the special athletes to come out of Hempstead High School, Al Williams’ legacy has two prongs. There is one on the gridiron, where he was the starting quarterback for an unbeaten Tigers team. And there is the one on the hardwood, where he was a four-year starter at point guard before going on to Niagara University.
The legacy grew Thursday with his induction into the Nassau County Sports Hall of Fame.
“It had me remembering things, like the way the team gathered at the top of the steps before taking the court,” Williams said. “That was where we came together and became a single unit for the [contest].”
“He was a great competitor on the basketball court,” said former Hempstead mayor Don Ryan, who coached Williams and Julius Erving on the Hempstead Salvation Army traveling team as 14-year-olds. “In high school [Williams] was a ball-handling wiz and an exceptional passer who always got his teammates the ball in the right spots. And he was a tenacious on-ball defender at the top of the zone defense for the Tigers.”
Williams said that he especially enjoyed seeing old school mates at the event including Dennis Burgess, who was the center on the Tigers’ basketball team his junior season and went on to be the best man at his wedding.
In his senior year at Hempstead, Williams started at both quarterback and safety and led the team to a perfect 8-0 season. While contributing on both sides of the ball, the Tigers outscored foes 245-46 that season.
Williams went on to play three seasons at Niagara, averaged 13.4 points for his career and was inducted into the school’s athletics Hall of Fame in 1985. He helped the Purple Eagles to the 1972 NIT championship game, making the game-winning free throws in the final seconds of a semifinal upset of St. John’s.
“It was like nothing else, that NIT,” Williams said. “It was New York. It was the Garden. And so many people from Long Island came to see us. It was a great experience.”
OLLIE MILLS, HEMPSTEAD GIRLS AND BOYS BASKETBALL
Ollie Mills was the first African American teacher and basketball coach at Hempstead. His impact on the Tigers’ program was felt for decades as he was the first Nassau coach to guide both the boys and girls basketball teams to state titles.
His girls team won the Nassau and Long Island championships four years in a row from 1979 to 1983, and they won two state titles in 1982 when they captured the NYSPHSAA and the Federation titles.
“Ollie’s nickname should have been, ‘First’,” Candel said. “He was the first to do so many things. His accomplishments were second to none.”
During that four-year stretch of championships, Mills’ girls had a 92-3 record, including a 71-game winning streak, and did not lose a game to another Nassau team. His overall record with the girls was 140-9 over seven years.
He also compiled a 135-26 record with one title coaching the boys team over nine years. His overall career basketball record was an incredible, 275-35.
D’BRICKASHAW FERGUSON, FREEPORT FOOTBALL
How many guys have a street named after them? Ferguson does, in Freeport, after his high school football career at Freeport.
Ferguson led the Red Devils to the Long Island Class I championship in 2000. As a senior in 2001, he became the only player in Nassau history to win both the Thorp Award (as Nassau’s best player) and Martone Award (Nassau’s best interior lineman). He also was a member of the National Honor Society and served as a youth minister in his church.
“I had nothing to do with it as I was along for the ride,” said Freeport football coach Russ Cellan. “I was lucky enough that he lived in this community. Those guys are not made — they are born.”
Ferguson was an All-American player at Virginia. He was a first-round draft pick of the Jets and had a 10-year National Football League career in which he started in every game and played in three Pro Bowls. He is also a member of the Jets Ring of Honor.
CLIFTON SMITH. FREEPORT FOOTBALL
He was known throughout Nassau football circles as a man amongst boys during his Freeport High School football career from 1996-1999. The 6-3, 240-pound linebacker was a two-time winner of the Bill Piner Award, presented to Nassau’s top linebacker.
He was a finalist for the Thorp Award, given to Nassau’s best player in 1998, and earned the award the following year when he was named Gatorade’s New York State Player of the Year.
“We had a run of some incredible football players in Freeport,” said Cellan. “And as good a football player as Smith was — he was an even better person, a phenomenal leader.”
Smith also starred in basketball and lacrosse for the Red Devils before he went on to play football and start all four years at Syracuse.
He was drafted by the Washington football organization, now known as the Commanders, and played for the Cleveland Browns in the NFL.
ANNIE PARK. MACARTHUR GOLF
With no girls golf team at MacArthur High School, Park was forced to play on the boys team in the spring season of her junior year. No problem. She became the top golfer in Nassau, beating all the boys and winning the county championship by smashing the boys record by six strokes with an 8-under 134 for the two-day tournament at Bethpage State Park.
She would graduate early in December of 2012 and attend the University of Southern California in the spring of 2013 where the golf prodigy captured the NCAA Division I women’s golf title as a freshman. Park led USC to the NCAA golf championship and qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton.
She developed an impressive amateur record, earning many national and worldwide titles, including a triumph at the North and South Women’s Amateur in 2013. Park also grabbed the Pac-12 Conference Championship twice and was praised with the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year awards in 2013.
THE FULL CLASS OF 2023
Robert Alabaster, Athlete, Baldwin
Karen Andreone, Coach/Administrator ,Our Lady of Mercy
Ron Atanasio, Athlete, Oceanside
Sidney Canarick,Administrator, Glen Cove
Chris Ceruti, Administrator, Carle Place
Richard Degnan, Athlete, Holy Trinity
Robert DeSimone, Athlete, Plainview-Kennedy
Therese Devlin, Athlete, Wantagh
Billy Donovan, Athlete, St. Agnes
Arthur Dunn, Athlete, Sewanhaka
Joseph Fay, Coach, Hempstead
D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Athlete, Freeport
George Fowler, Athlete, Glen Cove
Sabrina Gallagher, Athlete, Manhasset
Larry Glenz, Coach, Lynbrook
Robert Gorman, Administrator, Floral Park
Phil Hankinson, Athlete ,Great Neck North
Peter Henning, Athlete, Wantagh
Michelle Kurowski, Athlete, Hicksville
Emily Lipari, Athlete, Roslyn
Joseph Martone, Athlete, Glen Cove
Eamon McEneaney, Athlete, Sewanhaka
Ollie Mills, Coach, Hempstead
Carlos Mendes, Athlete, Wheatley
James Metzger, Contributor
Frank Nocerino, Contributor
Annie Park, Athlete, MacArthur
Dick Poillon, Athlete, Valley Stream
Robert Shaver, Coach, Plainedge
Thomas Sheedy Jr., Coach, Massapequa
Clifton Smith, Athlete, Freeport
Kevin Shippos, Athlete,Baldwin
Frank Tashman, Athlete, Sewanhaka
Nicholas Tintle, Athlete, MacArthur
Al Williams, Athlete, Hempstead
James Zaffuto, Athlete, Elmont
Steve Zimmer, Athlete/Official