Three coaching legends, a storied squad of baseball players, a distinguished law enforcement officer and a journalist were among those inducted into the Johnston High School Athletic Hall of Fame on Saturday evening.
From emcee Allan McGillivray’s inductee introductions until the last story was told, 24 Panthers had their names added to the list of Hall of Famers.
The evening began inside the Edward L. DiSimone Gymnasium, where Gary Mazzie, the Panthers co-director of athletics, oversaw the inductions. Mazzie is credited with creating the Hall of Fame last year.
“If it weren’t for Gary, we wouldn’t be here tonight and wouldn’t have a Hall of Fame,” said McGillivray, who has been in the Johnston school system for four decades. “He’s the driving force behind this night.”
The Class of 2012 included one-time coaching greats Antonio “Tony” Centore, Edward DiSimone and the late Robert Smith. Former Observer Sports Editor John Ford, who chronicled many years of JHS sports and was known for his headline “Panther Prowl,” was also inducted into the Hall.
Individuals among the inductees included David DeCesare, the Johnston Police Department’s deputy chief who was an All-Stater in baseball and basketball; Kevin Brown, an All-Stater in football in 2000; and Ryan Geraghty, who was first team All-State in baseball last spring.
A total of 16 players and two coaches who made up Johnston High’s first state championship team headlined this year’s induction ceremony and first-ever dinner that was held at Pocasset Bay Manor.
Those members of the 1963 state champion Panthers, many of whom began playing together on various Johnston sandlots at age 9 and who are still close friends today, were: Ken Ainley, Tom Donnelly, Richard Esposito, William Geremia, Alex Giarrusso, Frank Jasparro, Scott Moore, James Petteruti, Daniel Pisaturo, Carmine Rego, Ron Ricci, Leroy Sanderson, Ed Skovron, Melvin Steppo, David Taraborelli and Michael Ursini.
Petteruti, proclaimed by his teammates as one of the greatest athletes to ever wear the blue and white, was inducted posthumously. The same was true for Smith, a one-time Panther basketball coach who assisted DiSimone in 1963 and was known for his “get off my gym floor” message to each student in the school.
Perhaps Jim Hopkins, who helped coordinate the dinner at Pocasset Bay, best described the 1963 state champs.
“You guys were my idol,” said Hopkins, a one-time standout baseball and basketball coach. “It’s ironic we’re having the dinner here tonight; this is where many of us played baseball before this place was built.”
Hopkins, who served as the night’s official photographer, continued, “I’m not sure, if it wasn’t for these guys, if Johnston High would be the Johnston High we know today, especially when it comes to success in athletics.”
The quote of the night, though, belonged to Giarrusso, who took every dinner guest back to when the Panthers won that state championship at Cranston Stadium. Giarrusso recalled arriving to the stadium to face the powerful La Salle team that featured former Los Angeles Dodger great Davey Lopes.
“We got there. They were on the infield and outfield so coach D asked [La Salle coach] Carl Toti if we could take pre-game warm-ups on the field. He told Coach D, ‘No! You guys stink,’” Giarrusso said.
With that, dinner attendees erupted into laughter, thinking back to that upset of perennial powerhouse La Salle before blasting Barrington in the state final.
“We had a bond that’s still there today,” said Moore, the Panthers pitcher back in 1963. “We were friends then and we’re even great friends now. We still meet ... this team is still special.”
Mazzie, now retired from teaching and coaching, had a few stories of his own during his turn at the podium.
“This was a wonderful show for the first time,” Mazzie said of the initial Hall of Fame dinner. “Lots of memories ... I think we all relived days of yesteryear and the great athletic tradition we have here at JHS.”
Mazzie then congratulated each inductee and told a story about when he was speeding to get to a meeting and was suddenly stopped by a young JPD officer named David DeCesare.
“He pulled me over, but he didn’t give me a ticket. He let me go,” Mazzie said amid laughter. “And I thank him for that ... we’re real proud of Dave, he has distinguished JHS and the Panthers in a great career of law enforcement.”
Among that long list of greats, McGillivray said there are many people to thank for Johnston High School’s athletic tradition.
“Ed DiSimone is a catalyst ... Tony Centore is a catalyst,” he said. “Mr. D and Mr. C, along with Bob Smith, are the cornerstones upon which Panther greatness and tradition were built.”