Sports Night packs a punch
The Spectator - 4/28/2019
April 28-- Apr. 28--HORNELL -- The stars were out in full force on Saturday evening at the Main Place in Hornell, as world famous athletes came together with the local community in order to support the Special Olympics at the 46th Annual Sports Night.
Sports Night annually honors several local athletes and one community member for their immense accomplishments, and the 2019 event was no different.
This year, Hornell's Gabby Lapierre and Rayyan Buell were each named Athletes of the Year. Lapierre was a three-sport athlete during her four-year varsity career and was a part of some of the school's most successful girls soccer and basketball seasons. Buell, meanwhile, has made his name mostly due to his incredible talent on the football field. Buell gained a reputation throughout the state over the last three years as an incredible linebacker, and it eventually earned him a full scholarship to Rutgers University in this fall.
But before the pair leaves Hornell for their next adventure, they each took the time to speak about how being given this award was not only a testament to their hard work, but a true honor to receive from the community.
"Just being here is an honor to be here and it feels really nice," said Lapierre. "Honestly, getting this award just shows that hard work does pay off. It's really hard at times trying to balance sports, school and a job. But this does show that if you just stay with it and keep your mind to it, things do pay off in the end, even if it may not seem like it in the moment."
"It's a great honor to be here, although it does show that you are getting old and growing up," said Buell with a smile. "It's really been great though to see all of this hard work pay off. Everything that's happened, even with the scholarship and everything, it's just nice to see it pay off."
Larry Valentine was also honored for his lifetime of work within the community and its sporting events. While Valentine has made an appearance at any and all events, his true calling was basketball, and its where much of his focus went. Valentine helped organize, run and even coached for 45 years at the Hornell Sunday School basketball league. And he's also been a major contributor to the Gus Macker Tournament since it first starting packing the streets of Hornell.
"I've been involved with other sports like baseball or softball, but basketball is where my heart is. I've been with the Sunday School basketball for 45 years or so. I've coached in other biddy leagues and tournaments and I'm also heavily involved in the Gus Macker. I mean, you do the things that you love to do," said Valentine. "I never expected this when Mike Brewer called me and told me. It was definitely a surprise and it's an honor that's very nice to get. But you don't do things to get awards, I just do it because I love to do it."
But the real guest of honor was Special Olympian Rachael Archer. Archer is an 18-year old Hornell student that has been competing at the Special Olympics for the past six years.
The night honored many people, but every single person up on stage was overjoyed to not only be able to honor Archer and her incredible accomplishments, but also support the Special Olympics as a whole.
"It's really sweet. I'll be there at the Special Olympics helping out any way that I can. Its great to help those kids and give them a day where they can feel like they really fit in. They can do well and play sports just like all the other kids do," said Lapierre. "It's really great to be able to give them a day of their own where they can just go out and have fun."
"It's awesome to raise money for the Special Olympics because it's such a good thing. I'm glad to be here so that we can hopefully raise as much money as we can," said Buell. "And it's amazing to see the community come together and support something like this. It's a great thing."
"You can't do anything better," said Valentine. "The more you can do for these kids, the better off we all are. I'm just glad to be a part of it."
As for the professional guests of honor, the slate was as strong as its ever been, featuring Jose Canseco, Lou Piniella, Randy White, Kurt Angle and Eric "Butterbean" Esch. And just like the local athletes, these professionals were more than happy to attend such a great community event with such a great purpose.
"I only do a few different appearances every year or every other year. But then the committee called me up and asked me if I was interested in doing this to raise money for the Special Olympics, I said, 'Oh yeah sign me up I'm there,'" said Butterbean. "It means a lot. It really does, and it's good to be a part of it. I've been doing this for 30-something years now, and this one is a good event. It's for a good cause. A lot of kids haven't had a great chance in life yet. But the Special Olympics does that. It gives them some experience to help push them through life. And any little experience can help a person."
"Sports have always been an integral part of my life. And these kids that are playing the Special Olypmpics -- it's extremely special. When you are not handicapped it is hard enough to play these sports, but what those kids do is amazing. They work extremely hard and they are very diligent," said Piniella. "And it's wonderful to see a sports organization like this in Hornell that supports it like they do. I'm glad to see so many people here supporting it an enjoying it."
"It is nice to support such a great cause. They have an absolutely huge crowd here tonight. I honestly had no idea that there were going to be so many people here. But we've got a lot of great fans and a lot of great athletes," said Canseco. "We are going to be able to honor some local athletes and we are going to be able to honor some Special Olympians. So it's going to be a great night."
"This is a hometown event. Everybody is coming out to support it. It's a nice town and it's really a great event. And I've met some really great people that are behind this thing that having been coming for quite a few years, and they do a great job of bringing the celebrities in, and that's why the people keep coming back," said White. "They are doing a great job and it's for a great cause."
Angle, in particular, was grateful to be at the event. The wrestling legend was not only happy to support such a great cause, he stated that he was incredibly impressed with how the community came together in such an impressive fashion to support the local athletes.
"Having the Hornell Sports Night and seeing this community come together for a cause like the Special Olympics is really something special. Not a lot of communities can do this type of thing. This turnout speaks volumes. (Hornell) has got something really special, and I'm just glad to be a part of it. You've got Jose Canseco, Lou Pineilla, Butterbean Esch and Randy White. Those are big-time celebrity athletes that basically came up here to mingle with the town. That's unheard of. Usually you might have one, but to have five is incredible," said Angle. "I was really impressed with the way things have transpired and what you've been able to do. 46 years -- holy smokes. That's something special. And nobody will ever be able to take away from this town the fact that all of you come together like this."
After 46 years of going strong, it seems as though Hornell Sports Night is just as impactful as its ever been. The Main Place parking was packed early, and the line outside formed shortly thereafter. By the time the doors were opened at 6 p.m., the signing area was so packed that people were brushing shoulders at every turn.
And the professional athletes are starting to take notice.
"I knew this was a good baseball area because I played right down the road in 1965 for the Elmira Pioneers. They love their baseball in the western part of New York State. It's wonderful to be able to come back and contribute a little bit. It's wonderful to see how much these people like these sports. It's a great night," said Piniella. "I know a few ex-Yankees that have come to this event like Goose Gossage, Bucky Dent, Sparky Lyle, Craig Nettles -- and they've all enjoyed it. They said, 'if you ever get invited, make sure you go.' So when they called this year, I jumped at the opportunity."
"I travel all over the world. I get to see fans of all sizes, shapes and colors. But very seldom to I go to a small town and get to know individuals personally. This is very different. When I normally do my autograph signings, they stand in front of the table while I'm behind, and you keep the traffic going. Here, you just can have a conversation and get to know each other," said Angle.
"This is the way that it should be."
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