In my 45 years of baseball/softball officiating, and/or baseball/softball/football coaching in Chautauqua County, I've met some great people along the way. There have been many wonderful athletes, whom I've been able to watch grow up and grow as athletes, but more importantly, grow as young men and women, and trust me, that's one reward/perk that doesn't show up on a pay check stub.
During those years, there have been many people with whom I've shared many dugouts and sidelines, as head coaches while I was an assistant, or assistants when I was a head coach, and I have a story I could tell you about every one of them, as I certainly would not have been able to have those opportunities without them.
There have been many other people who have helped in other ways with programs which I've had the opportunity to be involved. They've helped in many ways off the field, but were always somewhere in the ballparks. Guys like Bob Payne, Chad Chiffin, Matt Weimer, Scott Kindberg, Skip Pierce, Pete Hubbell and Mike Ferguson, and many more made my experiences so much easier and so much more special.
There have been so many of my umpiring partners and mates, many of them who generate memories with the mere mention of their names. Colleagues like Ross Crucilla, Lyle Parkhurst, Joe Nalbone, Chief Catania, Greg Moran and David Boltz are just a few who made their marks in the umpiring field in Chautauqua County, and I know many people have hundreds of stories involving all of them.
There have been many (though not all) opposing coaches in opposite dugouts, for whom I have, and had, the greatest respect, and with whom I've enjoyed sharing the playing fields.
There have been many (again, not all) parents and fans sitting stands, bleachers, or lawn chairs whose support and passion I have appreciated very much, but the subject of today's piece is one man whom I consider the greatest sports fan in Chautauqua County, and beyond.
A former athlete in the north county (I won't tell you how many years ago), Bill Schroeder began his post-playing days, a few years later, as the baseball coach at Clymer Central School. I had the pleasure of officiating some of Bill's games back then, and I remember him as a very colorful coach, whom I enjoyed watching and sharing games. When Bill left coaching, he did not leave the playing fields. He became, as the title of this piece indicates, the county's greatest sports fan, and I'll even put him up against many in world circles.
Over the years, I've seen Bill at games where I've been a spectator, at games I've officiated, at games where I've coached, and at high school boys games, when I've been there coaching my girls on an adjacent field. Often times I've heard Bill before seeing him, but so often there was/is Bill, sitting in his lawn chair talking, or ready to talk, about a certain athlete, or share a story from past athletes, teams, or experiences involving Chautauqua County Sports. If I get a chance to say hi to Bill, I usually ask him where he will be heading tomorrow, and he tells me the venue, the time and the teams playing.
When I was working as the baseball camp director for the Jamestown Jammers, then General Manager Mike Ferguson and I took a trip to old Detroit Stadium to present Bubba Trammell with his retired Jammers jersey, as he was the first player from the Jammers to reach the major leagues. At a rest stop in Ohio, we ran into Bill who was on a road trip himself, off to see three or four different minor league baseball games in Ohio before returning to Western New York and his favorite seat, his lawn chair. Last year, I even ran into Bill after the Rock-n-Blast Fireworks show following a Cleveland Indians game.
Over all the years with which I've been involved with the baseball showcase, I recall many years where Bill has arrived at about 9 on the Saturday morning of the event, and has stayed the entire day, sitting through four games, many times in very cold and windy conditions, because of his love for sports in our area, and his interest in the youth of our schools in Chautauqua County.
Bill follows Chautauqua County sports closer than anyone I know, and he follows all sports. I've heard Bill talk to people about baseball players, football players, basketball players, lacrosse players and more. He knows their successes and even follows them if/when they continue after high school and then he'll tell you about their successes there too.
Bill's interest and support doesn't stop with high school sports. He's often seen at JCC games, Fredonia State games, and he's a regular at Jamestown Jammer games. You don't need to look where Bill usually sits to know he is there. As you approach your own seat, or the field, you will hear Bill talking sports, or sharing an anecdote, or an experience of his, or something he's seen somewhere in the probably tens of thousands of games he's witnessed.
Bill has a memory like a steel trap, not only with area athletes and sports, but with athletes and sports all the way up to professional teams. He can, and usually does, talk sports as much as he can, and for as long as he can. He's both knowledgeable and comical, and I for one truly enjoy the conversations we share.
It's for all that I've written, that if there was an award given for being Chautauqua County's greatest sports fan, I would, hands down, nominate, campaign for, and definitely vote for Bill Schroeder.
And happy Memorial Day. Thanks to all who gave for the right to be free.