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Lost, Not Gone

Canceled Italian-American Plans 50th Anniversary Celebration In 2021

John Foti, left, and Dan Cotter will have to wait until 2021 to attempt to defend their Italian-American Charity Golf Tournament championship. Submitted photo

The first committee was convened to consider a possible celebration event to honor the heritage handed to us by our forefathers. The committee was asked to consider a golf tournament as a possible activity to communicate the theme. They were unanimous in their response that a golf tournament of this magnitude would never fly, especially in our geographic area — a crazy idea.

¯ Samuel Restivo Sr.

Past chairman, Italian-American Charity Golf Tournament

The late Samuel Restivo Sr. stewed about that contrarian view described above for two weeks a half-century ago, but he wasn’t about to let the dream die.

So another committee was formed.

The 2017 winners: Tim Magnuson, left, and John Trussalo. P-J file photo below

The crew included Mike Giunta, Jim Barone, Anthony Brigiotta, Cappy Caprino, Phil DeMarco, Robert Enserro, Gino Micciche, Joe Mistretta, Angelo Munella, Jack Munella, Joe Restivo and Anthony Tuccio. Restivo was the chairman.

Their first meeting was relatively short. Discussion was minimal. What had once been deemed a “crazy idea” just days before was almost immediately embraced by this new group of 13, a collection of friends, who loved golf, but who loved their heritage even more.

And by early June 1971, the first Italian-American Charity Golf Tournament was held at Jackson Valley Golf Club in Warren, Pennsylvania. For the record, Fred Cusimano Jr. and Tim Edwards held off 81 other teams to claim the first title. Proceeds from the event — nearly $3,000 — went to the American Cancer Society.

“We are definitely planning to have a similar tournament for charity next year,” Sam Restivo said afterward.

Five decades later, the event is stronger than ever.

Frank Vassallo, Italian-American chairman from 1989-95, is pictured. Submitted photo

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The 50th annual IA was scheduled for June 11-13 at Holiday Valley Resort. It has been canceled, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee had no choice. While golf is being played during the coronavirus outbreak — as long as appropriate social distancing and other safety precautions are observed — the idea that the IA could maintain those requirements was just not feasible. Because, really, this event is not only for the participants, but also for their families. Hundreds of people descend on the resort in Ellicottville for fun, fellowship, food and music, with three rounds of golf thrown in for good measure.

Describing the tournament weekend “like Christmas,” committee member and past chairman Sam LaMancuso Jr. admitted “not having it really hurts.”

“It’s the right thing (to cancel),” he said, “but, boy, I wish it were different. I’m going to miss seeing everybody.”

Added current chairman George Panebianco: “The one thing that’s hard to describe is that instead of just saying, we play in a golf tournament, we have a hot dog and we go home to our families, we have 88 families show up with their children, and everyone who plays in the tournament treats it like a vacation. They plan their whole year around it.”

Gabe Panebianco, left, is pictured with Tom Michos at the 2015 tournament. P-J file photo

And, along the way, memories are made.

Did you know that:

¯ Jack Munella Sr., an original committee member, hasn’t played in the tournament since 2015, but his two sons and two grandsons now do.

“Although I dropped off, they’re carrying it on,” he said.

¯ Joe Paterniti, a past chairman, reunites with seven or eight of his Jamestown High School (Class of 1979) buddies every year. Oh, the stories they could tell. One of their favorites involves Kevin Kaiser, who one year dropped a marshmallow on a green at Holiday Valley, right next to the flagstick. The unsuspecting player who had taken the blind shot up the hill, thought he had nearly holed out only to realize that his ball was 60 yards short of the green.

Craig Lundgren, left, hugs teammate Rob Foti after they won the 2010 tournament. P-J file photo

“It was the funniest thing I’ve seen my life,” Panebianco said.

¯ There have been 13 chairmen since the event debuted. In order, they are Restivo, 1971-73; Ben Conti, 1974-76; Chic Fasciana, 1977-79; Sam Paladino, 1980-82; Jon Scalise, 1983-88 and 1996-98; Frank Vassallo, 1989-95; LaMancuso, 1999-2001; John Calamunci, 2002-07; Sebby Baggiano, 2008-09; Jack Munella Jr., 2010-15; Paterniti, 2016-18; and Panebianco.

¯ There have been two two-time winners of the tournament and one three-time winner — the team of Carl Pillittieri and Bob Johnson.

¯ Gabe Panebianco played in the first 45 tournaments. Forty-five!

¯ The IA has been hosted at Jackson Valley GC (two years), Peek’n Peak Resort (18 years) and Holiday Valley (29 years), but there has been only one time that it has been shortened by rain (in 2013).

Sam Restivo Sr. was the Italian-American’s chairman from its inception in 1971 until 1973. Submitted photo

Of course, nothing can ever truly “rain on the parade” of this much-anticipated weekend.

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The quote from Restivo at the beginning of this story was included in the 1995 25th anniversary IA program book. As it’s turned out, the decision he and his dozen friends made decades ago has been prophetic. And even though this year’s cancellation will force the 50th anniversary celebration to wait until June 10-12, 2021, the tournament field will no doubt be filled as it always has while remaining true to its mission of beating cancer.

Since that first tournament in 1971, the Italian-American Charity Golf Association has raised in excess of $1.45 million. The hope this year was to surpass $1.5 million.

“We made a switch to go from the American Cancer Society to donating our money locally, and the donation exploded,” Paterniti said. ” … We’ve made as much as $67,000 (in a year). People believe in what we do and want to be involved. They love our tournament. I live for this thing. … I’m disappointed (with the cancellation), but we’ll get through it.”

The anticipation of the next trip to Holiday Valley will help.

“I can’t think of any other tournaments or any other social gatherings that have a bond amongst all the participants,” Panebianco said. “That’s what makes it special.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind event and one of the first tournaments to do two things. One, to celebrate our Italian heritage and then bring in a non-Italian (playing partner) to kind of meld the cultures.”

Just like the original committee had predicted way back when.

So much for a “crazy” idea, huh?

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