Seven area sports figures were honored Saturday at the 44th annual YMCA of Frederick County’s Alvin G. Quinn Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Jeff Comer, Rick Conner, Gail Gaeng, Phil Hammond, David Reaver and Yuri Suguiyama were the latest inductees into the local shrine.
Also honored on Saturday, at the YMCA’s home on North Market Street, was Middletown girls basketball standout and 2018-19 Frederick News-Post Co-Player of the Year Saylor Poffenbarger, who received the first Rising Star award, new to the Quinn program this year.
Most of the inductees took their turns at the podium with brief acceptance speeches, supplemented by special videos. Two of the inductees, Gaeng and Suguiyama, were unable to attend Saturday’s event.
Gaeng, a semi-pro wheelchair basketball player and member of the 2016 gold-medalist Team USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team, was snowbound in Chicago. Suguiyama, a former nationally ranked swimmer and currently a swimming coach, had a previous commitment.
Despite their absences, their messages to the crowd in Frederick on Saturday got through, thanks to the videos. Perhaps the most compelling speech of the day came from Gaeng.
Gaeng does not have full use of her legs because of nerve damage, but thanks to physical therapy and special braces, she has some mobility.
“Your resolve will be tested the most when you’re faced with adversity,” Gaeng said in her recorded message. “That’s what makes you stronger.”
Gaeng’s desire to play wheelchair basketball had its setbacks. She missed the cut a few times before eventually making the U.S. team. When her 2016 team won the gold medal at the Paralympics in Rio De Janeiro, Gaeng and her family knew she had achieved a major goal in her life.
“I still get chills thinking about those opening ceremonies and when we won the gold medal,” Gaeng, the team captain that year, recalled. “I looked up in the stands and saw the most important team in my life — my family. We were all thinking: ‘We did it...we made it.’”
For Conner, the current head football coach at Linganore High School, being inducted into the Quinn hall came as a complete surprise to him.
“It caught me off guard a little bit,” said Conner, who has coached the Lancers to three state championships in 18 seasons. “Playing sports is a good outlet. I’ve been blessed with great players, great coaches and great mentors over the years. Lancer pride runs deep.”
Comer — whose father, the late Roy Comer, was inducted into the Quinn hall last year — said his dad’s personality was most influential in his life.
“I learned a lot of leadership qualities from my dad,” said Comer, a football, basketball and track athlete at Thomas Johnson in the 1970s who played football collegiately at Duke.
“I was also very fortunate to have been surrounded by so many great people and coaches, but the most important thing, I think, is that my family believed in me. It’s a wonderful feeling. Family, coaches, friends. What a great mix.”
Hammond coached tennis at Mount St. Mary’s and teamed up with his wife, Jody — to whom he’s been married to for 40 years — as a mixed doubles team. He strived to teach his players the right way to play the game, remaining humble on the court and enjoying themselves.
As a player, Hammond looks back on 50 years of tennis this way.
“It’s like what [golfer] Lee Trevino once said: The older I get, the better I was,” Hammond said with a chuckle.
Reaver, a Linganore High School graduate, recalled his playing days as a minor league baseball player, traveling around the country. He stressed how much it helped him mature as a person.
“In baseball, and sports in general, you learn how to win and lose the right way,” Reaver said. “Baseball has been my life, but there are different paths to take as you chase your dreams. Go Lancers!”
Suguiyama is the head men’s and women’s swimming coach at Wisconsin. He has also coached for Team USA, where he was the individual coach for Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky at the 2012 Olympics in London. He said the sport of swimming has given him so much in life.
“You have to have a passion for what you do,” Suguiyama said.