Franciscan University’s recent return to intercollegiate athletics as NCAA Division III provisional members has brought new life to the Baron Hall of Fame after a 27-year hiatus.
Making up for lost time, the Baron Hall of Fame induction ceremony held February 8, 2008, ushered in four sports legends: Gary Vogelsberger ’65; basketball coach Hank Kuzma; former athletic director, the late Bob Kloska ’58; and the former voice of the Barons, Bill Chesson.
Held in the Gentile Gallery of the J. C. Williams Center, the ceremony was a warm, festive affair. The room was crowded with alumni, friars, faculty, staff, and community members who recalled the glory days of Baron athletics.
University president, Father Terence Henry, TOR, took great delight in handing out the awards and meeting the honorees.
Introduced by Bill Alexander ’54, Bill Chesson, the “voice of the Barons” for basketball games on WSTV radio for most of the 1960s was the first to be inducted. “I simply called the game,” said Chesson. “I didn’t embellish the way some of the announcers do today. I just tried to describe what the players and coach did.”
Current athletic director Chris Ledyard spoke about the late Bob Kloska, baseball coach and athletic director from 1960 to 1972.
Ledyard credited Kloska with starting “a number of intramural sports that are the basis for our thriving intramural sports program, which today involves over 1,000 students participating in 20 sports.”
Accepting the award was Kloska’s wife, Terry. “I remember when Bob used to take his teams to the Y, to the Knights of Columbus building, to St. John’s Arena, anywhere they could practice because of a lack of practice facilities on campus… [Today] you have such beautiful facilities. This is such a beautiful campus,” she remarked.
Fellow teammate and friend Joe Nolan ’67 introduced Gary Vogelsberger ’65. He cited Vogelsberger’s selection to the NAIA District 22 All-Star Team (1962 and 1964), his scoring prowess, and his leadership role on the 1965 team that reached the NCAA Eastern Division playoffs.
In making his first return to the hilltop in 33 years, Vogelsberger credited his success on the court to his teammates, including Randy Green and other Baron players, his coaches, his father, fraternity brothers, and the Steubenville community.
He also thanked the athletes and coaches who went before him. “We knew that a tradition of excellence was established under coach Kuzma. And we always tried to play at a high level in the tradition of Brownlee and Big Jim [Smith ’58],” said Vogelsberger.
A “giant among his peers,” was how John Nese ’60 introduced his friend and former basketball coach, Hank Kuzma.
Kuzma compiled a 95-19 record as coach of the Barons from 1954-1958, a singular accomplishment for a small college team that lacked proper athletic facilities and recruiting prowess.
In 1958 the team earned the title “Number One Small College Basketball Team in the U.S.” from United Press International, while Kuzma was named “Number One Small College Coach of the Year” by the United Press Board of Coaches.
Though Kuzma left the College that year, he returned in 1978 to coach basketball and eventually work in the Alumni and Development Offices. Today he continues to serve as a fundraiser and ambassador for the University.
The audience rose for a standing ovation as Kuzma accepted his award. He ended his short acceptance speech saying, “Spiritually [being at the University] has been a very great experience for me. Being surrounded by the students and the priests has been as heartwarming and rewarding as coaching the basketball team.”
The Hall of Fame committee, working through the Alumni Relations Office, is already making plans for the next induction. In the near future, a Hall of Fame wall will be completed in Finnegan Fieldhouse as a permanent marker for those honored.
Originally published in the Spring 2008 Baronette newsletter. Since then, Hank Kuzma, John Nese, and Bill Alexander have passed away. May they rest in peace.