Joe Sullivan: Billy Pappas' scrapbook never closes
By JOE SULLIVAN
New Hampshire Union Leader Sports
Anyone needing help composing a hall of fame induction speech should consult 76-year-old Manchester native Billy Pappas, a man who is fast becoming a wizard in the process.
On July 2 in San Francisco, Pappas will deliver his fifth such address when he is inducted into the Athletic Hellenic Hall of Fame. One of his head-table neighbors will be tennis legend Pete Sampras, who will also become a member of the Greek organization's hall of fame that night. They will join an illustrious group that includes Harry Agganis, Bob Costas, Fred Smerlas, Diana Nyad and Manchester native Gus Zitrides. The only perplexing aspect to the Pappas induction is why it took so long. Many of those who saw him play contend that he is the Granite State's greatest all-around athlete.
He has the credentials to back that contention.
His three-sport (baseball, basketball, football) successes at Manchester High School Central and the University of New Hampshire have led to the following honors: He is a charter member of the Queen City Athletic Hall of Fame, a charter member of the UNH Hall of Fame, a charter member of the Central Hall of Fame -- and a member of the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association Hall of Fame.
Last week, a former Central High basketball teammate (George Joseph) and a former St. Joseph's basketball opponent (Ray Valliere) had vivid memories of playing with and against Pappas.
Joseph: "I was Billy's back-up and the first time I went into a game for him the crowd went crazy. It only took me a second to realize they weren't cheering for me coming in, they were cheering for Billy going out. He was something else."
Valliere: "I guarded Billy."
"No, that's wrong. I was ASSIGNED to guard Billy, along with a couple of other guys. But to be honest, nobody could really GUARD Billy."
High school opponents couldn't guard him in basketball or stop him in football.
College opponents encountered the same problem.
During his days in Durham, Pappas lettered one year in baseball, three years in football and four years in basketball, established many school records in football and basketball, and piled up honor after honor.
Consider this from a Bill Stearns article on Pappas that appeared in the January, 1955 issue of New Hampshire Profiles: "He has been named on so many 'all-teams' since he first made the schoolboy all-state team in basketball back in 1949 that he honestly can't keep track of them. His five sisters, all rabid fans, try to keep a scrapbook for him, but after All-State, high school All-American, All-Hellenic, All-Merrimack Valley, All-Yankee Conference, All-New England, and a few other all-time selections, they have virtually given up the project."
They may have abandoned the project but they didn't toss the scrapbook.
Thanks to them, when I met the soon-to-be five-time hall of famer to talk about his latest induction, he had several wonderful pieces of his storied past "I found a trunk I didn't know I had," Pappas explained last week when we sat down to talk about his latest induction. "It's filled with all kinds of stuff I had forgotten all about."
Two of those items came out of a large envelope carrying a cancelled three-cent stamp.
One announced his selection to the 1950 National High School All America Football Team.
The other certified Pappas as a 1954 All America college quarterback from UNH.
As he reminisced about his career, it became obvious how much his family, his teachers, his coaches and his teammates meant to him.
He talked about his older brother, Nick, Central teachers Joe Bronstein and Wally Tafe, UNH football coaches Clarence "Chief" Boston and Andy Mooradian and the terrific teammates he had.
"I think about all the hours I put in playing and practicing but more than that, I think about all the wonderful people I met and I realize more than anything how lucky I've been and what a great run I've had," Pappas said.
Part of that great run led him to score a thousand points at both Central and UNH; it landed him on All-Yankee Conference teams in both football and basketball; it took him to Europe, where he played in front of crowds of up to 15,000 and where he became a member of the All-United States Air Force Football Team.
His selection to that team is extraordinary because of the man he beat out for the quarterback spot on that team: Notre Dame legend, National Football League starter and eventual College Hall of Fame member Ralph Guglielmi.
A knee injury Pappas suffered while playing in Europe ended his career but he never stopped running. He and his wife, Toni, have run the New York and Boston marathons as well as a portion of the original Marathon course that Philippides completed in Greece in 490 B.C.
Before we ended our meeting last week, I read the words Billy Pappas will say next month in San Francisco.
As soon as I finished the last line of his speech, I knew I had the first line of this column.