Announcing the Capital Region ‘Mount Rushmore’ of sports

For the past 11 days, we have provided you with what we think are the best Capital Region athletes to ever play in just about every sport. Putting four in each category wasn’t easy. Now, on the final day, the day of our Mount Rushmore reveal, we give you the top four athletes of all time from our area.

Tough choices? You bet.

The criteria were that the athlete had to have been born in the Capital Region, raised here or lived most of his/her life here.

We could have selected two Mount Rushmores. Maybe three. The four choices here are the compilation of our sports department. We had some names that are not on here but were selected by some in the department (I won’t say who). We left off some pretty important names.

For example: Jeff Blatnick of Niskayuna won an Olympic gold medal but didn’t make our list. Johnny Evers from Troy is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. So is George Davis from Cohoes and King Kelly from Troy. They aren’t here either. Ned Harkness, who settled in Glens Falls, is a giant in the world of hockey. His name wasn’t called. Nor was the great Funny Cide, the 2003 winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He was born in Saratoga.

So, here it is. You can agree to disagree with our list, presented in alphabetical order.

Dottie Pepper

After the 17 years she played on the LPGA Tour, Pepper retired from competitive golf in 2004 with 17 tour wins. She was born in Saratoga Springs, a place she has returned to live with husband, David Normoyle.

“Getting on this Final Four is remarkable,” Pepper said. “This is a huge area we are talking about. It is cool that golf is included and a female. There are a lot of very deserving athletes.”

Of all her LPGA wins, there is one that sticks out for Pepper. That came in August of 1995 when she won the McCall’s Classic. What is most memorable is not the three-stroke win over Kelly Robbins. This was the tournament, held at the Stratton Mountain Country Club in Vermont, just an hour’s drive from Saratoga.

It was an important win because it gave Pepper’s family and friends the opportunity to come to watch her play.

“The weather was horrible; even though it was August, it felt like May,” Pepper said. “That was the only tournament my parents (Don and Lynn) saw me win live. It was special. It was fantastic.”

Pepper, 54, got the golfing itch as a youngster growing up in her hometown of Wilton. Since there were no junior programs for girls, she played against boys and she zoomed by them pretty quickly.

Her career soared and she became one of the most accomplished female players in the game. She won two majors during her LPGA career, which was cut short by injury. She is also a member of the New York State Golf Association Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 2018. She is currently a commentator on golf telecasts for CBS.

When she was in high school, she remembers going to the New York State championships her senior year (1983) at Cornell University. The field was 98 boys and her. There was no state competition for girls. That was set to change this year as Section II was going to send players to the state championship for the first time (it was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic).

Pepper was at the Section II girls’ golf championship last October.

She is proud of how far opportunities have come for female golfers at the high school level in this area. As for her, she is happy with her career, her gig at CBS and being back home. She said being on the Capital Region’s Mount Rushmore can serve as a motivator.

“Kids can see this and say, ‘Hey, I can do that,”” Pepper said.


The Capital Region’s best in men’s athletics

The Capital Region’s finest in women’s athletics

Capital Region’s best female coaches of all time

The best Capital Region male coaches of all time

Pat Riley

The favorite son of Schenectady had to be on this list. Before he was the leader of “Showtime” in Los Angeles, he was a gritty, tough player at Linton High School, class of 1963. In the three years he played at Linton, he scored more than 1,000 points and his teams were 46-7.

“It’s a tremendous honor for anybody to think of me as a Mount Rushmore face,” Riley said via email. “I’m proud to be put there with these great athletes.”

The most memorable game of Riley’s high school  career, one that is still talked about, came in 1961 when Lew Alcindor (before he was known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) came to town with his Power Memorial High School squad from New York City and played Linton in the final of a Christmas tournament. Linton won the game 74-68. Years later, Riley would be Abdul-Jabbar’s coach with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Growing up in the Capital District area in Schenectady during the ’50s and ’60s was an incredible experience for me,” said Riley, who was born in Rome, N.Y., and raised in Schenectady. “That area was the taproot of everything I ever accomplished in sports because of the early training that I got from some great coaches.”

Among the coaches Riley named were Walt Przybylo, his basketball coach at Linton, and his assistants, Bill Rapavy and Ed Catino, football coach Dick Lalla and Dom Denio, who coached basketball, football and baseball.

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