2021 Niagara Falls sports wall of famers give thanks
Niagara Falls Sports Wall of Fame 2021 inductee Sarah Quaranta found it a near impossible task to pick out a singular career highlight.
“I just think that it’s everything that I have been through that has made me the person I am today,” the 25-year-old Niagara Falls resident said Sunday. “It started with minor hockey here in my hometown of Niagara Falls and then it translated later in my career at a Division 1 school at Robert Morris University. I owe it all to my family for helping me get through it with them.”
Picking a low point was easy for the elementary school teacher at Peace Bridge Public School in Fort Erie. It came in overtime of the gold medal game against the United States at the 2015 under-18 world championships.
“It was a five-on-three (penalty) in overtime and I was on the ice being the top penalty killer on Team Canada. I remember the puck going through under my stick and looking and it was in the back of the net,” the former All-American Scholar and 2019 Presidential Scholar-Athlete said. “It was a tough loss but to be able to be on that journey was obviously an incredible honour and something I will always hold close to me.”
The world championships was a big thrill.
“It was more when the jersey was unveiled and we put it on as a group. It was a moment I had dreamed about since I was a young kid,” the former coach with the Southern Tier Admirals said. “To be able to pull a leaf over my chest was a moment that meant the most. Being on the ice with some of the great hockey players in the world was truly an honour.”
To have the tournament so close to home made it even more special.
“To have it in Buffalo, just over the border, I was able to have family and friends from all over come and watch me. To see them in the stands was a remarkable experience.”
It was a big moment in an impressive career.
“There was always ups and downs in my career but at the end of the day it allowed me to be stronger. The reason why I am here today is because of everything I have experienced, the highs and the lows,” Quaranta said. “Being a teacher, all of my experiences are transferable skills that I can teach my kids. All of the life lessons I have learned have made me the person I am today. Hockey is second to everything that I have learned.”
The Saint Paul alumna played A and AAA boys hockey for the Niagara Falls Canucks until the major bantam level when she made the switch in girls hockey in her Grade 9 year. She played for and was a captain with the Stoney Creek Sabres and was named Niagara Falls athlete of the year in 2009. In 2015, she was a member of Team Ontario that captured a Canada Winter Games silver medal in Prince George, B.C. At Robert Morris, she was named to the College Hockey America 2016 All-Rookie Team. She helped Robert Morris win its first regular season and CMA championship in 2016-17. The title advanced Robert Morris to its first NCAA tournament.
“I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of my coaches, teammates and family who have supported me throughout by athletic journey from my minor hockey days with the Niagara Falls Canucks, to my NCAA career at Robert Morris University. Their encouragement and belief in me has been invaluable and I am forever grateful for their support,” she said, during her acceptance speech
She described her family’s support as the most important part of her journey.
Also inducted as part of the 2021 class were Amy Audibert, Dr. Ralph Biamonte, Michael Pickering, Dr. Keith Pyne and Paul Yerich.
Audibert, a four-year scholarship basketball player with the University of Miami Hurricanes and team captain in her senior year, was unable to attend Sunday’s ceremony but accepted the honour with a video response from Miami, where she is a radio analyst and television studio analyst with the NBA’s Miami Heat.
“I have so much pride in my hometown and I am a Myer girl,” she said. “For me, I grew up and it was Jay Triano, Nikki Johnson, Pete Guarasci, Greg Newton and Jess Kemp. It is such an honour for me to be in this conversation as well.”
The two-time winner of the Harold Biggar Memorial Award, handed out annually to the best high school girls basketball player in Niagara Falls, thanked her parents.
“There’s no way I would be here without my parents, John and Julia, without their support. Not once did they ever say no or tell me that my goals were super unrealistic which they kind of were in some ways,” Audibert said. “But here I am. I was a dreamer, I was a worker and I had the best support from my parents which allowed me to be here.”
Before signing off of the video, Audibert imparted a little advice.
“If you have a daughter or niece or little girl, tell them to play sports. I am so happy that I had support from my family who at 10 years old made me go play basketball which I didn’t want to do at the time,” she said. “I am so grateful and I hope that there are other young women and little girls who can catch fire and have a passion in the same way that I did.”
Biamonte, who is wintering in Florida, was represented by his son, Brett, at the ceremony.
“Much like many of the horses he has trained through the years, he is mainly spending his time near Miami now,” Brett said. “It is well-deserved.”
People coming up to Brett at the ceremony last Sunday were remembering his father more for being their dentist rather than the horse breeder and trainer with more than $23 million in career earnings.
“He began his dental career and about halfway through it he decided to pursue his passion which was training horses,” Brett said. “Looking back now, it was probably a decision that took a lot of courage and a lot of help from a lot of people, too many to thank. He wanted me to thank one person in particular: My mother, who with 40 horses in the barn and four kids at home needed a little help.”
Pickering, who died in 2019, was represented at the ceremony by his wife, Karen, who gave thanks to all for the honour.
“I am sure he is looking down on us with a big smile on his face.”
Pickering’s athletic highlight was winning a Canadian trap shooting championship in 2008.
Pyne told the most interesting story at the induction ceremony.
“I was part of the event but I wasn’t there,” he said, in introducing the anecdote.
Pyne worked as a medical consultant for the Boston Red Sox when they won the World Series in 2018, was the medical board chairman for the Washington Nationals for four seasons including a World Series title in 2019, was a member of the medical staff for the Los Angeles Dodgers when they won the World Series in 2020 and was a medical consultant for the Toronto Raptors when they won the NBA title in 2019.
The story revolved around Game Six of the 2019 NBA Eastern Conference finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors in Toronto. Pyne was unable to attend the game because of his work with the Nationals so he called his twin brother, Kevin, and told him to get his credentials and go to the game because no one would know the difference.
“They win the game and at the end of the game, Masai (Raptors president Ujuri) comes and gets my brother and takes him on the floor. He was going crazy and it was the happiest day of his life. No one ever knew that it wasn’t me,” Keith Pyne said. “It was a beautiful moment.”
Keith paid tribute to his brother who died in April 2021.
“He was the greatest gift of my life,” he said.
Yerich brought the house down last Sunday with his heartfelt acceptance of the honour.
“I would like to thank city council and the sports wall of fame for everything,” he said.
His wife received the biggest thanks of all. He thanked her for understanding his sport and her cooking.
“She gave me the best food every day to give me strength.”