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Posted: 01/30/13


Above, Curt Reinas (1994, football) is one of six RHS Athletic Wall of Fame members currently coaching at Romeo High School.

(Photo courtesy of Cindy Wilson)
Below first photo, Teresa Bongiovanni is Romeo's most decorated Wall athlete, with eight All-State recognitions from 1998 to 2001. She was state champion in the 1600 meters in 1998.

(Photo courtesy of RunMichigan.com)
Below second photo, Clyde Cushingberry, right, and Blake, seated left, are among four basketball-playing Cushingberrys on the RHS Athletic Wall of Fame. The others are Cody and Justin Cushingberry.

(Photo courtesy of Lance Davis)
Below third photo, Dave Brown (1982, football) and Ben Brown (2008-09, football, track) are one of two father-son combinations on the RHS Athletic Wall of Fame.

(Photo courtesy Brown family)
Below fourth photo, Phil Webb was Romeo's first two-time All-State athlete and repeat Wall of Fame honoree (1981-82). He went on to play football at the University of Michigan under Bo Schembechler.

(Photo courtesy of U of M Athletic Dept.)

Wall of Fame captures personal
story of RHS sports history

by JERRY FRAEYMAN
Observer Special Writer
      Barnabo. Barr. Brown.
       Cunningham. Cushingberry.
       Dewitte. Roberts. Schmidt.
       To the unfamiliar, this might read like first-hour attendance at Romeo High School. Or bad haiku.
       Bulldog sports fans, however, will recognize it as a roll call of prominent names from RHS sports history.
       These and many others are enshrined on the RHS Athletic Wall of Fame. The Wall commemorates Bulldogs who attain All-State status, along with coaches elected to the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame.
       In all, 110<soon to be 115<individuals are recognized. They've earned 150 separate honors. They span 16 sports.
       Among current members, 69 are men, 41 are women. Marchelle Zorlen was the first female in 1983 for cross country.
       Collectively, they represent 45 years of Bulldog athletic history, tradition and achievement.
       Last week, we looked at criteria for getting on the Wall.
       This week, we break down the numbers and look at who has made it, how often, and from which sports.
       We also identify the Wall's most-decorated member, in the process opening the debate as to who is Romeo's greatest athlete.
      
       Familiar family names
       In 1968, opposing teams couldn't stop him and the basketball community couldn't ignore him. Clyde Cushingberry became Romeo's first All-State athlete and first Wall member.
       Since then, three other "Cush" family members have joined him. The brother trio of Justin (2003), Cody ('04) and Blake ('08)<Clyde's nephews<helped reinvigorate Romeo basketball and made Cushingberry the most-represented surname on the Wall.
       When asked his thoughts on being the founding member, Clyde defers and says there were many great Romeo athletes before him. He's not even sure he was truly Romeo's first All-Stater.
       But according to Michigan high school unofficial sports historian Ron Pesch of Muskegon, a check of the archives doesn't show anyone from Romeo prior to Clyde. So his status stands.
       Another well-represented family name on the Wall is Cunningham. Beth was added in 1993 (softball) and was joined by Erin in 1996 (softball, volleyball) and Emily, who made All-State in softball three straight years (1997-99).
       Fowler is another name that appears in triplicate: Zach (football, 1973), Michelle (three times herself for track, 1996-98, including once as state champion) and Arin (softball, 2000).
       A slew of families are twice represented. Two of them are father-son combinations: Dave Brown (football, 1982) and son Ben (football, 2008-09; track '09); and Mike Brunner (football, 1980) and son Sam (track, 2011).
       A half dozen sibling combinations make appearances, too. Alphabetically, they are: Ballenger (Jessica and Sara), Flinn (Ashley and Robbie), Norton (Brian and Scott), Saliga (Nathan and Jason, the latter pending for 2012 cross country), Schmidt (Catherine and Julia) and Stansbury (Derek and Valerie).
      
       Most-represented sport
       Ask fans to name RHS's best sport and you'll get a range of responses.
       But if by best you mean most-represented on the Wall, the answer is clear: wrestling.
       Twenty-two individual Bulldog wrestlers appear. Collectively, they've earned 27 All-State recognitions, including a three-time honoree (Scott Norton, 1998-2000) and three two-time winners: Andrew Migliano (1993-94), Nick Bara (2007-08) and Andrew Stebbins (2008-09).
       The sport with the next highest number of individuals is softball (18), followed by track and field (16 total; 7 men, 9 women), football (15), cross country (11; soon to be 14) and basketball (10; 7 men, 3 women).
       Other team totals: baseball, 5; swimming, 5; lacrosse, 3; tennis, 2; and bowling, diving, golf, soccer and volleyball, 1 each.
      
       By the years, by the decades
       When it comes to calendar year recognition, the greatest number to appear in a single year is 10. This occurred on three occasions: 2001, 2008 and 2011.
       Other years with sizable contingents include 1999 and 2000 (8 each); 2009 (7); and 1997, 1998 and 2006 (6 each). (The six-year span 1996-2001 was the heyday for Wall inclusion, with seven members added annually, on average.)
       Decade-wise, the 10-year period from 2000-09 added 46 to the Wall. In the 1990s, 31 people were added; the 1980s, 12; the 1970s, 4; the 1960s, 2.
       Since 2010, 19 athletes have been enshrined, with four pending from fall, 2012, a rate that puts this decade on pace to exceed the 2000s.
      
       State champs and multi-sports
       Appearing on the Wall for one sport is tough. How about two sports?
       Seven Wall members are multi-sport All-Staters: Adam Bennett (football, wrestling); Chad Bleske (football, wrestling); Teresa Bongiovanni (track, cross country); Ben Brown (football, track); Erin Cunningham (softball, volleyball); Sara DeWitte (softball, basketball); and Andrew Stebbins (wrestling, track).
       Equally elite are those who, when all was said and done, stood on the highest podium and were crowned state champions in their sport.
       Romeo has seven such athletes. Among them are the school's only sibling state champs (wrestlers Brian and Scott Norton) as well the only two-time state champ (shot putter Jessica Ballenger).
       RHS state champions: Ballenger, 1991 and `92; Chad Bleske, wrestling, 1996; Teresa Bongiovanni, track 1600 meters, 1998; Michelle Fowler, 1998; Brian Norton, 1997; Scott Norton, 1998; Nathan Saliga, track 400 meters, 2009.
      
       Most in a row, most in one year
       At least one Bulldog has appeared on the Wall for 23 straight years, dating back to 1990. Over that span, many sports have built up longevity streaks. The longest streaks are:
       • Wrestling, 11 straight years, 1993-2003
       • Wrestling, 7, 2006-12 (active)
       • Women's cross country, 7, 1996-2002
       • Women's track, 6, 1996-2001
       • Wrestling, 6, 1996-2001
       • Football, 5, 2008-12 (active; 2012 pending)
       • Men's track, 4, 2008-2011
       When it comes to teams with "most in one year" members, on nine different occasions a team produced three All-Staters from the same roster: 1990 softball; 1997 wrestling; 1999 women's cross country; 2000 women's track; 2001 women's cross country; 2001 wrestling; 2009 men's track; 2011 wrestling; 2012 men's cross country.
       On 22 other occasions, teams produced a pair of All-Staters, most recently in fall, 2012 for softball and men's swimming.
      
       On the Wall then, on the sideline now
       Many Bulldog Wall athletes can attribute their success to the coaching they received during their Romeo playing days. A half dozen Bulldog Wall members have returned to their alma mater and actively coached the sport in which they excelled. Chronologically, they are:
       • Clyde Cushingberry, 1968 honoree, now coaching basketball
       • Curt Reinas, 1994, football
       • TJ DeLamielleur, 1995, baseball
       • Ryan Tiseo, 2001, wrestling
       • Matt Stabley, 2006, wrestling
       • Blake Cushingberry, 2008, basketball
      
       Coaches Hall of Fame
       In addition to athletes, the Romeo Wall honors coaches. Five former Romeo coaches are enshrined in the HS Coaches Hall of Fame, with a sixth to be added in March, 2013:
       • Dan Barnabo, 1969
       • Jerry Barr, 1994
       • Richard Terry, golf, 2006
       • Ralph Wiktor, softball, 2007
       • Bruce Udvari, volleyball, 2008
       • Greg Ganfield, football, 2013 (pending).
      
       The most decorated
       It didn't take long after the Wall's creation for the first repeat-winner to appear.
       Phil Webb made back-to-back football All-State in 1981-82. Webb is among Romeo's best-ever athletes and went on to play football at the University of Michigan under Bo Schembechler.
       Since then, 21 other Bulldogs have earned repeat honors.
       At the top of the list as Romeo's most decorated athlete is runner Teresa Bongiovanni. She garnered eight individual All-State honors from 1998-2001<four in track, four in cross country<meaning she was twice-a-year All-State her entire HS career. Teresa won the 1600 meter track race as a freshman.
       Julia Schmidt was a schoolmate of Bongiovanni in the late '90s. Julia was a four-time All-State cross country runner in 1996-99. Julia's sister, Catherine, was cross country All-State in 2000, giving the Schmidts a five-year family run of All-State status.
       Another four-time All-Stater is Andy Stebbins. Stebbins<who now holds the Oakland University shot put record<was All-State in 2008-09 in wrestling and track.
       Six other Romeo athletes have been three-time All-State winners:
       • Emily Cunningham, softball
       • Sara DeWitte, softball (2), basketball
       • Michelle Fowler, track
       • Chris Hincks, cross country
       • Scott Norton, wrestling
       • Ian Roberts, lacrosse
      
       The greatest?
       As the Wall shows, Romeo has produced its share of stellar all-stars, some of whom went on to bigger and better things after leaving Romeo.
       Examples include: Amy Steiner (tennis, 1996) who went on to become a collegiate All-American at Butler University; and Liz Murphy, who became a multiple All-American and record holder at Grand Valley State University.
       Which begs the question: Who has been Romeo's greatest athlete?
       Have recollections, memories or insights into Romeo Wall of Fame athletes? Got an opinion on the "Greatest Bulldog?" Interested in receiving a spreadsheet documenting all of the Wall of Fame members? Email romeowall@comcast.net.
      
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