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By Andrew Legare

Chemung County Hall of Fame Committe

This year's return of the Josh Palmer Fund Clarion Classic high school basketball tournament will coincide with the first inductions of new members of the Chemung County Sports Hall of Fame since 2019.

The Hall of Fame class will include eight inductees, with the ceremony set to take place before the final game of the opening day of the Palmer tournament on Dec. 27 at Elmira High School. It will follow the 6:45 p.m. girls game between Bishop Kearney and Horseheads and precede the 8:30 girls contest between Elmira and St. Francis Prep.

Inductees are Eli Thomas, Joe Bennett, James Sampsell, Dick Craft, Andy Hastings, Robert Kelly and Marty Chalk.

Craft, Sampsell and Hastings will be inducted in the Legends category, Kelly in the coaching category and Chalk as a contributor. The late Bill Huddle, originally to be a Legends member of the 2019 class, will also be inducted after his family could not make that ceremony.

The Palmer tournament and Hall of Fame inductions were not held the previous two years because of the COVID pandemic.

About the inductions

Inductees were voted on by the Chemung County Sports Hall of Fame committee based on nominations submitted from committee members and members of the public. Nomination forms for future years and a list of current Hall of Fame members are available at

Athletes must be inducted into their school Hall of Fame to be considered and need to have been graduated from high school for at least five years.

Eli Thomas

Thomas is a 2014 graduate of Elmira Free Academy and in 2013 had one of the best seasons ever for a high school football player in Elmira while competing for the Express.

Thomas led Elmira to a 10-1 record, the Section 4 Class AA title and a victory in the state quarterfinals. He carried 137 times for 1,252 yards and finished with 1,803 all-purpose yards. His play at safety contributed to him being named first-team all-state in AA by the New York State Sports Writers Association. Thomas also won the Ernie Davis Award, given to the top player in Chemung County.

He excelled in track & field before suffering the first of multiple torn ACLs his senior season. Thomas qualified for nationals in the 1,000-meter relay.

Thomas was also a standout basketball player at Elmira, helping the Blue Devils to two STAC West titles.

Thomas went on to play college football at Lackawanna, UConn and Minnesota State. A stroke cut short his UConn career, but Thomas bounced back to finish his college career for Minnesota State in 2021.

Joe Bennett

Bennett was also a first-team all-state selection in football, doing so in 1997 while at Elmira Notre Dame. He caught 26 passes for 841 yards and 10 touchdowns that season to lead the Crusaders to a 9-1 record and division title while playing for his uncle, Mike D'Aloisio. Bennett also registered eight quarterback sacks at defensive end and had 45 tackles.

In basketball, he averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds during his senior season, earning All-Sullivan Trail Conference honors. Bennett had 19 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Crusaders' 68-45 win over Marathon in the Section 4 Class C-2 championship game his junior season.

Bennett went on to earn Division II All-American honors as a receiver at Mansfield University. He finished with 156 catches to rank third all-time at the school while topping the program chart in yards (2,695) and touchdowns (29). He was inducted into the Mansfield University Hall of Fame in 2021.

Marty Chalk

Chalk's contributions to sports in the Elmira area date back to 1966, when he became sports director at WELM Radio and did play-by-play for Elmira Pioneers and high school games. He continued in that job until 1972 and in 1971 was play-by-play announcer for Cornell football, calling games that featured Ed Marinaro during the future actor's run to second place in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

Chalk was official scorer for the Pioneers and was vice president for the minor league team from 1981 until 1983. He was a member of the Elmira-Corning All Sports Committee from 1987 to 2005, including a stint as president. Chalk has been a member of the Chemung County Sports Hall of Fame committee since 2005, serving as president for part of that stretch, and is recognizable as PA announcer for games at the Palmer tournament.

Dick Craft

Craft was a three-sport standout at Elmira Notre Dame and was later a successful assistant and head football coach for the Crusaders.

The 1976 END graduate earned All-Twin Tiers honors in football three times and during his senior season of 1975 was chosen all-state. He played three seasons of baseball for Notre Dame and wrestled two seasons.

Craft earned All-ECAC honors as a placekicker, first at RIT and later at Alfred University. He also played offensive line. He missed only three field goals and two PATs in two seasons at Alfred in 1978 and 1979. Craft participated in NFL preseasons in 1982 and 1983, first with Washington and then with Buffalo.

He was an assistant football coach at Notre Dame from 1983 to 2000, helping the team to an intersectional title in 1990, before there was a state tournament in New York, and a berth in the 1998 Class C state final. He guided END to a Section 4 final as head coach in 2001, then went on to become an assistant at Southside from 2002 to 2005 and EFA in 20016.

Andy Hastings

He graduated from Southside in 1976 after excelling in football, basketball and track for the Green Hornets.

In Southside's 7-0 win over Elmira Free Academy in the 1976 Erie Bell game at Dunn Field, the only touchdown came via a 90-yard punt return from Hastings. The late Al Mallette of the Star-Gazette wrote Hastings might have been "the Twin Tiers' finest tight end" after Hastings caught two touchdowns against Sayre. Hastings earned All-Sullivan Trail Conference football honors.

Hastings, who also attended Thomas A. Edison, played three seasons of college football at the University of South Carolina. Teammates included running back George Rogers, winner of the 1980 Heisman Trophy.

As a senior in 1979, Hastings intercepted two passes while helping the Gamecocks to an 8-4 record and appearance in the Hall of Fame Classic in Birmingham, Alabama.

Hastings' professional career has included multiple CEO positions. He has been CEO and managing partner of AIM Building Materials in Plano, Texas, since 2011.

Bill Huddle

He graduated from Elmira Notre Dame in 1966 and was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 1994. Huddle earned all-city basketball honors in 1965 and 1966, scoring 342 points as a senior, which at the time ranked No. 2 in program history.

Huddle went on to play basketball and baseball for the University of Rochester, earning a total of six letters.

He captained Rochester's basketball team in 1969-70. Huddle, uncle of two-time Olympian Molly Huddle, died in 2018.

Robert Kelly

Kelly ranks among the most successful high school basketball coaches in Elmira history, most notably coaching the Notre Dame girls basketball team to back-to-back Class C state championships in 2006 and 2007, the only girls basketball state championships for an Elmira school.

His teams posted a record of 168-48 from 2003 to 2013, winning three Section 4 titles.

Kelly has gone on to great success as girls basketball coach at Waverly High School, where he is a business teacher.

As a basketball player for the Crusaders, Kelly contributed to consecutive Section 4 championships in 1979 and 1980 while playing for Mike Johnston Sr.

Jim Sampsell

Sampsell earned six varsity letters at Elmira Free Academy before graduating in 1958, notably playing a key role in the Blue Devils' 52-game winning streak in basketball while playing alongside Ernie Davis. Academy toppled 27 opponents in winning division, conference and sectional championships in 1956-57. The next season the Blue Devils repeated those titles and posted a 25-0 record.

He was a four-year starter on EFA's varsity baseball team and was captain for the Blue Devils as a senior. As a junior, he was named Junior Association of Commerce (JAC) Player of the Year in baseball.

Sampsell went on to start at catcher for Ithaca College and played professionally in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. He died in May of 2020 at age 81.



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