Two highly-successful coaches who approached 500 victories - one in basketball and one in baseball -and an official who called the games for more than a half-century have been added to the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Hall of Fame's Class of 2012.
Gene Ammirante, who guided Bellaire High's boys' basketball teams to 471 victories, and Gary Sprague, who led The Linsly School's baseball teams to 488 wins, will be inducted in the Coaches category while Bill Tonini of Hannibal is this year's honoree as an Official.
Over the next three weeks, the OVAC Hall of Fame athletes (selected from each decade dating back to the 1940s) will be announced.
The Robinson Auto Group serves as sponsor of the OVAC Hall of Fame, which along with the OVAC Museum is on permanent display inside WesBanco Arena.
Here's a look at the Hall of Fame selections in the Coaches and Officials categories:
Gene Ammirante (Wheeling Central Catholic High School, Class of 1969). When you think of Ammirante, you think of two things passion and success. During his 30-year career as head boys' basketball coach at Bellaire High, "Coach A" displayed plenty of the former and achieved plenty of the latter.
Ammirante began his coaching career in 1976 as an assistant to Mark Matz at Bellaire before beginning a successful run as head coach of the Big Reds.
He compiled an impressive 471-205 career record at Bellaire, the all-time best coaching record in boys' basketball at the school. That included a 189-41 mark during the 1990s, an average of 19 wins per season during that 10-year span.
Bellaire High achieved Top 20 rankings in Ohio 15 times under Ammirante; won 14 Ohio Valley Athletic Conference championships; 14 sectional crowns; six district titles and one regional championship as Bellaire earned its first ever-trip to the OHSAA Division III State Tournament "Final Four" in 2003-04, tying the school record for wins (22) before losing to Versailles in double-overtime in the semifinals..
His teams posted two undefeated regular seasons, going 20-0 in 1993-94 and 2005-06; and two 19-1 records; and the 2005-06 team broke the school record with 23 victories.
Among Ammirante's numerous awards were "Coach of the Year" for Ohio Division II, the Eastern District and District 12 as well as the OVAC overall "Coach of the Year" in 2003-04; and the Bob Arnzen Award for 20 consecutive years at the same school (1996).
He was also selected to coach the South squad in the annual Ohio North-South All-Star Game in Columbus in 1997.
He served as Game Director for the Samuel A. Mumley OVAC All-Star Basketball Classic on two different occasions and is still active on the committee; founded and directed the OVAC Basketball Clinic for six years; is director of the Wheeling Recreation Department's Youth Basketball Program; and started the annual Saturday Morning Fundamental Feeder Program and Basketball Camp at Bellaire. He received the OVAC's Earl Haberfield Boys' Basketball Coaches Award earlier this year.
Ammirante received his bachelor's degree from West Liberty State College in 1973 and his master's from West Virginia University in 1976.
Gary Sprague (Needham (Mass.) High School, Class of 1964). He piloted the Linsly School baseball program from 1974-2006, compiling an impressive 33-year record of 488-257-1, which ranks fourth all-time among Ohio Valley coaches.
He led the Cadets to 13 OVAC Tournament championships - more than any other conference coach (1982, '85, '86, '87, '89, '90, '91, '94, '95, '97, 2001, '03, '05, '06) and coached Linsly to five Eastern Ohio Baseball League titles (1987, '88, '90, '95 and '96)..
Sprague was named OVAC "Coach of the Year in 1986 after guiding the Cadets to a 27-4 record and EOBL "Coach of the Year" three times.
He coached six athletes who went on to play professional sports Heath Haynes, Ron Stephens, Kevin Tatar, Mike Coss and Mark Seaver in baseball and Willie Clay in the NFL. He also coached a total of 13 first team all-state players including two captains; five OVAC "Player of the Year" winners and four West Virginia American Legion "Player of the Year" selections.
He also coached freshman football at Linsly.
Sprague received the Carl R. Hamill Award from the Upper Ohio Valley Dapper Dan Club and was the recipient of the OVAC's Thomas E. Rataiczak Scorekeeper/Timer Award in 2009 after nearly three decades as the timer at Linsly basketball games.
Sprague graduated from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1968.
Bill Tonini (Avella (Pa.) High School, Class of 1940). "Play ball!" Considering the fact that his career as an umpire spanned an incredible seven decades, perhaps no one has uttered those words more than Tonini.
He spent a total of 52 years working countless baseball games throughout the Ohio Valley and beyond from 1957-2010 while also serving 30 years as a football official and 10 years as a basketball referee.
His expertise as an umpire, primarily behind home plate calling balls and strikes, earned Tonini numerous high school post-season assignments, including five state tournaments in Ohio and five in West Virginia. He also umpired more than 30 years of OVAC Tournament action.
Tonini worked NCAA Division III College World Series games in Marietta a total of 10 times; several NCAA Division I games involving Ohio State and Ohio University; a host of American Legion games in the summer and three years in the minor leagues, including the Northwest League in Eugene, Oregon and Walla Walla, Washington.