Childhood Memories of Games and Sports

April 12th, 2019

By John Marks, Curator of Collections

In March we hosted a panel discussion, “Lessons for Life: Sports in Geneva,” with local coaches. Panelists included Nan Demuth, Steve Muzzi, Carl Wenzel, Aliceann Wilber, and Mike Hanna. The first question from moderator Anne Dealy was about their earliest experiences with games and sports. While Steve was the only Geneva native, their childhood memories raised common points about how we view sports when we’re young.

woman holding a certificate

Nan DeMuth

A physical education teacher at Geneva and DeSales High Schools, Nan DeMuth was a pioneer in women’s sports. She graduated from Auburn High School in 1946 and went on to Cortland where she earned her bachelors and master’s degrees. Nan founded the AAU-affiliated Finger Lakes Track and Field Club in 1964, a decade before Title IX (1972) required equal athletic opportunities through schools.

“I was a country girl, so anything I did, we had to be brought into Auburn. My father on Saturday would take my brother and I… to one of the playgrounds to play ball.  As long as we had a bat, a ball, and a glove, we were welcome….But that’s the first start, playgrounds. They were more active then.”


man with a glasses and a mustache

Steve Muzzi

A 1972 graduate of DeSales High School, Steve Muzzi taught at DeSales and Geneva High School for 43 years.  At both schools he coached girls’ basketball and cross-country.  His DeSales basketball teams won three sectional and three league titles as well as a western regional title.

“My earliest recollections of playing sports was at the playgrounds. We lived halfway between Neider [on North Genesee Street] and Gulvin [on Middle Street]. When I was very little I had to go with my sisters to Neider. I remember playing softball, they used to have softball leagues between the playgrounds back then. A little bit older, I would go to Gulvin. A lot of basketball games at Gulvin, and baseball games.”

Carl Wenzel coached the Geneva High School boys’ basketball team from 1980 to 2001, winning three Finger Lakes East titles and two Section V championships.

Man standing in front of a chalk board

Carl Wenzel

“I grew up in Syracuse. Much like what one of the other guys was saying, my earliest sports were just playing pickup games, playing baseball – we had a bat and a ball that we used to rip, we’d tape it up with electricians’ tape and kept using it…We used to go [to the playgrounds], no matter what, you had some kind of game, whether it was baseball, basketball, pickup kickball,…[we] learn[ed] how to get into arguments and win arguments and lose arguments and still have friends.”


Woman in a white shirt

Aliceann Wilber

Aliceann Wilber grew up near Penn Yan. Although she’s known for her skills coaching the William Smith College soccer team since 1980 (555 wins and two national championships), her childhood sports dreams were more individual.

“Like Nan, I was a country girl, I grew up on a farm, pre-Title IX. My dreams were always to be, 1) Olympic figure skater – I had no skates, but I practiced in my boots, on the pond and anything frozen. [2)} I wanted to be a track star, so I ran, I couldn’t tell you how many races I ran against myself up and down the farm lanes. “

Mike Hanna, Hobart College athletic director from 1981 to 2017, grew up in Corry, Pennsylvania, a town of about 7,000 people in the northwest part of the state. While his experiences of neighborhood games without coaches and referees were similar to the other panelists, he had a unique story.

head shot of a man

Mike Hanna

“We loved track and field, I’m talking when we were 9, 10 years old. We would have races in the street, sprint races, but we loved the high jump. So we would go over to [the local lumber mill] and scrounge some 2x4s, and cove molding, and sawdust, and we’d make a high jump pit. I think we had some of the best 8 year-old high jumpers in the…[audience laughter].”

For more information on about the evolution of school sports from recess games to team sports, visit the Historical Society’s latest exhibit Panthers & Saints: High School Sports in Geneva.

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