Hall of Fame Class of 2013

Philip Schuyler High School, 1940

Manny Abrookin was a staunch supporter of Albany public schools, an outspoken advocate for children and a driving force behind career and technical education in the district.

A lifelong Albany resident, Abrookin grew up in the South End. He attended the former School 14 and Hackett Junior High School and graduated from Philip Schuyler High School in 1940.

After graduation, he played semipro football, served in the Navy and became a machinist and toolmaker at the Watervliet Arsenal. Married in 1949, he and his wife moved to a home on Pinewood Avenue. He joined the PTA in the 1950s when his children attended School 19 and remained an active parent through their years in Albany public schools, eventually becoming president of the City Council PTA.

In 1971 he was one of 17 candidates that ran for seven seats on the Albany Board of Education. Although he lost, in 1973 he was appointed to the district’s Occupational Center Advisory Council (the Occupational Center was the previous name of the school that now bears Abrookin’s name). He also became a member of the district Facilities Planning Committee in 1990.

In those capacities, he fought for equitable funding for programs for “occupational” education, a term that morphed to “vocational” then “career and technical education.” Basically, he believed the district should devote resources to non-college-bound students so in order to equip those students with a trade. It was a mission of his to advocate and support these programs to graduate job-ready students.

Abrookin always was a fixture at Albany public school events, from school plays to awards banquets to sports events. He also was a member of dozens of civic and community groups, included but not limited to:

  • Gov. Mario M.  Cuomo's Skilled Worker Emeritus Program
  • Albany Police Athletic League
  • Knights of Pythias
  • Temple Israel
  • Albany National Little League
  • Disabled American Veterans

His commitment to the district was first and foremost, though. The accomplishments of which he was most proud include:

  • Advocating for the Occupational Center
  • Starting school board meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance
  • Allowing senior citizens to take adult education classes free of charge
  • Having “Drug Free Zone” signs places within 1,000 feet of our schools
  • Creating the district’s AIDS and Substance Abuse Council

Three heart attacks didn’t prevent him being a cheerleader for the district, despite the sense that he felt dismissed by some of his fellow board members. Three weeks before he died of congestive heart failure in August 1994, he referred to himself as a “South Ender against the World” and said “I don’t give up” in a letter introducing himself to incoming superintendent Arthur “Sam” Walton.

District files contain hundreds of handwritten letters to superintendents, principals and other district personnel – detailed, thoughtfully composed pages on any number of school district issues. His passion and compassion for Albany public schools is evident in notes and memos that are preserved in these dusty files, testaments to why Emanuel “Manny” Abrookin is included in the 2013 Hall of Fame.

Albany High School, 1958

Judith A. Greenwood made Latin come to life.

A 1958 Albany High School graduate, she returned to her alma mater to teach Latin after her summa cum laude graduation from the University at Albany, then known as Albany State.

A former colleague said this about her: "Entering her room brought you back in time  to the Roman Era . As she taught, her passion spread across the room. For Judy and her students, Latin was alive."

Her thorough knowledge of and unbridled enthusiasm for Latin, coupled with the love and respect she had for her students, led to an unprecedented growth in the Latin program at Albany High School. Her reputation alone prompted students to sign up for Latin -- students who might otherwise have selected a more modern language -- with "Magistra" Greenwood.

She created the Albany High Latin Club, which held an annual celebration of "Saturnalia" -- an ancient Roman festival that honors the deity Saturn. The word is "Saturnalia" is synonymous with extravaganza, and under Greenwood's direction, it certainly was, becoming one of the most popular social events run and managed by students.

Her love of teaching and love of Albany High School permeated everything she did. She twice was nominated as New York State Teacher of the Year by then-Albany High Principal John Bach, and repeatedly recognized as as the teacher who had the most influence on her students. 

Said another former colleague, "She was a model of teaching excellence, love and admired by all who knew her as a teacher, colleague and friend."

 

Albany High School, 1993

Ellakisha Williamson O’Kelley knows a thing or two about clearing hurdles – ones on the track and ones that life tosses at you.
The 1993 Albany High School alumna – to be inducted into the City School District of Albany Hall of Fame this October – graduated with many track and field records, including two that still stand (400-meter hurdles and pentathalon).

Her first experience in track was as an Albany High freshman sprinter. Competing in the hurdles was a fluke that happened sophomore year.

“I was goofing around at practice and I jumped over a hurdle. And coach Leung was, like, you’re going to do that. And it went from there,” O’Kelley said.
She finished high school as a top competitor in the state with plans to attend Seton Hall University on a full track scholarship.

Then she got pregnant.

The scholarship vaporized and she focused on being a good parent.

But she still wanted to run and go to college.

“I told myself, ‘I will not be a statistic. I will finish,’” she said.

She earned an Educational Opportunity Program scholarship to the State University of New York at Albany, where she started in 1995. She carried a full course load, cared for her daughter and shattered virtually every UAlbany women’s record in sprinting and hurdling.

In 1998 she transferred to the University of South Carolina with a scholarship. There, she became a six-time All American (twice in the 100-meter hurdles, once as a member of the 4 x 100 relay team and three times as a member of the 4 x 400 relay team).

In 2000, she competed in the 100-meter hurdles at the United States Olympic trials. Her fourth-place finish made her an alternate to the Sydney Olympics. She also got a bachelor’s degree in criminology that year, after being inducted into Alpha Pi Sigma Honor Society.

For the next three years O’Kelley continued to compete for the United States around the world, taking a break to get married, have a son and get a master’s degree in business administration. She started training again in 2004, and in 2008 was an Olympic trials semifinalist.

Then she blew out her knee.

“It was so hard. It was forced retirement at the height of my career,” O’Kelley said.

In 2009 she became head coach for men’s and women’s cross country and track and field at Fort Valley State University in Georgia. Under her guidance, the school produced 27 NCAA qualifiers,19 track and field All-Americans and 34 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference individual champions.

O’Kelley said the full-circle experience of competing and coaching piqued her interest in the legal side of professional sports. So much so that she’s now in her second year of law school at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School.

“I envision having a huge company that helps professional athletes sustain themselves off the track, off the field, off the court,” she said.

In other words, helping other athletes clear their own hurdles.

Albany High School, 1931

Joseph Robelotto's life was the achievement of the American dream.

When he tried to enter elementary school in Albany in the early 1900s, he was denied admission because he didn't speak English. His father got him a tutor and he entered the school system a year later. He went on to graduate from Albany High School in 1931.

While a student, he excelled in football, basketball and baseball. He also discovered a love of bowling after working part-time setting up pins in the Knights of Columbus Hall on North Pearl Street.

He returned to Albany after graduating from New York University and joined the physical education department at William S. Hackett Middle School, There, he met Emma Botteghi, whom he married in 1940. While teaching at Hackett, he coached football at Albany High and played semi-pro baseball.

In 1955, after receiving a master's from NYU and his administrative certification, he became the first principal of Italian-American descent appointed in the City School District of Albany after being named principal of the former School 1 and School 15. When these two schools merged to become Giffen Memorial Elementary School, he became its first principal. During the turbulent times of the 1960s, he was able to lead, work with and connect with students, teachers and families. He was principal at Giffen for 16 years, retiring in 1976 after a 36-year career in the district.

He also was active local, state and national bowling associations. He was instrumental in the development of a tournament program involving professional bowlers from around the country, an association that evolved into what's known today as the Professional Bowlers Association. He was secretary of the American Bowling Association for more than 30 years and in 1974 became the President of the American Bowling Congress. He was considered one of the top authorities in the country on bowling rules, regulations, equipment and facilities.

At the golden anniversary of the Albany Bowling Association , he was named as the man who had had the greatest impact on local bowling over the 50-year history of that group. He established a scholarship program, the Joseph and Emma Robelotto Bowling Scholarship, which is given to young bowlers from the area to help defray college costs.

He died in 1989 at the age of 76 after a brief illness.

Albany High School, 1970

Between 1967 and 1970, Rudy Vido was a star in three Albany High School sports.

He excelled in wrestling and shot put, but his skill on the gridiron earned him the most plaudits. His senior year he scored 11 touchdowns, including, in the first game, a 55-yard run on the first play and four touchdowns in the first the half. As a Falcon, he earned All-Albany, All Class A and All-Area first team honors as a linebacker and halfback. He also made first team for the Times Union's High School All-Time Team and in 1970 was included in Street and Smith's "Top 100 in America."

Vido started wrestling as a senior. That year, he was Class A and Section II unlimited weight class champ and competed in the state championships. Also as a senior, he won the Albany County title in shot put and in 1970 came in second at both sectionals and states.

Vido, a 6-foot-2, 248-pound defensive end, started on UAlbany’s first varsity football team. In 1973, he was named the program’s outstanding defensive lineman with 105 tackles, seven sacks, and one blocked punt. Vido, an All-Metroland choice, also played on the school’s only undefeated football team in 1974. He totaled 80 tackles, six sacks and three fumble recoveries. Vido became the first UAlbany player to ink a professional contract, when he signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots. He went on to play for the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts and was a four-time Empire State League defensive MVP as a semi-professional for the Albany Metro Mallers.

In track and field, Vido won four consecutive SUNY Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) shot put championships. He earned All-America recognition as a junior, and qualified for NCAA Division III nationals and the IC4A championships on three occasions. Vido still holds the school record with a toss of 54 feet, 4.25 inches in 1973.

As a wrestler, Vido was a two-time SUNYAC heavyweight champion and won three varsity letters. He reached the NCAA Division III quarterfinal round in 1974 and claimed a New York State title. Vido was the state runner-up with an undefeated dual meet record as a junior. He was named the 1973-74 Athlete of the Year by the Albany Student Press

Vido also played semi-pro ball for Albany Metro Mallers, where he earned All-League Honors and four defensive MVP awards. He was named to the 1977 Sporting News Minor League All-American first team, where he was credited 125 tackles and 10 sacks during the '77 season.

Vido worked as the behavioral program director for the Millview Traumatic Brain Injury Program. He also coached Colonie Pop Warner football. Vido died April 18, 2017.

Albany High School, 1957

Brookert "June" Willingham was an icon of youth basketball in Albany.

He attended the former School 6 and Philip Livingston Junior High School and entered Albany High School as a promising young basketball player. The deaths of his father and brother forced him to become the head of the household as a young man, but he continued to excel in the sport that he loved.

During his senior year, he led the Albany High varsity team to the state championships. The Times Union called him, "a floor player de-luxe ... one big reason why Albany High School is 4-0 atop the Class A League championship basketball race."

Willingham went on to Hudson Valley Community College and the University at Albany, graduating as a draftsman. He worked for many years as a draftsman for the New York state Department of Tax and Finance and the City of Albany. He also was an outstanding football player and a founder of the semi-pro team that became known as the Metro Mallers.

But his lifelong ambition was to give everyone who wanted to play ball an opportunity to play.

It was Willingham's dream to be able to teach young people the skills they needed to make their high school teams and beyond. He believed that keeping kids engaged in sports twelve months a year kept them off the streets and out of trouble. And he believed every child could live up to his or her potential with a little guidance and attention.

In order to make that dream a reality, he visited Albany City Hall every day until he convinced then-Mayor Erastus Corning to provide financing for what became St. Joseph's Community Center in the former St. Joseph's Academy on North Swan Street. It became the home of Arbor Hill basketball, softball and baseball leagues, but it was the lights and night games on the basketball court that drew the best players from the Capital Region and beyond.

Willingham was founder and coach of the Arbor Hill All-Stars Basketball Club. He coached and mentored hundreds of outstanding young players during the next years, including Luther "Ticky" Burden, Ron Carrington, Joe Quickley, Milton and James "Skeeter" Horne, Charlie "Tinky" Leigh and Calvin Nicholson. In fact, of the 76 players inducted into the inaugural class of the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame, at least 15 played in the summer basketball program on North Swan Street.

Willingham always looked at the youth of Arbor Hill as family and devoted his life to achieving his goal of giving youth a chance to excel. The rec program he fought for became a community center and was the first program to provide a safe haven for Arbor Hill kids after school and in the evening.

Willingham died in 2002. But city leaders paid tribute to his accomplishments in 2009 by naming the North Swan Street playground --  where some of the area's best got their start -- the Brookert "June" Willingham Basketball Court.