Niagara Gazette — Sports lore is littered with inspirational stories of beating overwhelming odds, pushing through physical limitations and finding success when it had been all but ruled out.
Hollywood has Rudy Reuttiger. Basketball has Magic Johnson. Baseball has Jim Abbott, and Kerri Strug and Lance Armstrong are just a few of the other names that have captivated the country at one point through their courage.
In the annals of Niagara University is a story comparable to any of those. It’s of Phil Scaffidi, a star basketball player benched by cancer, only to return to the court and remind followers of the meaning of perseverance.
NU honored the memory of one of its most celebrated alumni Sunday when it handed out Scaffidi bobbleheads to the first 1,200 attendees at its men’s basketball game against Rider at the Gallagher Center.
Scaffidi was raised in the Town of Tonawanda, the fourth of six children to his father, Joe, and mother, Marie. He starred in football, basketball, baseball and track at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, captaining the first three and being named to the All-Catholic team in all four as a senior.
He excelled at seemingly every sport he tried. St. Joe’s 880-yard relay team, which Scaffidi was part of, set a national record in 1972. He started at quarterback for the Marauders over Billy Hurley, who eventually went on to play the position at Syracuse University before switching to defensive back to play in the NFL. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a shortstop in the ninth round of the 1974 MLB Draft and played two years of Class A pro ball before returning to basketball after being offered a scholarship by then-NU coach Frank Layden prior to the 1975-76 season.
“(Scaffidi) was probably one of the three best all-around athletes ever to come out of Western New York,” said Joe Wolf, who served as St. Joe’s athletic director from 1966-2008 and coached Scaffidi on the school’s baseball team. “Anything Phil did, he did well. If you were playing a game of pickup basketball in the back yard, he’d give it his all. There were few people I ever knew that were as intense as he was.”