By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart
There wasn’t a dry eye in the Baldwin Gym on Sunday, January 22nd, as SUNY Broome officially welcomed a new Hornet to the men’s basketball team. After over three-quarters of a century, Peter Vallese Sr. (MT ’49) was finally added to the roster, fulfilling a dream decades in the making.
SUNY Broome Foundation and Alumni Affairs staff first met Peter Vallese Sr. when he attended the 2022 Alumni Reunion and quickly became the star of the evening. Vallese, a member of the College’s first graduating class, visited with fellow alumni throughout the event and never hesitated to speak about his lifelong appreciation for his education from SUNY Broome. When selecting a cover story for the fall 2022 edition of BROOME Magazine, the Foundation knew the perfect alum to feature.
After graduating from Vestal Central High School, Vallese knew that he wanted to do two things – to go to college and to play basketball. As a mechanically-minded farm boy who wanted to design and craft tools, studying Mechanical Engineering Technology: A.A.S at “State Tech” (the New York State Institute of Applied Arts & Sciences at Binghamton, now known as SUNY Broome) seemed like the best fit, especially because the new State Tech had a basketball team.
After making it past all of the trial practices, Vallese was cut just moments before the opening tip-off. Last minute, a WWII veteran qualified to play, bumping Vallese’s spot on the roster. While he understood, and genuinely appreciated the veteran’s recent service for our country, his dismissal from the team was a deeply crushing blow that left a lingering ache.
When Foundation Executive Director, Cathy Williams, overheard Peter Vallese wishfully mention to his interviewer from BROOME Magazine that he was, after three-quarters of a century, “still holding out for a spot on the team,” her heart broke. She knew that something had to be done.
Williams wasn’t the only one moved by Peter Vallese’s seventy-five-year longing for a spot on State Tech’s basketball team. When Director of Athletics, Colleen Cashman, read the feature on Vallese, she immediately contacted Williams and offered to help make his dream of becoming a Hornet come to fruition. Together, with the help of Vallese’s daughter and fellow SUNY Broome alum, Janice Cornell (DH ’73), they set a plan in motion to officially name Peter Vallese Sr. an honorary lifetime member of SUNY Broome’s men’s basketball team.
Vallese simply thought that he was spending his Sunday afternoon watching a basketball game at his alma mater with his daughter. Donning a SUNY Broome basketball warm-up jacket (a recent Christmas gift designed to plant the seed for the upcoming surprise), Vallese was shocked to notice so many of his family members and friends in the stands. A fun coincidence.
As the starting line-up was announced, a sixth player was asked to step onto the court. “From Endicott, New York, Peter Vallese Sr.” It all clicked.
Vallese was met by SUNY Broome’s President, Dr. Kevin Drumm, Cathy Williams, and Colleen Cashman, and was presented with an official State Tech basketball jersey, personalized with his name and number. He was also given a framed certificate that praised his unfailing dedication and granted him the status of a lifelong, honorary team member.
Moved by Vallese’s decades-long appreciation for collegiate-level basketball, the coaches and players of visiting Finger Lakes Community College asked if they, too, could share in the celebration as fellow SUNY student-athletes. Before tip-off, competitors gathered mid-court to meet and congratulate Vallese and pose for pictures. Vallese wished the players well and returned to his court-side seat, beaming.
The Foundation and Alumni Affairs team hosted a small reception at half-time, where over thirty members of the Vallese and Skinner families snacked on treats and applauded Peter on his athletic honor. Professor and Chairperson of Communications & Media Arts Tim Skinner is Vallese’s nephew and played a critical role in spreading the word to fellow family members about the Foundation’s plan to celebrate his uncle.
“I have always been so impressed with and appreciative of our Foundation’s support and care for SUNY Broome alumni, but today’s event honoring Uncle Pete’s decades-long desire to play basketball for SUNY Broome is my favorite alumni event ever. This is such a special day for our family,” said Skinner.
A smile never left Vallese’s face as he thanked each family member, friend, and campus community member for sharing in such a special moment in his life.
“I can’t put it into words. I was never expecting this. I appreciate everything SUNY Broome has done for me, and I am very honored to represent my school.”