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Crist remembered as ultra-competitor, versatile athlete

Football gave Chuck Crist his fame, but according to followers of his athletic career, it could have been any number of sports.

Fred Saradin, three years Crist’s junior, recalled watching the Salamanca High School athletic legend excel at any sport he put his mind to, from football to basketball to baseball and track and field in the spring.

“When you’re a freshman, the seniors seem like giants,” said Saradin, a ‘71 SHS grad. “Chuck was a giant at that time because he was so good. It’s corny, but he was my hero. Everybody loved what he could do on the field. There are great artists, people are born to sing or paint, and I believe Chuck was one in a million that just had that natural ability where it came to a ball, he was just fantastic.’”

Crist died in his sleep Wednesday morning at the Cleveland Clinic after a long illness. He was 69. He left an indelible athletic legacy to those who saw him perform, from high school in the 1960s, college basketball at Penn State or in the NFL for the New York Giants, New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers.

Saradin, now the Olean city auditor, said he saw every game of Crist’s senior year in basketball (1967-68), serving as statistician for coach Roger Crandall. He also attended every football game he could from grades seven through 12.

But the two most impressive feats he witnessed occurred in two other sports.

CRIST WOULD return to Salamanca in the offseason during his NFL career and played for local fast-pitch softball teams. Saradin played with Crist and remembers a stunning home run against legendary pitcher Jim Adamczak in a 24-team tournament held at Jamestown.

“Jim Adamczak was untouchable, he threw the ball so hard and he had a riser that he’d strike out 17, 18 batters. Nobody ever hit Jim Adamczak,” Saradin said. “Well, a friend of mine said he went to the tournament that year and as he’s pulling into the parking lot, here’s a ball, a rocket that was going over the fence. Adamczak was pitching. And the guy that hit it was Chuck. Nobody hit a home run off Adamczak, but Chuck did.”

The other stunning memory, Saradin said, was on the track. First he saw Crist’s competitive spirit, then his athletic ability. After a JV baseball game or practice, Saradin made his way to watch a track meet at Veteran’s Park against Dunkirk, which had future Syracuse running back Bob Barlette, a great sprinter who boasted a 9.6 time in the 100-yard dash.

“That’s unbelievable. I thought I’m going to go over there and watch this guy because 9.6 was unheard of then, it’s still a time that’s hard to believe. So I thought, I’m going to watch him run,” Saradin recalled.