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Niekro Classic: ‘The Last Pitch’ scheduled for Friday

Record number of golfers to tee off at Belmont Hills CC

BRIDGEPORT BOARD of Education member Jerry Moore lines up a short putt during the 2019 Niekro Classic golf tournament. This year will be “The Last Pitch” of the Classic.

BRIDGEPORT — It’s been said on more than one occasion that ‘all good things must to come to an end.’ Unfortunately, that scenario will play out Friday at Belmont Hills Country Club just west of St. Clairsville.

An overflow — and record — field of 196 golfers will tee off for the final time in the 22nd annual Niekro Classic golf tournament. With the passing of the event’s namesake — Phil Niekro — on Dec. 26 of last year, this year’s tournament has been declared the last and has been called “The Last Pitch of the Niekro Classic.”

“This all started with Brian Schambach asking Phil what they could do for the school and they came up with the BEAF Program at Bridgeport High School,” Classic co-organizer Gordie Longshaw recalled. “Along with board of education member Don Cash they worked hard to organize this program. It helped kids with their reading. If they excelled, they were rewarded with trips to Kennywood. Over the years the program also helped girls who couldn’t afford gowns for prom, as well as the athletic department.”

The Classic was halted last year by COVID-19. The postponement was the second in the history of the event. It was delayed in 2017 — the 20th anniversary of the Niekro’s induction into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame — due to inclement weather, but it was held later that summer.

On Thursday, a hospitality gala for the event sponsors will begin a series of events leading up to Alumni Weekend activities. It will begin at 5:30 p.m., and will also be held at Belmont Hills Country Club.

The public is invited at $25 per person, which includes one drink, hors d’oeuvres, entertainment by magician Mike Strough and comedian/former Major League Baseball pitcher John Worten.

According to co-organizer Stephanie Mendelson, some of the long-time major sponsors of the event include Belmont Petroleum, Wilson’s Furniture, Unified Bank (formely Citizens Bank), Lansing Sportsmen’s Club, Sands Electric, and Belmont Savings Bank.

Major League Baseball Hall of Famer and former Tiltonsville standout and Pittsburgh Pirates great, Bill Mazeroski, can’t make it since he moved to Philadelphia, according to Longshaw.

The list of celebrities won’t be as in depth as in years past due to the Pittsburgh Pirates. One former Pirate, Neil Walker, has a good excuse.

The Pirates will welcome back and celebrate “The Pittsburgh Kid, in a pre-game, on-field ceremony. Walker will be joined on the field by his family to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in honor of his retirement from a 12-year Major League playing career.

Longshaw does expect former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver/punt returner Louis Lipps to be on hand.

Due to the overwhelming number of entrants, Longshaw said a trip to Pittsburgh to pickup additional golf carts will be necessary, but that’s a good thing.

“I expected a huge number, but this is something special,” Longshaw said. “It’s truly unbelievable the support we have received over the years.”

Following the golfing outing and awards ceremony and dinner, several class reunions are planned.

On Saturday, a memorial service for Niekro will be held be held at 12:30 p.m. at The Niekro Diamond in Brookside. Phyllis Dillmore, Niekro’s sister, will be the featured speaker.

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