Nyack High School Class of 1971
Homer Wanamaker’s career at Nyack High School was like a highlight reel of the dreams of young athletes. There were team and individual championships and moments young boys play out in their minds over and over, but few get to live.
Such championship performances were not foreign to the Wanamaker family or to the other athletes who hailed from Upper Nyack, where Wanamaker was surrounded with future Hall of Famers.
But from the beginning of his time at Nyack High School, Homer Wanamaker built the reÌsumeÌ of a champion.
Wanamaker, who left Rockland in 1978 and now lives in Stillwater, N.J. where he and his wife Deborah raised four children, retired in 2003 after a distinguished 26-year career with the New Jersey State Police. He’s now the Undersheriff of Sussex County, overseeing the county correctional facility.
Although his high school career is more than 40 years in the rearview mirror, Homer E. Wanamaker had the distinction of being the hero in two pressure-packed moments that produced championships for Nyack.
Homer was a standout at catcher for the Nyack baseball team, earning All-County recognition while often forming a winning battery with pitchers, brother Steve and cousin Edward, both Hall of Famers.
The 1971 PSAL title game at Nanuet was the setting for one of his highlight moments.
He hit a three-run home run to cement Nyack’s 5-2 win and its first baseball championship since his father, also Homer, starred in the outfield on the 1949 champions.
Although his father was a police officer, and eventually chief of the Orangetown Police Department, he remembers fondly, “Even when he was working revolving shifts, Pop always managed to get to our games.”
That father/son championship connection made the moment all the more memorable, Homer Wanamaker says.
By then, he had already etched himself in Nyack football history as the kicker on the 1969 and 1970 teams, large shoes to fill following George Jakowenko, who went on to kick at Syracuse University and in the NFL.
In 1970, Homer kicked 21 points after touchdown and two field goals, making him the county’s leading kicker.
But in 1969, with his junior season in the balance, Wanamaker kicked the PAT in front of a crowd estimated at 6,000 specta- tors that brought Nyack from behind to edge Haverstraw 7-6 for the county championship.To hear him tell it, the kick was anything but a thing of beauty. “It was probably one of the most memorable moments of my life,” he says, “but it was kind of like a knuckleball going through (the uprights). I wasn’t sure it would make it through.” Admitting to a bit of nerves, he says, “I just didn’t hit it square.”
Kicking footballs was an outgrowth of his performance on the soccer field where he twice earned first-team All-County honors playing on three Section 9 championship teams. Among them was the 1970 team that went 16-0 to win the regional title – the highest achievement possible at the time. Despite those dream moments in baseball and football, Wanamaker says soccer was actually his favorite sport. He was friends in grade school with Randy Nelson, whose dad Frank Nelson was varsity soccer coach at the high school. Both his son and Wanamaker learned to love the game from him.
As a young boy Homer was also enrolled at the Nyack YMCA, where he says his swimming skill blossomed into a varsity career with early morning or late night practices that helped him win consistently in the 100-yard butterfly.
He swam other events, too, he says, but did the butterfly “because no one else could do it.”
He did it, and did it well, winning a Section 9 title. The state meet didn’t go as well. “I got smoked at states,” he says with a laugh. “It was a humbling experience.”
He says he liked each of his four sports for different reasons, but preferred the camaraderie of team sports to the individual sports.
“There was some anxiety about the individual competitions,” he says although his championship moments seem to argue he handled any pressure well.
On the teams, he says, “you learned to lean on people and depend on teammates.” With teammates the likes of future Hall of Famers Dale Lydecker, Randy Nelson, his brother Steve and fellow inductee Bob Corvino, he says, “you were surrounded by so many great athletes with so much talent.”
In fact, Homer Wanamaker went on to the University of Bridgeport, following Bob Corvino there.
He set two records in his freshman season, kicking 40 consecutive PATs and scoring most points in a season, which included four field goals. His career-longest field goal of 41 yards contributed to Bridgeport’s 17-12 victory over Hampton-Sydney in the Knute Rockne Bowl at the Atlantic City Convention Hall in 1971. The win capped a 10-1 season with the NCAA Eastern Small College Championship.
Once he and his wife started their family, Homer worked with two of the boys in scouting and fed his love of soccer as a youth coach.
All four of their children also played sports in high school. Garett, now 35, opted for lacrosse, while both Bryant, now 30, and Homer Jr., now 25, played football and wrestled. For daughter Blaire, 31, the choices were basketball and soccer.
“I’m a very lucky man; I’ve been lucky all my life,” Homer Wanamaker says. “I was surrounded by a great family. I’m proud to be a Wanamaker,” he says, adding with a laugh, “In Nyack, the Wanamakers are like the Kennedys in Massachusetts – without the money.”