Spring Valley High School Class of 1958
If Virgilio Hernandez had played only baseball at Spring Valley High School in the 1950s, he likely still would be a Hall of Famer.
But baseball wasn’t enough for the player who preferred to be known as Chico.
Almost 60 years after some of his high school exploits, Chico Hernandez jokes about his stature, but it didn’t keep him from excelling in both varsity basketball and football – two sports where, even back then, size mattered.
Playing three sports for Spring Valley (he also placed second in the 1955 Rockland County Novice Wrestling Tournament), he earned enough varsity letters to have a different sweater for each month of the year.
And he earned All-County honors 10 times of a possible 12 opportunities – three times each in football and basketball and all four years in baseball.
His arrival on the Spring Valley baseball squad coincided with the start of a string of four straight county championships.
At just 16, Chico hit a solid .316 in his freshman year while starting in the infield. He upped that to an even .400 as a sophomore. That year’s announcement of the All-PSAL base- ball team praised him as “a steady performer of the workhorse type.” It also noted that he is “only 5’5” tall and weighs 135 pounds wringing wet.”
Chico’s stock rose again in his junior year, with an all-around outstanding season that sportswriter Sam Basson of the Sherwood Newspapers summarized in writing about the 1957 All-County team.
“The Spring Valley shortstop is fast and has a good arm. He is a team player and the sparkplug of the Tigers. He hits the ball hard, batted at .416 and accounted for a homer, two triples and eight doubles in league competition. An aggressive type player, Hernandez would be an asset to anyone’s ball club.”
Basson was equally effusive in his praise of Chico on the 1958 All-PSAL team, saying he “covers short like a gazelle. Troubles pitchers when he gets on the base paths … Knows how to make the DP and has the arm to do it.” That year, Chico’s senior season, he hit an even .450 and was Rockland County Athlete of the Year.
It capped a wonderful three-sport career.
Hernandez won All-County honors three times in basketball and had one of his best games against the original Tappan Zee
High School, then located in Piermont. Chico recalls playing in the tiny gym there, where players were hampered by two walls bordering the court. “The ceiling was so low you couldn’t shoot jump shots,” he says, pointing out that he shot them two-handed – the style back then.
Spring Valley managed a win on the bandbox court, but later in the season, in a home game, Chico lit up the scoreboard, turning loose his jumper for 29 points. “The third quarter was all Hernandez,” Sam Basson reported, with Chico scoring “from all sides and from the keyhole. In this quarter, he tallied 13 points.”
But when you ask Chico Hernandez which sport brought him the most satisfaction, he turns to football.
He takes pride in the level of competition when facing what he called Spring Valley’s archrivals, Nyack, and Haverstraw. Facing those teams, he played against future National Football League standouts Roger Brown and Nick Ryder, eventual team- mates on the Detroit Lions.
“I was fortunate,” Chico says, “to come up at the right time, because I had great teammates. We had a good group.” In foot- ball, he says, “We had a lot of good linemen opening holes. You don’t run by yourself.”
Actually, Chico ran and passed and caught and kicked. In his junior season, he scored 25 points. In a senior season cut short by a flu epidemic, Chico scored 40 points and was a unanimous choice for the All-PSAL team, his third selection to the team. In his 1955 season, he was a large part of Spring Valley’s 6-1 Rockland County championship season. They held five opponents scoreless, gave up just six points to another and their only loss was to regional power Pompton Lakes of New Jersey.
His football career ended in Spring Valley. After all, he says, “Not too many colleges were looking for a 5’6”, 140-pound running back.”
He thinks back about the nature of the PSAL, and Rockland, in the mid-1950s. “We only had Suffern, Haverstraw, Clarkstown, Nyack, Pearl River and Tappan Zee (high schools) back then. All were nice little towns back then.” After a pause, he evaluates more than a half-century of change. “It’s so grown up now, you can’t tell where one town ends and another begins.”
Graduating from Spring Valley was a crucial milestone for Chico Hernandez. His parents had divorced when he was 6. With his father in the Merchant Marine, Chico grew up at the Lakeside School in what’s now Chestnut Ridge.
Leaving Spring Valley High School meant leaving there, too, and Chico’s next destination was the State Teachers College at New Paltz, now SUNY New Paltz.
Just like at Spring Valley, Chico was a standout on the hard- wood and on the baseball diamond, again teaming up with Spring Valley alum Tony Gamboli, who was two years older.
Chico won two varsity letters in both sports before deciding that teaching wasn’t his career goal.
He left school, but not New Paltz, where he began a 25-year banking career and met his wife of 47 years, Ann. They raised two daughters, Dawn and Debbie, in the home where they have lived for 42 years. They also have three grandchildren. Chico’s sister, Loanis O’Neill, lives in Suffern, and his brother, Jerry, lives in Texas.
“My sister made me a scrapbook and gave it to me after my four years at Spring Valley,” Chico Hernandez says.
It captures a slice of history for a player, a family and a com- munity.
High school baseball teammate Christopher Jennison, who also covered Spring Valley teams for the Rockland County Leader newspaper, summarizes Chico’s skills “that do not show up on summaries and box scores. He had an instinct for the games he played; he always looked for the open man, he was a sure tackler and adept at finding openings as a running back, and in baseball he was always positioned strategically. These are talents only the most accomplished athletes possess.”