Over the years I have been fortunate to see many great athletes in many sports.
Muhammad Ali, Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods, Bjorn Borg, Pele, Michael Jordan, Mark Spitz, Jean Claude Killey and so many others.
Yet the greatest athlete I ever saw was Charlie Calamia in fifth grade back in Pelham Manor. In one single year Charlie dominated me in stickball, whiffle ball, one-on-one basketball, one-on-one soccer, kickball, knock hockey, table hockey, electric football, one-on-one tackle football, pond hockey one-on-one, and lastly even H-O-R-S-E.
So what’s the big deal, you may ask? The big deal is he not only went the whole year undefeated against me in all these sports it’s how he did it. Grand slams home runs in the bottom of the ninth, 11-0 shutouts in one-on-one basketball games, no hitters, even a come from behind win in whiffle ball game scoring 19 runs in last inning with two outs. Charlie somehow even mastered that crazy electric football game so that he scored on every power sweep as the game made that loud buzzing sound.
The pond hockey was “cold pain” as he ice-skated circles around me. (In fact years later I ended up all league goaltender due to Charlie forcing me to try out for the Pelham Ice Hockey Team.)
In baseball Charlie had a wicked curve ball and slider, he batted from both sides of the plate, with power!
In one-on-one tackle football he was able to throw touchdown passes to himself, and return kicks back for TDs on a regular basis.
Now here is one you had to be there to believe, he beat me 5-0 on his table hockey game with the men on the nubs. Table hockey is the game with the levers that go in and out and you can spin the players to shoot and pass, yes he beat me with just the metal nubs that you attach the players to.
Now Charlie was the only boy of a family with five children, and his dad was a doctor back when that was like being a Wall Street guy. He had the best equipment, which he shared with me. We had major league baseball gloves, college level basketballs, AFL footballs, Major league baseballs and great top level baseball bats. All the electric games were the top shelve ones and he actually had 3 different size table hockey games, and all the teams. He had many different pro football team helmets and we took turns being the day’s stars. We would wear all the pads and play one on one with snap counts and even one-on-one kickoffs. For stickball we wore Mets or Yankee baseball uniforms, but for some reason Charlie liked to dress up as a Chicago Cub, (they were terrible back then).
I just had a really bad year and he was all-world. Over time things worked out for me, and I had my moments on the varsity high school football and baseball fields. I also earned varsity letters in winter track and golf, along with being voted a captain of the Pelham Ice Hockey Team. Then in college at George Washington University I played varsity soccer, and earned a varsity letter for wrestling 142 pounds in all of the GWU matches in 1972.
So in short I saw a lot of action and witnessed a lot of amazing stuff but never saw anybody as clutch, as gifted, as lucky, as determined, as dominating as Charlie Calamia was back in fifth grade 1964-1965.