The Middle Atlantic Blind Golf Association, MABGA. 70 years of turning obstacles into opportunities.
The story of the Middle Atlantic Blind Golf Association begins with Robert Allman’s desire to share the joys of golf with other blind friends and his plan to organize competitive golf within the local blind community and beyond. During the 1948 golf season, MABGA evolved from the idea stage into the reality of a small group of blind golfers playing rounds of golf at the Juniata Golf Club of Philadelphia, each Sunday afternoon, with the help of Joe Hunsberger, the Golf Professional and his assistants. Along with Bob Allman, the group included: Ben Pearlman, Phil Tuso and we believe Dr. Simon Van Wagenen. These Blind Heroes started turning obstacles into opportunities, through much practice and a lot of determination.
Robert G. Allman, Esquire, was the founder of MABGA. Due to an accident at the age of 4, Bob lost his sight. He attended the Overbrook School for the Blind where he learned many of the skills that served him throughout his lifetime. It was Bob’s determination to beat the odds that enabled him to excel in many areas of life including a wrestling championship and Phi Beta Kappa, while attending the University of Pennsylvania, managing a successful marriage and raising four sons and running a busy law practice. Throughout his lifetime, Bob Allman had a powerful impact on many people, both sighted and blind.
MABGA’s first president, Francis Strawbridge, Jr. used his philanthropic nature to help the association grow. During his many years of service as the first president of MABGA, he also added the prestige of the Strawbridge name, at a time when little was known about either blind golf or about MABGA. Mr. Strawbridge undertook many of the administrative and leadership duties when he was elected the association’s first president in 1949. He continued his duties in helping MABGA to prosper, over the next decade and beyond. Without the leadership and guidance of Bob Allman and Francis Strawbridge Jr., MABGA would have been hard pressed to achieve all that it has over these sixty-eight years.
MABGA’s history would be incomplete without mentioning the great efforts of our volunteer coaches. In order to be successful, a good coach must be generous with his or her time, skills and patience. Coaching is a labor of love. The coaches act as the eyes of the blind. Many coaches say that they enjoy seeing their blind golfer hit a good shot more than hitting one themselves. MABGA’s coaches are a big part of our success!
Since MABGA’s beginning, seventy years ago, many private and public golf courses throughout the Delaware Valley and beyond, have contributed to MABGA’s success. We could not have remained in existence without the cooperation and generosity of the many host golf clubs that continue to sponsor golf outings for our members.
Tiny Pedone, a local golf professional and entrepreneur joined MABGA In 1956. He embarked on a journey, which would link his name with MABGA as strongly as any other, in our history. He served as president during the seventies and dedicated a quarter of a century to serving MABGA.
Ercole Oristaglio was MABGA’s senior statesman for more than fifty years, until his death in the summer of 2000. He added strength and stability to a young and growing association. He served many years as the association’s vice-president. During the eighties, he shouldered most of the responsibility of keeping MABGA strong for the future.
The sixties brought further expansion and with it some key new people who have helped to make MABGA stronger today. Joseph De Francisco was a good friend of Tiny Pedone and he served as MABGA’s second president during the sixties and early seventies. His leadership and other talents were key resources for MABGA.
Some additional key members, who joined the association in the sixties included David Kriskoff, a blind veteran and golfer, who joined MABGA in 1969. His enthusiasm for golf and life made him a good friend and a valuable asset to the association. Frank D’Ottavi was an excellent blind golfer, who still holds many of MABGA’s scoring records. He played until he died in 1984.
Our director of golf, Al Balukas, first became associated with MABGA in 1969 as an assistant to Tiny Pedone, at Edgmont Country Club. Al was selected as MABGA’s first “Person of the Year” in 1993. Today, he continues to play a key role in serving MABGA’s Junior and Senior Programs.
Sadly, the seventies closed with the deaths of Tiny Pedone and Phil Tuso, two giants of the Association. They are remembered for their accomplishments on and off the golf course.
The eighties brought a decade of transition. Micky Charles followed Tiny Pedone as president. He served the association for several years before moving on to other commitments. Leonard Nucero was a coach before serving as president through most of the eighties. With the strong support and leadership of his vice president and golf outing chairman, Ercole Oristaglio, Len helped start MABGA back on a path of growth, which still continues today. Leonard was a good man and leader, who passed away in 1999. Under President Nucero’s leadership, MABGA opened its doors to all blind golfers, including those with some vision. This open door policy is responsible for much of MABGA’s membership growth.
Tom Madden, Jerry Monroe and Lou Giraldi were special members who joined in the eighties and have since passed away. Each served as blind golfers and leaders of MABGA for many years.
Another blinded veteran, Lou Giraldi, who passed in 2009 served MABGA for three decades. Lou was the Golf Committee Co-Chairman, MABGA’s historian and served as both second and first vice-president. Lou was always ready to take a leadership role, whenever called upon.
The end of the eighties brought new leadership with Rudy Pileggi, as president and the establishment of a Board of Governors for the administrative duties to run the association.
The nineties continued MABGA’s growth in three key ways: it increased its membership; it brought the inception of the MABGA Invitational Golf Tournament (our major fund raising event); and most importantly, the start of the MABGA Blind Junior Golf Program. MABGA is very proud of its Junior Golf Program, which started in the fall of 1993. Gil Kayson is MABGA’s only living Life Member. This is a special honor reserved for members who demonstrate their skills and talent in serving MABGA well, for a long time. Under Gil’s leadership, as chairman, and with the strong assistance of Norman Kritz, Al Balukas and others, MABGA has developed the Blind Junior Golf Program to its current place as a key part of the association. With the cooperation of the Philadelphia Section of the PGA and many local Golf Professionals, MABGA has operated the program, which continues to grow with more blind boys and girls joining each year. MABGA has expanded the program by providing individual lessons and equipment for each junior golfer. This program is the first known joint effort between a PGA Section and a regional blind golf association. MABGA’s goal is to help extend this program to blind children across the entire country. With the help of its friends at the Overbrook School for the Blind, and through the efforts of Norman Kritz, his family and the maintenance crew of the Cobbs Creek Golf Club constructed a pitch and putt course and practice green in the spring of 1996 on the school campus. Our Blind Junior Golfers use it for both competition and practice. The golf course is named in honor of our founder and serves as a memorial to Robert Allman, for his efforts on behalf of blind golf.
During the winter of 1990/1991, MABGA took a major step toward turning a long time dream, into a reality. 1992 marked the first MABGA Invitational Golf Tournament, which was hosted by Edgmont Country Club in August. The event was a big success under the leadership of Joe Wallace, the first Chairman of the Tournament Committee. This event is MABGA’s only yearly major fund raising effort and teams both sighted and blind golfers in a fun-filled format. For the past twenty-four years, MABGA’s members and coaches organize, operate and participate in this annual golf tournament, with the committee moving the event to a different golf club yearly.
During the nineties, under the leadership of its three presidents, Rudy Pileggi, Joseph Bitman and Norman Martin MABGA was able to achieve many of its goals.
Rudy Pileggi has been a volunteer coach since the mid sixties. During his presidency and later, serving as MABGA Treasurer, Rudy continued to be a driving force in helping MABGA to reach its goal to become better organized. He initiated regular board meetings and expanded membership in MABGA’s many committees. Rudy passed away in 2014.
During the mid-nineties, Dr. Joe Bitman continued MABGA’s progress toward building its blind junior golf program. Joe started as a coach for his wife, Louise. In a short time his enthusiasm and leadership skills propelled him to the presidency of MABGA. Joe led by example and was always generous with his time and efforts. His death in 1997 was an especially difficult loss for all of MABGA‘s blind golfers and coaches.
Norman Martin joined MABGA as a volunteer coach in the early nineties. Like his predecessors, Norman demonstrated the same great leadership skills, which brought him success in business. During his presidency, Norman prepared MABGA for a great future.
On January 1, 2002, MABGA altered a long-time tradition, which began with Francis Strawbridge Jr. Until this time, all eight Presidents of MABGA had been fully sighted. MABGA elected its first totally blind President, Jim Ganter. With the guidance and support, of the Board of Governors, Jim undertook the same role of leadership and duties as his predecessors for the past ten years. Michael Connell followed Jim as president and helped MABGA continue to evolve from its humble beginnings to face the many challenges of the future. Sadly, Mike passed away suddenly in 2014. Tom Harrington stepped up to finish the term. Currently, Mario Tobio is president.
During this past decade, MABGA has continued to shine, strengthening both our adult membership and that of our Blind Junior Golf Program, both locally and beyond. MABGA is working toward an even more productive future. The organization is committed to spreading the news about blind golf across America. The association has created and maintained an internet website, to enhance the association’s efforts to broaden the public’s awareness of blind golf. We welcome you to log on and learn more about MABGA at www.mabga.org.
By James Ganter and the late Louis Giraldi