Back in 1954, Virgilio “Chico” Hernandez, then a freshman at Spring Valley High School, remembered going up against Tappan Zee’s Joe D’Auria, Rockland county’s top quarterback that year.
Later in his football career, he would go up against the likes of Nyack’s Roger Brown, a future four-time All-Pro defensive tackle in the NFL, as well as Haverstraw’s Nick Ryder, another eventual NFL player.
Hernandez now shares a distinction with all three of those players: member of the Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame. He’ll be officially inducted on Saturday.
“It was a nice feeling to be included in that group,” Hernandez said. “It’s a good honor to be included with a lot a good, notable players back then. There were a lot of good athletes in Rockland County at the time.”
Back then, when Rockland was just a six-school league for athletics, there were few better – or more well-rounded – than the 5-foot-6, 135-pound. three-sport speedster.
Hernandez earned 12 varsity letters, four each in football, basketball and baseball. In his senior year in 1958, he was named the Rockland County Athlete of the Year.
In football and basketball, he earned all-county honors three times. In baseball, he earned all-county honors as a middle infielder all four years, displaying all-around talent with both his glove and at the plate.
Spring Valley also won at least a share of the county championship all four years Hernandez played baseball, something he especially takes pride in.
“We had some good ballplayers,” he said. “It wasn’t just me, we had a lot of good ballplayers.”
Growing up, Hernandez attended Lakeside Elementary School in Spring Valley, where he played several sports. It was there he picked up basketball and baseball, and was also a talented soccer player.
“We used to go with our soccer teams up to the JV teams, and we’d go up and beat them,” Hernandez recalled. “We had a lot of good athletes because we were gym rats. We played a lot of sports, we were always in the gym.”
Football was something that Hernandez had never played when he got to high school. During a scrimmage in his first year against New Jersey powerhouse Pompton Lakes, he struggled.
“I was a freshman playing defensive halfback and they had an all-state end who made me look like an idiot,” he said. “I was fast, but I didn’t have the knowledge that he had, but it came.”
It sure did.
By his senior year, he had also emerged as a top running back. In a game against Clarkstown, he scored four touchdowns in a win, including a 90-yard punt return.
“All those years playing, we had good defensive and offensive linemen,” he said. “So it made it a lot easier running behind these guys.”
After graduating, Hernandez went into service for a short time, but ended up attending college at New Paltz, where he played baseball with a teammate from Spring Valley, Tony Gamboli, another member of the Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame. Hernandez ended up playing catcher, and Gamboli pitched.
After he graduated with a degree in early education, Hernandez went back into service, working a teaching post in Maryland. After two years, he left and went back to New Paltz and got a job in commercial banking, his occupation for 25 years. After he retired at age 62, he volunteered as a driver for a local rescue squad for five years.
Hernandez, now 77, still keeps active, working and playing at a local golf course. He also enjoys watching his grandchildren play sports. Two of them, Shawn and Dale, are athletes at Wallkill High School in Ulster County.
“It’s a lot different these days. We were lucky to have two coaches or one coach, schools now have four or five coaches,” Hernandez said. “It wasn’t that intense. You played hard, but to me, I wasn’t shooting for a scholarship, I wasn’t even thinking about it back then. It was having fun and playing.”