Lithuanian Athletic Club Zaibas: Hall of Fame

Algirdas Bielskus

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Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2000.

President of Zaibas (1950 - 1957).
President of Baltic Athletic Federation of North America (BAFNA).
President of Lithuanian Athletic Union of North America - LAUNA (1968 - 1970).
General Secretary of LAUNA/Zaibas (1970 - 2010).
Legendary Žaibas Track & Field Coach for over 50 years.

Rytas Babickas

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Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2001.

President of Zaibas (1957-1975). Zaibas Volleyball Coach. Žaibas volleyball was highly regarded in North American during 1950s,60s and 70s. His teams won numerous American Amateur Volleyball Association's AAU class tournaments, women's team won the Ohio State title for 10 consecutive years from 1959-1969. They also took the Regional AAU Women's volleyball championships seven times. Coach for the LAUNA women's all-star volleyball team on a 1973 European tour. On this tour, they won 14, tied once, and lost only two games playing some of Europe's elite teams.

Vytenis Ciurlionis

Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2001

Lithuanian skiing enthusiast, coach and section leader. Vytenis continues to be a stellar skier on the National level amongst the senior circuit. He has passed his passion for skiing on to numerous Lithuanian youth in the Cleveland metro area over the many years.

Juozas Kijauskas

Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2001

Besides being one of the area’s top basketball players for many years, Juozas Kijauskas felt the need like so many others to give back to his sport and to his community. He was an active member of the Lithuanian Athletic Club, better known as ZAIBAS for over 40 years. His accomplishments during those years were numerous:

>        He served as Žaibas’ basketball director from 1953 – 1965
>        He was also a longtime member of the club’s Executive Board which does fund raising like tonight’s events in order to pay for the annual costs of gym rentals and hosting of major tournaments in Cleveland.
>        In 1975, he was elected the 3rd president in Žaibas history and he served 16 years from 1975 – 1991
>        Representing Žaibas in the Lithuanian Athletic Union of North America which sponsors these annual tournaments, he served as a member of their Executive Council
>        However, I think one of Joe’s finest achievements over the years was his leadership in Lithuanian women’s basketball. He was a pioneer in this area and one of his proudest moments was when he was selected to organize and coach the North American Lithuanian women’s all star team.   His hard work and dedication culminated with his team traveling to Australia to participate in the Lithuanian World Games of 1988.

Ausra Barzdukaite-Babickiene

Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2002.

Ausra’s career in the sport of volleyball began in 1957 first as an outside hitter, later as a setter. But more importantly she was always the team’s captain, the brains behind the team as well as their source of inspiration and motivation. In a 17 year period, the Žaibas team participated in every tournament organized by the Lithuanian Sports Federation of North America, often winning the championships. Looking for new challenges, the team participated in many double A tournaments outside of the Lithuanian community, including Lake Erie AAU and USVBA Region IV Championships. In a 17 year period from 1958 through 1975, they managed to capture the AAU championship ALL but three of those years. From 1959 for 10 consecutive years they were Ohio champions, and 7 years they were USVBA Region 4 champions. This region consisted of 4 states, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and West Pennsylvania.
In those days the world of volleyball was dominated by teams from California, Texas and Hawaii. Yet this team with humble origins in Cleveland, Ohio under the leadership of Aušra went on to become a national powerhouse. Having won the Regional championship, this small ethnic team became five-time qualifiers for the finals of the United States Volleyball Association (USVBA). In 1965 and 1974 they placed an impressive 9th place in the nation, beating out many well-known, very accomplished and established teams.

Rita Cyvaite - Klioriene

Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2003.

• Zaibas Juniors Track & Field Star in short distance events holding numerous club records: 100 yd & 100m, 200 m & 220 yd, 400m & 440 yd, 800m & 880yd., long jump.
• Captain of one of the finest teams ever assembled at Cleveland State University from 1973 to 1975. In 1974, they won the NCAA Midwestern regional title.
• Won the "Most Outstanding Volleyball Player" award that year (1974).
• Was also named "Female Athlete of the Year" in 1975.
• In later years, she was inducted to the Cleveland State University Hall of Fame for volleyball.
• At Cleveland State University, she along with 3 other Zaibas volleyball teammates quickly took over the scene and turned the program into a perennial winner. In 1975, Rita and her teammates won the NCAA Midwest Region Championships and qualified for the National Championships in Portland Oregon finishing fifth in the nation.

• Captain of Zaibas women's volleyball during the glory years of the 1970s when Žaibas excelled at the local and national level. Rita and her teammates (including Hall of Fame inductee Egle Giedraityte-Laniauskiene) dominated the local Lake Erie AAU scene and eventually became one of the elite teams in the USVBA East region (which included Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, New York and Pennsylvania. They were frequent participants in the AAU National Championships and in 1973 Rita was selected to the North American Lithuanian All Star team which traveled to Europe for an exhibition tour.

Lenny Kedys

Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2004

• Lenny was a star basketball player for St. Joseph High School, Tri-C and Cleveland State University .
• He was a premier point guard for Zaibas during his long and illustrious career. He was still considered a major threat even in his late 40s due to top notch conditioning.
• Was a very strong volleyball player as well for Zaibas winning numerous LAUNA men's championships.
• He coached Zaibas Juniors Basketball and Track and Field.
• In 1980, he was selected to the LAUNA all-star men's basketball team for an Australian tour.
• During the Australian tour, he also coached the Junior A (18 year olds) all- star team as well.

Egle Giedraityte - Laniauskiene

Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2005.

• As a Zaibas Junior, Egle set records in numerous running events and field events such as long jump, high jump and baseball throw that still stand today in the North American Lithuanian record books.
• Representing Zaibas, at the age of 16, she was the Lake Erie AAU women’s Pentathlon champion. At 17, she was the first Zaibas Junior to win in the North East Ohio Region High School championship in the Long Jump. She went on that year to the AAU Jr Olympics in Detroit Michigan and took second place in the Pentathlon.
• Egle and her teammates (including Hall of Fame inductee Rita Cyvaite- Klioriene) dominated the local Lake Erie AAU scene and eventually became one of the elite teams in the USVBA East region (which included Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, New York and Pennsylvania. They were frequent participants in the AAU National Championships and in 1973 Egle was selected to the North American Lithuanian All Star team which traveled to Europe for an exhibition tour.
• At Cleveland State University, she along with 3 other Zaibas volleyball teammates quickly took over the scene and turned the program into a perennial winner. In 1975, Egle (who was the team captain) and her teammates won the NCAA Midwest Region Championships and qualified for the National Championships in Portland Oregon finishing fifth in the nation.
• She won 3 gold medals in the Lithuanian World Games 1978 in Toronto and continued to participate in the Senior Track meets even at the age of 37.
• Today Egle coaches volleyball at Lake Catholic High School in Mentor, OH.    

Algis Motiejunas

Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2005

• Participating in numerous AAU and Cleveland City Rec track meets, Algis was an early standout. In fact, during one of the Greater Cleveland Jr. Olympics finals whereby over 3,000 participants competed, Algis at the age of 10 came away with a bronze medal in the long jump. This was the first time a Žaibas junior athlete medaled in such an important event.
• Algis started his basketball career in Collinwood’s Junior High School, eventually becoming a 3 time letterman for Collinwood’s varsity and elected as the team’s captain his final year.
• He was inducted into Case Western’s Hall of Fame where he starred on the university’s track, basketball and of all things varsity football teams.
• He was the President’s Athletic Conference champion in the triple jump, long jump, 100, 220, and of course the relay race teams at Western Reserve.
• He continued to represent Zaibas in Track and Field, winning numerous North American Lithuanian and Baltic championships. To this day, he continues to hold several club records in long jump and triple jump.
• In 1964, he was selected to the North American Lithuanian Men’s All Star team for an international tour to Australia. A total of 25 games were scheduled. His team dominated by winning 24 games and for the finale handily defeated Australia’s Olympic basketball team in an exhibition as well. On their return from Australia, the team was invited to play an exhibition game against Canada’s Olympic team which was also training for the Olympic Games in Tokyo that year. The Lithuanians again defeated an Olympic Team this time the Canadians in an overtime game. Algis represented his team well and obviously this was the highlight of his basketball career!
• Al continued his Zaibas athletic career for years to come participating in numerous sports including volleyball and also becoming an outstanding division I racquetball player.

Elvyra Siksniute - Vodopaliene

Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2006

• At 14, she won her first gold medal in the 60 meter run at the first Occupied Nations Olympics held in Nuremburg, Germany. Over the next three years as a young teen she dominated the German track scene by winning gold medals in both short distance events and the long jump. Under the watchful eye of Algis Bielskus she became a local phenom.
• In 1952, at Ohio State University she starred in the women’s volleyball, basketball and table tennis. In fact, representing Zaibas she won 2nd place in the Ohio State Table Tennis Championships.
• Even though there was no collegiate program, Elvyra became very well known in the US track circles. In 1952 representing Žaibas Track Club at the Ohio AAU track championships, she broke the Lithuanian record in the 60 meter dash and won 3 gold medals in the 50 yd dash, 100 yd dash and of course long jump. She went on that year to the US national AAU Championships and was invited to the US Olympic tryouts.
• She continued to dominate the US Lithuanian and local Ohio track scene the next couple of years culminating with her finest moment in 1954 where she won the bronze medal in long jump at the National AAU championships.
• In 1975, she earned a Masters Degree in Sports Administration from the University of Maryland where she also coached Womens Volleyball and Track and Field programs.
• After moving from Cleveland, she founded similar Lithuanian sports clubs in both Los Angeles (1958) and Washington, DC (in 1972).
• She later became an executive member of the Lithuanian Athletic Union of North America (LAUNA)and helped organize numerous national sporting events for the Lithuanian youth.

Ray Jonaitis

Žaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2006

• At St. Joseph High School Ray starred in track and field winning the Ohio State Championship. His specialties were the middle distance races (i.e. 400, 800, 1500) and discus.
• He took over the reins of the Track and Field section from his one time coach and mentor Algis Bielskus and the Žaibas “Renaissance” period began. From 1976 – 1984, he actively recruited the Cleveland youth to the program and soon transformed the club back to it’s former glory days in track and field. During this period Zaibas not only dominated both Lithuanian and Baltic national track meets but also AAU Jr. Olympic track championship meets.
• In 1980 and 1984, Žaibas Track dominated in the Freedom Olympics which were comprised of star athletes from 8 Soviet Bloc Eastern European countries.
• He also played on numerous Žaibas men's basketball teams over the years and also had several stints of coaching Žaibas Juniors basketball teams as well.

Vytautas Januskis

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Cleveland, Ohio
Žaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2006

• Founding President of Lithuanian Sports Club in Cleveland - Žaibas (1950)
• Vytautas was very active in sports during WWII in a displaced persons camp in Hanau, German. Lithuanians love to compete so they formed the first sports festival in the camp competing with other Latvians, Estonians and Poles in various sports such as basketball, volleyball, track/field and table tennis. Vytautas was one of the first organizers of such games.
• He even found time to participate in the table tennis tournament winning second place in the mens division. These games became so popular that organized national clubs sprouted up and of course Vytautas joined the Lithuanian Sports Club Perkunas to head up their table tennis team. Table tennis became very popular in the DP camps and eventually all star tournaments were born.
• In 1947, Vytautas ended up with 2nd place in the individual competition and 1st place in the doubles competition.
• May 5, 1950, the Cleveland Sports Club Žaibas was formed and Vytautas Januskis was elected as it’s very first president.
• Both basketball and table tennis became very popular not only in Cleveland but in other major cities in North America where Lithuanians immigrated to. Thus creation of the Lithuanian Athletic Union of North America (LAUNA).
• Vytautas continued to compete in table tennis and even participated in the second annual games which were held in Cleveland in 1952

Henrikas Johansonas

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Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2007

Henrikas in his youth, was an avid athlete and like many of his peers, he honed his athletic skills in the Lithuanian Displaced Persons camps in Germany during World War II. He starred in basketball, table tennis and chess.
Like many of the early arrivals in Cleveland, Henrikas saw a need to organize the athletes and provide an outlet thru athletics. On May 5th, 1950, along with Vytautas Januskis and Jaunutis Nasvytis they founded the Cleveland Lithuanian Athletic Club Zaibas.

Later that month, he organized the first Žaibas men’s basketball team and they played their first game ever against an established men’s basketball team from the Lithuanian parish – St. George’s. A healthy rivalry was born that day as neighborhood bragging rights were up for grabs ! He continued to coach the men’s team for several years participating in the Cleveland Muny league and numerous NALA tournaments.

After successfully starting the Men’s program, Henrikas knew he wanted to do more. In 1956, he gave up his coaching position with the men’s team and turned his focus on the Lithuanian youth in Cleveland! Starting with 13-14 year old boys from the St. George’s Lithuanian neighborhood, he created the first Žaibas Juniors basketball team.
Like “mushrooms popping up after a good rain”, young basketball players sprouted up everywhere to join his teams. They eventually participated in 1957, in the North American Lithuanian Games in Toronto. To everyone’s surprise, Henriko team was not only talented but very well coached and they pulled off upset after upset defeating teams from much larger city’s like Chicago. A true Cinderella story - they came home that year as Champions of the NALA juniors games.   

In true “Red Auerbach” like fashion, his teams continued their dominance over the Lithuanian Juniors basketball landscape for years to come, repeating as champions in 1958 and 1960. Star players and future Hall of Famers like Modestas, Silingas and Motiejunas all started with Henrikas’ teams and eventually travelled to Australia in 1964 to represent the Lithuanian American All-Star team. His passion for basketball was passed on to these players and in turn inspired many other individuals.

Steve Stempuzis

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Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2007

Steve Stempuzis (husband, father and friend to many of us) stood out from his peers in the fact that he never took a break from the Lithuanian Athletic Club – he was truly a lifelong active member. He started his Žaibas career at the tender age of 7 years old in track and field and was an active member as juniors basketball coach until his untimely death at the age of 48 in 2002.

Like many of us, Steve started his athletic career in track and field with Zaibas under the watchful eye of coach Algis Bielskus. He fortified the Zaibas track team for many, many years in his field event specialties: javelin, discus and shotput. He also anchored his high school track team at St. Joseph in both events as well. He was a finalist and champion in many of the Lithuanian and Baltic meets that he competed in and participated in many AAU events well into his adult life. His records in javelin, discus and shotput have held up for many years.
In addition to track and field, Steve also shared a love for basketball and was captain for many teams throughout his Zaibas career and at St. Joe’s H.S.
He continued to participate in our club as a Juniors coach in both track and basketball. Steve’s style as a coach was endearing to the kids. Never one to raise his voice. He will always be remembered as a kind hearted soul who gave more than he took.

Vytautas and Onute Draugelyte-Jokubaitis

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Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2008 inductees were a husband / wife team who were known not for their athletic prowess but rather their organizational skills and their passion to make a difference. They are Vytautas Jokubaitis and Ona Draugelyte-Jokubaitiene. They have both passed but their memories and life long achievements live on.
Vytautas and Onute were both born in Lithuania in the early 1920s. As a youth, Vytautas enjoyed weightlifting and wrestling.

Along with many Lithuanians, they emigrated to Germany during WWII where they met and were wed. They set foot on American soil in 1949 and settled in Cleveland, Ohio where they started their family and became lifelong members of our Lithuanian Athletic Club, Zaibas.
Vytautas was not only involved in organizing Zaibas but he was also involved in the Lithuanian Athletic Union of North America (where he was vice president for many years) along with being a member of the executive council and Vice President of the Baltic Athletic Federation of North America. One of his proudest achievements was probably in 1982, when he organized the Lithuanian games to be held in Cleveland and he was individually recognized for his work by then mayor of Cleveland – George Voinovich. The games were proclaimed throughout Cleveland as the Lithuanian Sports Day!
Vytautas was involved in numerous other organizations (Boy Scouts of America, Lions Club International, Lithuania’s Supreme Liberation Committee, Lithuania Alliance of America, Lithuanian-American Community, Inc and of course he was a Director of the Lithuanian-American Club here in Cleveland. His awards and accomplishments outside athletics were too numerous to list, but a few notable ones were:
>        Lithuanian Presidential Medal (1993) conferred upon outstanding representatives of the world Lithuanian community for services to the restoration of the Independent State of Lithuania.
>        Ohio Governor’s “Humanitarian of the Year” award (1994)
>        AFL-CIO “George Meany Award” – which was the national union recognition for significant contribution of service to America’s youth in Boy Scouts of America.
>        Numerous Boy Scouts of America awards for his contributions to the world Scouting movement
>        CYO “St. John Bosco” Award for contribution to physical, psychological, and social development of youth.

Onute on the other hand was not to be outdone by her husband. She too was a member of our Zaibas club for over 40 years – many of those as the head of the ever important Parents Committee. She paved the way for Zaibas teams to use the OLPH parish gym. She not only was a huge fundraiser but also was responsible for organizing and sending many Zaibas teams abroad (i.e Australia, Europe and South America). Without her support many of these trips would not have been possible.
In 1971, during Zaibas’ 20th anniversary celebration, she was honored and recognized for her individual contributions towards those accomplishments.
Ona was actively involved in numerous other organizations as well - Lithuanian Athletic Union of North America, Lithuanian Relief Fund, American Lithuanian Council, Lithuanian Alliance of America, and the Lithuanian-American Community, Inc. Her individual awards and accomplishments outside athletics were also very impressive:
>        Outstanding Citizen of the Year award (1960) presented to her by Cleveland Mayor Ralph Locher.
>        And as the Founder of St. Casimir’s Lithuanian School on Neff Road.

        Their daughter Milda Jokubaityte-Sandragas put it best when asked about her parents. “My parents were always involved, wholeheartedly, and untiringly, with the restoration of the Independent State of Lithuania... the nurturing of youth ... and, they lived their lives for God, country, and their fellow man --- with their involvement in organizations deemed necessary for the procurement of such. “

They were true sports activists/community leaders and this year’s inductees into the Zaibas Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2008.

Gytis Barzdukas

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Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2009.

Gytis Jonas Barzdukas was born February 9, 1937 in Kaunas, Lithuania, the youngest in the family of three children. Both parents were teachers.

During the Second World War, when the Russians started pushing Germans out of Lithuania towards the west, Barzdukas family was forced to leave their country and move with the German front. After the war, the family ended up in Rebdorf, Germany, in a DP camp. There Gytis started first grade in the gymnasium. With the kids in the camp he played soccer, basketball, learned how to swim. He was pretty good swimmer. In the camp for the children there were no organized sports.

After the Allies started closing the DP camps, in 1949 the Barzdukas family left for US. Gytis' mother had a cousin in the suburb of Cleveland and he invited the family to come.   Gytis attended St. George parish grade school, graduated from Benedictine High School. He served two years in US Army, where he played on a base baseball team. He attended Ohio State University in Columbus, OH. There Gytis played on the University's volleyball team. He continued to star as a basketball and volleyball player for many of Zaibas' teams. Once he retired from playing he also coached several Zaibas Juniors volleyball teams. His dedication to the sport and to our youth were self evident.

Gytis sang in Ciurlionis Ensamble, was a sea scout, and mingled with Ateitininkai.

In 1963 he married Vida Titas, who was also an outstanding track star and volleyball player for Zaibas. They raised 3 sons. Two older ones played volleyball on University of Michigan's team. He left 4 granddaughters and 4 grandsons.

Gytis died on August 22, 2002 and is buried at the All Souls cemetery.

Joe Cannavino

Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2010.

Coach Joe Cannavino is a loving father and grandfather, a devoted husband, a friend to many and a living legend to all who played basketball for him. He was a high school standout in basketball/football at Collinwood HS which he was voted into their Sports Hall of Fame. He went on to play football for legendary coach Woody Hayes at Ohio State and starred on their 1957 National Championship team! He was also drafted into the NFL by the Baltimore Colts but played for the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills for a few years. But to be honest that is not the reason why we are all here.

It was what Coach Joe Cannavino did after his playing days that stand out in our minds and the reason we come here tonight to celebrate. Joe Cannavino (along with other notable Fathers Club members) created a basketball dynasty at tiny Our Lady of Perpetual Help that lasted for over 15 years! This small school of 300 students (compared to some goliath schools like St. Williams and Holy Cross) became a basketball powerhouse - winning numerous CYO Championships at St. Joseph High School and even winning Cleveland City Championships. Many of these teams were comprised of tall lanky Lithuanian kids from this area including yours truly who without this program never would have excelled in sports.
Coach Cannavino’s passion and motivation are major reasons many of us learned to love the game of basketball at the grade school level and went on to future success - either with the Lithuanian Athletic Club Zaibas, St. Joes High School, or even into College . Under his leadership and guidance, Coach Joe even led our Zaibas Boys C team in 1972 to gold medals during a juniors tournament hosted here in Cleveland. The team pictures (there were many more) in today’s program basically tell the whole story.

He was an inspiration to so many. I am sure - many of you can relate to this. I personally remember him coming to my house to convince my immigrant parents to let me skip Lithuanian School for a few hours on Saturday mornings just so I could participate in CYO. On other occasions he would drive a carload of kids down to Miami University so we could participate in a week long basketball camp during the summer .

What can I say but THANK YOU COACH CANNAVINO! You have no idea what that meant to me personally or to others that you reached out to as a positive male role model.

Vincas Gelgotas

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Cleveland, Ohio
Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2011.

Zaibas Mens Basketball Captain and organizer(1957-1983).

Phone: 216-481-5981

Stefa Juodvalkyte-Gedgaudiene

Zaibas Hall of Fame Class of 2012.

Stefa Juodvalkyte was Zaibas's Volleyball / Track and Field Star of the late 50's and early 60's. Her volleyball teams were repeat AAU Regional Champions in 1959 and 1960. She dominated numerous SALFASS/LAUNA events.

Clifford Yanosko

This will be Coach Cliff's 20th anniversary of coaching Zaibas Juniors teams in the annual North American Lithuanian Juniors Basketball Tournament. He has coached for 20 seasons, boys and girls, teens and molecules. Throughout the years his methods were consistent and effective. Stressing the basic fundamentals and skills of the game before starting any scrimmages. His teams were always disciplined and well coached consistently vying for the championship year in and year out. Recently, his girls D team earned him his second GOLD medal of his career in last year's event. No small task when going up against cities like Toronto and Chicago every year! He has never missed a juniors tournament which is an incredible feat in and of itself. He has served on the Zaibas Executive Board for many of those years. He unselfishly accepts any coaching assignment given to him. He has earned the nickname of our "Go To Guy". Admired and respected by his peers, opponents and most importantly generations of Zaibas Juniors!

Valdone Karosaite-Ziedoniene

Congrats to legendary Zaibas volleyball player Valdone Ziedonis for becoming the newest inductee into the Zaibas Hall of Fame, Class of 2014!