Jim Gabeler had a passion for sports, especially volleyball, that was contagious to anyone he met.
His efforts and influence through the Caroga Lake Volleyball Club, which he helped form in 1990, can be seen on the court of every local high school and college volleyball team.
Wednesday, Gabeler died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan at the age of 63, but his legacy and passion for volleyball will be long remembered and appreciated by the players, coaches and fans he helped to enjoy volleyball.
"I've known Jim since 1989 when I took over coaching volleyball at Broadalbin-Perth," Mike Calvello said. "It goes without saying the tremendous impact he has had on volleyball in our area, not only in the growth of our sport but also in the many lives of the young woman who have gone through the Caroga Lake Volleyball Club. He saw the need for local high school players to play outside of the school year and started the CLVC. Over the years, thousands of girls have played for him and have benefited from his knowledge, passion and commitment to the game. His influence reaches far beyond Fulton County. So many girls are better volleyball players because of him, but more importantly, they are better young women. He taught them that if they worked hard and were committed, they would not only succeed on the volleyball court but also in life."
One of Gabeler's former players, Herkimer County Community College head volleyball coach Kristy Lynch, has remained active in the sport as an official and coach with the Caroga Lake club.
"We officiated together for the last three years and I've coached with him since 2004 with the Caroga Lake Volleyball Club," she said. "Anyone in the capital area knows Jim and what he's meant to the sport of volleyball as a whole. He's been influencing the sport for years and will influence it for years to come because the kids he has coached have grown up to be coaches."
Lynch described Gabeler as "such a funny person. He was so full of life. He was always dedicated to coming to all the matches and practices. You would see him all over at matches just to support the girls that played for him. He was like a second dad to many of the girls I played club with. He was just the person that was always there for us. I expected to see him at practice [Thursday]. When I got the news, I was just shocked."
The Caroga Lake Volleyball Club is an invitation-only, U.S. Volleyball Association team that offers girls between the ages of 14 and 17 the opportunity to develop their skills in a highly competitive atmosphere at top-level Junior Olympic tournaments throughout the Northeast. They are based out of Wheelerville School, where Gabeler taught and coached until recently retiring after 38 years of service.
"Jim Gabeler did more for local volleyball than most people really know," Fonda-Fultonville coach Pat Mancini said. "I first got to know him when my daughter, Mandie, was in seventh grade and asked her to play on the club team. He did a lot to help reinforce her and my love of the game of volleyball. I learned more about coaching from him than from anywhere else. He had such a wealth of knowledge of the game that he was always willing to share. Many of my players have played for the Caroga Lake Club team, which seriously impacted the success that we have had. I knew that he would refine any player that played club for him and that they would return the next season as a much better player. He will be greatly missed."
Mayfield High School coach Eileen Rovito said Gabeler had an impact on the Lady Panthers' consistent success.
"Jim was a great person who always put the volleyball girls ahead of everything," she said. "He was passionate about the sport and passionate about giving athletes opportunity. From my perspective, Jim has been one of the reasons why our program here at Mayfield has been successful over the years. He drew potential out of every player he worked with, but more important, he instilled life lessons. Work hard, do the best you can do, and behind every, sometimes stern, direction he gave was the knowledge that he believed in you as an athlete and if you worked hard, you were somebody. Jim will be sorely missed, but his legacy is alive and well in all the people he has touched along the way."
Dolgeville volleyball coach Barb Allen saw the effect Gabeler had building the competitive fire in her daughters Aris and Lora.
"Jim Gabeler had an amazing effect on both my daughters," she said. "Aris needed to be tougher and he helped with that. She lived and breathed volleyball at club time and couldn't get enough . . . they shared that together. Her bags were always packed to play when he called and asked her to fill in when someone was injured or sick. She followed in his footsteps and now teaches middle school and coaches volleyball.
"Lora wouldn't be the volleyball player she is without him," coach Allen said. "He sometimes mixed up the two girls names and she became "Ice" because of her solid serving. He told her she was a 'gamer,' someone who could stay tough at game point and she now strives to live up to that."
A funeral service will be conducted at 10 a.m. Monday at Foothills United Methodist Church. His family will receive friends at Walrath and Stewart Funeral Home, 51 Fremont St., Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m.
Contributions may be made to the Caroga Lake Volleyball Club or the colorectal cancer division of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center 1275 York Ave., New York, NY 10065.
"We're going to meet as coaches and with some of the staff," Lynch said. "There are so many people involved with the Caroga Lake Volleyball Club. We are just going to try to figure out where to go from here and how to handle everything. It is big loss for the community."