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Ex-WHS star dies at 93

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Former Watertown High School athlete Leo Canale was so talented that he excelled in three sports at Syracuse University and may have played professional football if World War II had not required his service.

Canale died Sunday. He was 93.

Canale first drew notice as a halfback on the vaunted late 1930s Cyclones teams led by legendary coach William Graf. The Cyclones made two trips to Florida in 1936 and 1937 and Canale shined in the games, particularly against Clearwater High School in 1937.

Watertown won the game 48-0 and Canale scored three touchdowns. Lowell Drake, the head coach of Academy High School in Erie, Pa., was among the spectators and told former Times sports editor Jack Case, “I never saw a kid run any better than Canale.”

University of Florida coach Josh Cody echoed: “I have seen a lot of good high school backs, but none of them have any more than Canale.”

But Canale also won notice in basketball, leading the Cyclones in scoring for two seasons. He helped lead WHS to the Section 3 title in 1938.

Canale moved on to Syracuse University. He started on the freshman squad, then played varsity for three seasons. As a sophomore, he scored the winning touchdown against Colgate.

He played varsity basketball and tennis for Syracuse, too. Canale was the top player on the Orange’s tennis team for two seasons and captained the squad.

Canale also won a number of local tennis tournaments and was city champion for several years. He won Northern New York men’s singles champion honors twice. He even won the Northern New York breaststroke swimming championship.

Canale nearly joined his cousin Rocco Canale, in the National Football League. Leo signed with Rocco’s team, the Philadelphia Eagles, but World War II called. Canale was a sergeant in the Army during the war and took part in fighting in France, Belgium, Holland Germany. While serving with a tank destroyer unit in France, Canale was wounded and was returned to a military hospital in England.

After the war, Canale became a coach and athletic director at Gouverneur Central School and worked in the district for many years. He retired in 1976. He was recognized by Gouverneur as a member of the school’s first Wall of Fame class in 2011.

Canale was also recreational director in Gouverneur.

Canale died at his home in Sackets Harbor under the care of Hospice of Jefferson County and his caregivers.

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