Best known in recent years for having contributed millions of dollars to the Reno YMCA, Reno High School Alumni Center, Nevada Humane Society and the University of Nevada, Reno, in addition to many other causes, the personable Link is still the yardstick by which notable Renoites are measured.
As spry as when he was a champion golfer and trap shooter, he was an effusive host as he welcomed his guests on his birthday, never missing a name or a complimentary comment for each individual.
Link and Chet Piazzo, his late brother, are best known to long-time residents here as the founders and operators of what was an iconic sports store in Reno for many decades following World War II.
Hard-working youngsters, they one day turned to each other while resting on their ditch-digging shovels and almost in unison said, “There’s got to be a better way to make money than this!”
As it turned out, they found numerous ways to earn the coin of the realm once they both returned from active duty in the war.
Starting with a long-time location near the corner of Fourth Street on the east side of Virginia Street, the two brothers were able to create one of the most complete sporting goods stores in the entire country. If there was an item that related to any of the major sports, as well as golf, hunting and fishing that you could not find at The Sportsman, then it probably did not exist.
My first venture into that location, in January 1945, was to pick up some essentials to go under my UNR basketball uniform and several pairs of sweatsocks. I had trouble then comprehending the massive amount of goods that were available, and this was during wartime. Over the years I made many trips to both the Virginia Street store and the newer location later on Fourth Street.
During those early post-war years the brothers Piazzo used their incredible energy to solicit the team uniform business from literally every high school in the state as well as the University of Nevada. It was appropriate at Link’s 90th party that the person who introduced him to the crowd prior to the cake cutting was UNR Athletic Director Emeritus Dick Trachok. As a Reno High football coach, a university football coach and then long-time Nevada athletic director, Trachok may well have been the best customer that The Sportsman ever had.
One of the highlights of the birthday party was the fact that Link, for the first time, showed off his spectacular collection of photos and other memorabilia that he has accrued over the years. His hard-working assistant, Steve Ricker, noted that it had taken the better part of five months to assemble and categorize the collection.
In typical Link style the displays were set up in categories in various rooms. One area contained his most cherished photos from his time in the service as an Air Corps bomber pilot. (One interesting set of photos depicted the devastation of Hiroshima a few days after the bomb hit. For flying over restricted area and taking photos Link was, for a short time, in hot water with his commanding officer).
In another room all of his pictures and commendations from his alma mater, Reno High School, dominate the walls. As he has often remarked, “All I ever needed to know, I learned at Reno High School!” In his memory the Alumni Center at Reno High bears his name.
Moving through the hallways and adjacent rooms one gets to see the vast collection of memorable golf, trap and other sports-related activities that consumed much of the young Piazzo’s free time. One group, of which he is especially fond, depicts scenes from the Holiday Hotel (now the Siena) “Mug Hunt” golf tournament. When the late Newt Crumley took over the Holiday in the late ’50s one of his first promotions was the Mug Hunt. It was a three-day affair that featured members of baseball’s Hall of Fame as the main attraction. Naturally, Link was Crumley’s choice to be chairman of the highly successful annual event that went on to spawn similar tournaments at Harrah’s, the Mapes and John Ascuaga’s Nugget.
Personal, civic, state and national commendations also abound since Link was one of the “movers and shakers” in the latter half of the 20th century both locally and on the national sporting goods scene.
In January of this year Link was givin the “Community Hero” award from the local Good Old Days club and will present the award to the 2009 honoree this coming January.
Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.
Editor’s note: Harry Spencer’s column is sometimes a mix of reporting and opinion. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.