CENTAUR ONE: First Among Us

Posted on Oct 17, 2012

“You know me, Steve, I was an intense puppy.”

Meet Bob Koch. Centaur co-captain. Class of 1969. Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales.

This CENTAUR SEASONS encompasses the A.C. graduating years ’69 through ’74. Six years of schooling, seven years of seasoning.

For reasons I’ll speak of in future posts, these years constitute the college’s first real, tangible,  identifiable “era.” We share much in common, we of those classes, and I think we can all take credit for getting A.C. off the ground, into the air, on its way.

But as I have posted before, that class of ’69 remains first among equals.

And for my money, of those few Original Centaurs, Bob Koch remains first among that not-so-many.

Bob was A.C.’s first Intramural Athlete of the Year, in ’65-’66, when intramurals was the only game in town. Four years later he was the first Intercollegiate Athlete of the Year.

I met Bob when I was a freshman, his years in Center Valley gone but not forgotten, the stories about him legion. He came to the campus a couple of times my first year, and when there he’d run with the team, work up a sweat, throw some elbows, take no quarter, look right through you with those hawk-like eyes. I was terrified of him.  He was in fabulous shape still, fabulously intense.

How intense? “He was everything you could imagine,” says Tony Mazzeo, a freshman when Bob was a senior. Coming from Maz, the spiritual descendant of Bob Koch the Intense, that’s saying something.

Bob was part of the starting five on that first team. Though not because he was starting-five good. No, Maz says. Koch willed himself onto the floor:  “He was No. 1 in hustle, determination, balls, leadership, everything else. That was him. He had a lot of scraped knees, black eyes from bangin’, whatever it took. You know how they say the Phillies don’t have anyone to grab players by the neck and get them going? That was Koch.”

He was, in other words, PRECISELY what the Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales Centaurs needed to get a basketball program going, to carry the load beneath the burden of some tremendous trouncings, a couple of colossal crushings.

He continued to grab players even when he was gone.

Chris Cashman arrived the year after Bob. He was on a bus to an away game when Maz stood up and gave the team some what-for of his own.

Maz really got into it, Cash says, talking about how the team was playing like a bunch of girls, afraid of themselves, each other, afraid to get after it. Though maybe not so politely stated.

“This went on and on,” Cash remembers, “and then Maz says, ‘Bob Koch would never have let this happen!’ It was Bob Koch THIS! And Bob Koch THAT! And then Maz, he says something like, ‘NOW LET’S  PLAY TONIGHT!’  I remember the bus was dark, and Maz standing in the aisle by the seat behind me. And I’m thinking, I don’t know Bob Koch. I wouldn’t recognize Bob Koch. But it sounds to me like I sure better start playing like Bob Koch.”

It is, I know, too much a stretch to say that forty-some years later the DeSales University Bulldogs, the erstwhile A.C. Centaurs, still play like Bob Koch. But it’s a wonderful thought. And they should.

Koch’s Centaur team his senior season finished 3 and 14.

But, please, please, please, don’t miss the point here.

“That does not diminish what we brought to the table,” Bob says of that first collegiate team, adamant still.  “It was NOT a joke. There is no question about that. We took it very seriously. All of us. The attitude was we expected to win. We were all focused on being successful. We didn’t have much of it, but it was very important to us. It wasn’t just fun and games; it wasn’t just an intramural program.”

Coming out of Father Judge High School in Philly, Bob had been accepted at LaSalle and St. Joe’s. Philly Catholic colleges, Bob says, a logical next step for a working-class Philly Catholic kid just like him. But Judge was an Oblate school, and the priests there had been talking up this new place getting going somewhere up near Allentown.

They had him at “new,” he says, and he knew it even then.

“I liked the idea of being both the freshman and senior class wrapped into one,” Bob says. “I thought that could be something pretty special. Start now, and actually set the path for everybody else.”

He set the path – and then stayed on it.

Bob Koch spent 42 years coaching girls basketball at a handful of high schools in southeastern Pennsylvania.

(We pause to imagine what it must have been like for these girls when they got their first dose of Coach Koch!)

He took each of his teams to at least one league title. There were some state championship runs. Two undefeated seasons. He was a nine-time coach of the year; in 1995 he was a Converse National High School Coach of the Year Runner-Up.

These days he operates the Bob Koch Point/Shooting Guard Academy for high school girls. Fittingly, these hoops camps use the DeSales University facilities.

Set the path, stay on it.

“I am a product of what I experienced at DeSales,” he says.

I ask him for an example. He is quick with an answer. As a Centaur during that first season, in ’68-’69, he says, he was on the wrong end of a “thumping” more than once. That team lost games by – geez! — 21, 41, 22, 26 and … 70.

As a player, he says, he wanted to forget.

As a coach, he says, he knew he couldn’t.

“Steve, I had some teams that were very, very good,” Bob says of his girls teams. “We could have really hammered some teams. But somewhere along the line you just remember that you didn’t appreciate it as a player and you wonder what it accomplished. I never did it.

“Today’s values are very different,” he goes on. “I’m not a product of that.”

No, he’s not. He’s a product of Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales.

Which no longer exists.

On October 18th, 2012 at 2:07 pm, Turtle said:

How’s this for panache from Mr. hawk-like eyes? Summertime, late ‘60s (maybe 1968?) Bob and I along with a fellow A.C. student, affectionately known as “Good Times”, are in a powerboat somewhere in the bay near Ventnor at the Jersey shore. Bob wants to try something he has never attempted, waterskiing. He dons the life vest and attaches the skis. Into the water he goes. Now those bulging biceps of his bulge even more and those appropriately named hawk eyes really intensify and glimmer . You see Bob doesn’t swim and he’s in rapidly moving water of an unknown depth. Common sense trumps valor and back into the boat is Bob. No further attempt was made to ski, but Bob made an impression. Intensity? Determination? Gumption? No question that’s Bob Koch.


Welcome to CENTAUR SEASONS: A ‘memory blog’ of the basketball beginnings of a half-good, half-bad, all-new college team.

Once, I was a Centaur.

I played basketball for Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Center Valley, Pa. I was on four of the school’s first seven teams, was MVP senior year and in 1974 graduated in the fifth class.

My junior year I kept a diary: A History of the Events of the 1972-1973 Allentown College B-Ball Season, as Chronicled by, and With the Personal Memoirs + Occassional [sic] Philosophizing of the Author, One Stephen J. McKee.  One-hundred-forty-five hand-writ pages. (Yes, I was an English major.)

But it occurs to me now: Were I today a “Bulldog” playing for “DeSales University” (both mascot and name changed in 2000), my private “History” would be not a diary but a blog.

So starting November 30  “…Personal Memoirs…” will be re-imagined as CENTAUR SEASONS

A blog before its time, posted 40 years after in real time.

Meanwhile, beginning on September 24, here at CENTAUR SEASONS the preseason has already tipped off, with stories, interviews and reminiscences of the people, the place and the purpose of those early years of Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales.

Check back often. Sign up for CentaurSeasonAlerts. Email CENTAUR SEASONS to friends.

We were not a bad team, we Centaurs. We just weren’t very good. Winning was always the goal, if never exactly the point. How could it be, with victories so few?

Back then Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales was a couple of buildings in some cornfields.  Our commitment to the school’s basketball program was far greater than was the school’s commitment us. So what? We got to play college ball – and paid for the privilege! In return, we got to be part of a team, wear the red and blue, be Centaurs. And we got to create a place that was, right then, as much concept as it was college, making itself up as we went along.

What we got was a once-in-a-life-time chance.

All we had to do was keep showing up -- next practice, next game, next season. And so we did.