CENTAUR REASON (part 2): The First Rivalry

Posted on Oct 25, 2012

In the HBO movie “Live From Baghdad,” Michael Keaton plays a CNN producer who early on tells a CNN higher-up that what the network needs to boost its flagging ratings is a good war. The year is 1991, and soon enough Iraq invades Kuwait and then the U.S. invades Iraq. CNN has its war and with it a ratings bonanza.

Comparing sports to war is often foolhardy, so I’ll tread lightly. When the Centaurs took the court for its first collegiate season, in 1968-69, everything lay out there ahead of them. Not a bad thing at all. But not always a good thing. Because the Centaurs had nothing behind them, either. No history. No tradition. No foundation.

What the Centaurs needed was a good rivalry.

Soon enough, it had one.

“Of all the teams we played,” says Bob Koch, a senior on that first team, “York sticks out. Wow.  I will never forget those games.” Bob speaks of York College of Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Tom Junod from the Class of ’70 can forget, but only sort of: “I don’t remember the scores,” he says, “Maybe that’s selective memory.”

Alas, to refresh Tom’s recall. The year before I got there York beat the Centaurs twice: once by 33; once by 43. Bad enough. But two years before, in that first-ever collegiate campaign, York took out the Centaurs two times: once by … 1; once by … 70. S-E-V-E-N-T-Y. It was those two defeats — at opposite ends of the beatdown spectrum yet connected nonetheless — that roiled the rivalry to a rapid roar.

Game One: With seconds to play and the Centaurs down two, Allentown’s Joe Schieber, a 5-6 sophomore guard and the team’s assist leader, drives the lane. The lefty’s shot hits the back of the rim and bounces off right … but wait! … he’s fouled! No time left, Scheiber to the line. He’s true with the first, but can’t get the game to overtime. York 68, Allentown 67.

That wasn’t the whole story. For that game against the York College Spartans, the Centaurs were able to muster only five players into uniform.

These five: Bob Koch, Tom Junod, Jack Sabota, Joe Leary and Joe Schieber.

In the first half these five were down 11. At one point in the second half these five missed nine in row. Yet these five still lost by only 1. One! Junod had 18, Leary 16, Koch 14, Sabota 11, Schieber 9.

Still not the whole story. The York coach pressed the entire game. Even more, he subbed five at a time in three full-team waves. Fifteen on five.

“That S.O.B., that coach was a real jerk,” says Jack Sabota, a senior that year. “They came at us in three waves. They had the starters play about eight minutes; the next team played about six; the next team about three; and then he warmed up the starters again for a couple of minutes until the half. He did a similar thing in the second half, but with the starters in a bit longer. Forty minutes of total pressing.

“I played the whole G-D game,” Jack said, stuttering at the memory. “I remember sitting on the floor at the end of the game, against the stage, my back against the stage, and I couldn’t move, I was so tired.”

Still not the whole story.

Then there was game two.

No gallant late-game ironman heartbreak here. The Centaurs of Center Valley bussed 100-plus miles to York. The game was over before they left the Allentown College parking lot.  York took 95 shots, connected on 51.

York 124, Allentown 54.

“I remember getting killed,” Tom Junod says.

Wait, still not the whole …

The York coach, Bob Koch says, “He kept running five in and five out” –  just like in the first game.

Oh, and this, too: “That nut, that guy,” says Jerry Wilkinson, a freshman on that team, “he came out and pressed us the whole game” — just like in the first game.

“The Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales basketball team had a long ride home last night …” opined the Allentown Morning Call the next morning.

“We sure did,” Jerry says. “At half time they were up 35. I remember our coach came into the locker room and he went to kick a chair and he got his foot caught in it. A real Keystone Cops routine.”

Up 35 at the half and still he pressed, still the York coach ran fresh legs in a triple wave. The whole way. What was going on inside his head? Maybe he played everybody that way. Maybe he hated the fact that he had this two-bit school on the schedule. Maybe he was an S.O.B, a jerk, a nut. Maybe all of the above.

By the time I got to Center Valley, just three years into the program, no story was bigger, or more often told, or produced such bile in the telling as did tales of the rivalry with York College of Pennsylvania. If you’ve read the second post of CENTAUR SEASONS, you know I grew up in York. So once I got to Allentown, these York stories, I breathed them in so deeply I could taste the humiliation before I ever put on the blue and red.

A rivalry provides purpose, creates cause, manufactures meaning. Allentown College needed all of that and more. That York coach, that S.O.B., that jerk, that nut, that guy (spit it out!) did the Centaurs a favor. No, really. We played in no conference. We ran in no league. We were promised no chance at postseason glory. We just … played.

That York coach, god bless ’im, he made it matter — in ways that it otherwise wouldn’t have. Standing together, falling together, WE WERE THE CENTAURS, against the odds!

My freshman year the beatings continued. We lost to York twice again, by 23 and 26 – moral victories, almost, the margins nearly respectable — the York coach pressing all the way, five in a wave, times three.

And then the next year we played them again …

… to be continued …

On October 25th, 2012 at 6:43 pm, john Cooper said:


I rememeber those ugly green uniforms and how old they looked compared to us!

On October 27th, 2012 at 2:40 pm, FranM said:

great story, very compellingly told; feels like it just happened; tears in my eyes reading this — good job!

On October 29th, 2012 at 7:02 am, Steve McKee: Centaur Season said:

[…] CENTAUR REASON (part 2): The First Rivalry […]


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.