CENTAUR STORY: “Whatever the Challenge Was of Being the Captain, I Wanted It”

Posted on Feb 06, 2013

I didn’t think this forty years ago, but I am now. Why didn’t Chris Cashman just go ahead and quit the team? But that he didn’t speaks volumes. About Chris, for sure, and maybe also about how being on a team, even at such a place as our cornfield college, could mean so much to all of us.

On THE VERY FIRST DAY OF PRESEASON for his senior-year season – this 1972-73 memory-blog year – Cash turned his ankle during one of the very first drills.

[[All LINKS IN CAPITAL LETTERS TAKE YOU TO A PREVIOUS CENTAUR SEASONS POST THAT PROMINENTLY FEATURES CHRIS CASHMAN.]]

“I was at the top of the key with ball, attempting to drive the lane,” he says. “I felt the ball go one way, my body another way and my ankle a third way.”

It didn’t look like much, but…

“We went to the hospital and the doctor said, ‘You’d have been better off if you broke it.’ I’d ripped every ligament west of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.’”

Cash didn’t quit the Centaurs. There’s no need to ask him and I’m not suggesting he should have. Nor am I implying the team would have been better off if he had. Quite the opposite, actually.

I’m just sayin’.

Certainly no would have blamed him had he packed it in. (And he wouldn’t have been the first to do it.) He was a senior, a politics major, plenty on his plate. Cash was more of a serious sort than the rest of us (at least me, for sure.) Job hunting, interviews, life itself was out there waiting, and none of it did he take lightly. There was also Marianne Salinas, one in the group of the school’s first co-eds, in my class, and it sure looked to us like a marriage was coming. (AND MARRIED THEY ARE.)

So once Cash destroyed his ankle, the last thing he needed was the hours every day rehabbing at the gym – finding a ride, ice, heat, massage, the slow return to running, step by step – five, six weeks of it. Followed every evening by two hours of practice, on the sidelines, his insides surely in a knot. Then three months of the season TRYING TO GET INTO A GAME.

While paying his own way for the privilege.

In high school Cash had been the basketball manager at Cardinal O’Hara in the Philadelphia Catholic League. That means he was likely that classic athletic trope, The Last Man Cut.

He didn’t quit then, either. O’Hara was a big-time, championship program. He knew sticking around was the correct move. “I tried to absorb as much as I could,” he says. “I wasn’t just a scorekeeper.  It wasn’t just going to practice and going to games. I spent a lot of time with the coaches. That’s what I brought to Allentown, without knowing if I’d have an opportunity to play.”

Cash was a 6-3 center-forward. He understood the game. He could handle the ball. He was coolly competent, eager – wanting — to take the lead in demanding situations. I always looked for him on the court, and to him for advice.

The leadership thing, Christopher was born to it. (We often called him by his full and proper name; he’d earned it.) He was the oldest of six boys. When his family came to games, afterward, up in the lobby, the Cashman Boys would almost naturally line up chronologically and by height, Christopher at the head.

“My parents were hard working and very discipline oriented,” Cash told me when I gave him a call to talk of his Centaur seasons. “They focused on the fact that I was the oldest, and they expected me to be the leader, they expected me to set a good example. And I absolutely embraced it. I was proud that my parents were proud of me for wanting to be a leader. And I guess that carried through to college.  I aspired to be the leader. Not that I didn’t screw off, but I was always very conscious of reputation and, you know, of trying to act a little more mature than I might have otherwise.”

Once, in a game, with the Centaurs out of timeouts and the score getting away, Cash faked losing a contact lens to gain some stoppage time. “I got everyone down on the floor, looking,” Cash says. “I got both refs on their hands and knees. After we’d had a like a time out, it was, “Oh, I got it, I got it! It’s in the corner of my eye!’ ”

Leadership? “I was a freshman then,” Cash says. “Maybe I didn’t have all my values centered yet.”

As that freshman Cash had been the team’s leading rebounder. As a sophomore he’d averaged nearly a dozen points per, second on the team. As a junior he’d started on the best team in the school’s (albeit short) history.

As for his senior Centaur year, … well, the plan was simple. Cash had played in every game his first three years, all 55 of them.

“I was pretty sure that AT SUCH A YOUNG PROGRAM that wasn’t the case for anyone else,” he says.

And so going into his senior season, he – we – fully expected his streak to extend unbroken. He made no bones about it, that he wanted this. A personal something to take with him when he graduated. Playing on this team, you see, it mattered to all of us in myriad ways.

His best friend in high school had been Tom Inglesby, the star of that O’Hara team. Tom went on to Villanova and glory as a sophomore starter in the NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME AGAINST UCLA in the Astrodome. I was just a freshman that year, barely aware of the Cash-Ings connection, but I do remember Cash watching Villanova’s run with great interest. I never detected any jealousy, Cash for his more-talented friend. Still – and this is just me speculating — Cash surely wanted his senior year co-captaincy to be a capstone he could in some measure place next to his friend’s grander accomplishments.

We also knew going into that ’72-’73 season that Christopher was champing on the bit to take on that captaincy, be the leader, in charge. He had apprenticed the year before under then-seniors Tony Mazzeo and Jerry Wilkinson, who had led the Centaurs to a non-losing, 8-and-8 season, a very (very very) big deal.

Now it was Christopher’s turn — by divine right, unquestioned. “I didn’t see it as ‘de facto,'” he told me.  “BUT WHATEVER THE CHALLENGE WAS OF BEING THE CAPTAIN, I WANTED IT.”

And then it was over, down in a heap that first practice.

“I can still remember that, while lying on the floor, the first thing I thought was, There’s A CHANCE I’LL MISS A GAME. Before we even got ice on it, I was trying to figure out how many weeks it was to our first game. I felt I was letting people down. Even as I think about it now, I can remember how emotional it was. I was very distraught I would miss a game.”

WHICH HE DID, RIGHT AWAY, IN OUR OPENER against Lehigh County Community College. He never got off the bench. He had returned just a few days before — heavily taped, largely immobile — but game as all get out.

“I thought there was time. I thought I’d play in the first game. I felt I was ready. But I wasn’t.”

So he adjusted: Play every home contest on the schedule.  THAT ENDED QUICKLY, TOO.

WE WON THAT LCCC GAME, by the way, and we looked good doing it. The locker room after was a joyous riot. Cash played along, talking up the team’s success, but he was crushed. You could see it on his face that night, and for the rest of the season, too.

Still, he led. Of course. In the preseason he had been elected co-captain (with Dennis Ramella), his ankle still an ugly blue-green-purple-yellow-brown-black skin-stretched balloon, bilbous blunted toes sticking out the end. And that barely describes it. So he did what he could and got on with it.

“I wanted to be there, be available, contribute,” Cash says. “For weeks it was all I could do. And I think as I continued to do that, as I embraced people, they embraced me. It helped me feel I was still a part of it.”

The Centaurs of Cash’s senior season are right now in the memory blog at 2-and-8, plummeting on an eight-game losing streak. Christopher had a few good moments in the second half of the season, but it’s fair to wonder what might have been had he been part of it on the floor all year.

Except he wasn’t.

But he never quit. Though he refuses now to take more credit than due him. He was, he said, no different than anyone on the team. Ripped-up ankle or not.

“None of us had to be there,” he told me. “None of us had to play basketball for Allentown College. But we did.”

On February 6th, 2013 at 8:07 am, Wilk said:

Steve,

Nice writeup on Cash. I agree wholeheartedly on his description of his parents’ expectations. I did lose my way in deciding if this was the same guy who almost got us in a street fight at Camden Convention Hall vs Rutgers
Camden.


On February 7th, 2013 at 7:03 am, Steve McKee: Centaur Season said:

[...] CENTAUR STORY: “Whatever the Challenge Was of Being the Captain, I Wanted It” [...]


On February 7th, 2013 at 11:32 am, PJ Brennan said:

Steve-O: Great blog about Cash. It should be no surprise that with his political science background, comportment and leadership skills Cash went on to a distinguished career in municipal government in Philadelphia culminating in his appointment as Deputy Mayor. Well done, Cash – then and now.



 
     

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.

Welcome to CENTAUR SEASONS.

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