CENTAUR STORY: “I should have been a much better teammate”

Posted on Jan 23, 2013


It has been mentioned more than once in my memory blog of the 1972-73 Centaur Season that Dennis Ramella, senior co-captain, was shooting that year to become the school’s first 1,000-point scorer.

He will get there in 18 more days and three more games, when he scores four points in a humiliating blowout loss to Messiah College, out at their place. Forty years ago.

I mention his accomplishment pre-emptively for a couple of reasons. One is that come February 3, the thousand-point moment, I don’t mention the mark at all in the diary. Not word one. The other is that in the diary about all I’ve said of Dennis so far is what I’ve  said above. He was looking to become the school’s first 1,000-point scorer.

Dennis deserves better than that. This is my attempt to do so.

Dennis Ramella, a whippet-quick 5-foot-8-inch guard, was the most important player to walk onto the Billera Hall floor in the Centaurs’ first few seasons. He was a local kid with high school all-star cred. When he showed up for Allentown College’s second collegiate season, he gave the team a legitimacy it had never had.

He was a good guy, Dennis was. When I arrived as a freshman he was a sophomore on the Orientation Committee. Only the “OCs” could haze the new kids. Stupid stuff, old-school stuff, no-way-today stuff.

This next is going to sound dumb when I say it out loud.

Dennis, short guy, decided to take me, tall guy, under his wing. His favorite thing was to tell me to crawl underneath the lamp tables in The Atrium, the school lounge. These white tables were maybe three-feet square and 12 inches off the floor. I would dutifully comply, somehow wedging myself below. Dennis thought this hilarious. He would then call over any available freshman co-ed and have me introduce myself.

Sounds even dumber than I thought.

I was totally humiliated. Yet not humiliated at all. I figured out nearly as soon as I jumped into Orientation that the more enthusiastically I played along the more in control I remained. The OCs couldn’t make me the idiot if I made myself the idiot first. During Orientation I did tons of stupid, innocuous stuff. And well before it was over I felt like I’d already been at the college forever.

And, thanks to Dennis Ramella, I kinda-sorta met girls. (Didn’t help, but still.)

Dennis had a terrific Centaur career. Leading scorer each of his four seasons. Assists and steals leader as a freshman (probably other seasons, too; these stats weren’t recorded his other three years). He held the school’s single-game scoring mark, with 39 points, and he’s co-leader of “most foul shots attempted, game,” with 17 (Dennis could get to the bucket). As a senior he was MVP and was named the school’s Intercollegiate Athlete of the Year. His overall 14.9 points per game ranks him in the school’s Top 5 all-time. And there’s his 1,000 points (1,075 total). While nearly two dozen others have surpassed his mark, his being the first: they can’t that away from him.

But when I called Dennis a while ago to talk about our Centaur seasons, one of the first things he said, and with no prompting from me, was if he had it to do over again, he wouldn’t do it the way he did it.

Post-Allentown Dennis carved out an impressive career as a high school athletic director in the Lehigh Valley.

“Watching coaches go about their jobs,” he told me, “watching kids, the way they either responded or refused to respond. It really got me reflecting on myself as a player. There are so many things I should have done, could have done, differently.”

I was relieved Dennis had brought this up himself. Because me? I had no idea how to broach the subject.

Fact is, during games Dennis had the ball in his hands … a lot. He was just so much better than the rest of us. He could shoot. He could drive. He could blow by people. He could steal the ball. He had free reign, and especially his freshman and sophomore years, it was hard to argue. We needed the points.

The problem, Dennis said, is that by the end of his second year he could see that ONE-THOUSAND beckoning. And by his junior and senior years, he said, there was by then enough talent on the team that he should have employed HIS talents magnanimously.

“When I started having some success,” he said, “I immediately seized the opportunity to get my own little piece of the pie. That came to mean being the high scorer. And that really took me away from being the kind of player I should have been. I see a lot of kids now, and they remind me of the kind of player I should have been, could have been. I should have been a much better teammate. I had the opportunity to do something, to make a mark in some way other than score points, and I chose to score points.”

Then – again, largely unasked — he talked of things I never knew about him. That he trusted me enough to tell me was hugely complimentary, knowing as he did that I hoped to write about it.  I doubt, too, if any of Dennis’s teammates ever knew this about him either. So I hope they’re reading. Of all of us, it appears it might be Dennis Ramella who has taken the most with him from our long ago Centaur Seasons.

Dennis came from a basketball-playing family. His father, he said, had played on a Pennsylvania high school state championship team back in the forties. He died when Dennis was quite young. His step-father, a tall and talented athlete (a football player, too), had been a starter on that high school championship team, and he played in college out in western Pennsylvania, at St. Francis of Loretta. Ironically, a school our St. Francis was often mistaken for. He then had an opportunity with the Philly team in the young NBA, but he opted for a business career as the wiser move.

Dennis gave no inkling whatsoever that he had had anything but a positive relationship with his step dad. But even so. When Dennis said being a 1,000-point man at AC could be “my own little piece of the pie,” it was in that context.

I mentioned that he had obviously thought a lot about this – the player he was vs. the player he could have been.

Well, he said, no and yes. No because it was a long time ago. Yes because he’s still involved with high school athletics and he is still seeing all kinds of kids trying to play their games – and coaches trying to coach them.

““I have seen the type of player it takes to win state championships,” he said. “I look at those players and realize they do things I didn’t do. Not things I couldn’t do, but things I wouldn’t do. Looking back on it all these years later, and having coached now, there is no way I could have coached Dennis Ramella. Because he would have to be a lot more disciplined and a lot less selfish and a lot more team oriented than I was.” And then he laughed.  “If I coached me there would be a lot of battles.”

Dennis and our coach, Jack Sabota, they battled.

“I was fighting him all the way,” Dennis said. “Jack pulled me as soon as I scored my one-thousandth point. And he sat me the rest of the first half. And then P.J. started the second half.” That would be P.J. Brennan, a freshman to Dennis’s senior, and the subject here of his own CENTAUR STORY.

“Jack was saying, ‘O.K. you’re not going to play the way I want? You can watch with everybody else.’ And instead of me responding like I’d want my athletes to respond today, I just got more sullen. The coach has it out for me, that kind of thing. I handled it very immaturely.”

Don’t get him wrong, he said. He is very proud to be Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales’s first one-thousand point scorer. You bet. “It was a great feeling when I accomplished it, and it’s something that is very special to me.  It got me into the Hall of Fame, and I was humbled by that.”

It’s just that, well: “There are regrets that I didn’t become the kind of player that I obviously see now that I could have become.”

But Dennis, wait. If you’d been that player, you might not have got your thousand points.

Fine by him.

“I know I wouldn’t have gotten to a thousand points,” he said adamantly. “But maybe I’d have been a better player, maybe our team would have been better and maybe I would have had a better relationship with my teammates.”

Dennis has been married now to Cathy, his girlfriend in college, for 39 years. They have two boys, both Syracuse grads. He’s made his living forever in athletic administration — a job, he said, he was born to do.

“I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason,” he said.

So no, Dennis said, he didn’t end up at Center Valley’s Cornfield College by accident. He didn’t get a terrific Oblate education just because. While there he didn’t create a strong spiritual foundation on the fly.  And he didn’t play basketball the way he played basketball to no avail.

“It was all part of the process,” he said, the getting from there to here. And he needed it all to happen the way it did.  So no, in that regard, no, he does not have regrets.  “In terms of the way my life has played out, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

On January 23rd, 2013 at 10:27 am, tom campbell said:

Great insight into Dennis

On January 23rd, 2013 at 11:36 am, Turtle said:

And his scoring marks were set prior to the three point shot.

On January 25th, 2013 at 2:11 pm, Steve McKee: Centaur Season said:

[…] CENTAUR STORY: “I should have been a much better teammate” […]

On January 28th, 2013 at 12:49 pm, Nick Nardo said:

During the first two years of DR’s career, and from a ‘stats guy’, whose mission was to report our games to the local periodicals, many times DR was the first and sometimes the only option. This does not deter from the “HEART” with which our team displayed. Would not trade most of the team members for any reason and that includes many of our bench players.
Our team never gave up! Was proud to be a small part of it, but as previously discussed we were not blessed with a great supply of talent, but what was brought to the gym on any given day or night was left there. What more can you ask? Outstanding effort displayed … consistently.
You folks never left me wanting for something to report – win or lose.
Thanks to all for some great memories and for making my task much easier to complete!!!


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.