CLASSIC REDUX: Forgotten Centaur(ettes) — That they won no games doesn’t matter; that no one remembers does

Posted on Nov 22, 2013

Sue McCandless Pfeil says she realizes now that what she did during the 1971-1972 basketball season was a step forward for women at Allentown College.

But back then? She had NO idea.

“Furthest thing from my mind,” Sue says. “I just wanted to play basketball. I wanted to have a team. And if we wanted to have a team, I knew we were going to have to do it ourselves.

“What limited us gave us opportunity,” she says, warming to the memories. “There was no women’s basketball team established, but then we get to have the experience of getting it started and keeping it going so that it worked for us.  We made it. We designed it. We created it. As opposed to it all just sort of being there for us.”

One more thing: “I wanted to have enough to have a real team.”

* * * * *   ‘FORGOTTEN CENTAURETTES …’ CONTINUES BELOW   * * * * *

Welcome to a CENTAUR SEASONS “Classic Redux.” Every day from October 15 (March Madness!) through Thanksgiving Centaur Seasons is reposting shortened versions of last year’s efforts. (Click here to read today’s original.) Come December, CENTAUR SEASONS II will tip off with brand-new Centaur stories.

* * * * *  NOW, BACK TO ‘FORGOTTEN CENTAURETTES …’  * * * * *  

Sue enlisted a friend, Gail “Clyde” Roney. They went to Coach John Compardo, the Athletic Director and one-man-band of an athletic department.

Coach, says Walt Pfeil, “had the good sense not to say no.”

Sue and Clyde talked up the team to the college’s 70 or so co-eds.

“I spent more time getting the basketball thing going than I did on any school assignment,” Sue says.

Sue and Walt, now onboard as coach, attended a meeting of the Lehigh Valley Colleges Women’s Athletic Association to gin up some games.

Walt shanghaied his roommate, Wayne Rizzo, into being co-coach.

With an eight or nine game schedule in place (numbers vary), preseason practice commenced. All they had to do now was, well, everything

Of the core group of eight or nine women who signed on (numbers vary), maybe half had never touched a basketball. “The player who could dribble the ball three times without it going off her foot became our point guard,” Wayne says.

With no more court time to be squeezed from Billera Hall, Coach Compardo suggested the team practice up the hill, at Brisson Seminary.

“Yeah, they’ll let a bunch of girls run around up there in their shorts, sure they will. Nothing will happen” Wayne says. (In fact, they did let them. And nothing happened.)

During games there would be shots made in the opponent’s basket. One Centaurette would make “a great layup … ,” according to written notes from Walt. “The only issue was that the game was being played on the main court and the shot was taken and made on one of the side baskets.”

It would be easy here to make fun. But I won’t make fun.

I have tried with CENTAUR SEASONS to declare that the effort we guys put into our game be given proper due. Even at nowhere Allentown college. These Centaurettes (as they called themselves) deserve no less the same.

“We took it seriously,” Wayne says. “Walt took it very seriously. We practiced two, three times a week, and then we had the games, all on the road. We devoted a lot of time to it. We got into it. We wanted to make a good showing.”

Deborah Bubba Dolan came to the team with high school experience. Forty years later, she still appreciates how diligently Walt and Wayne approached their charge.

Sue gets the credit for getting the team going, Deb says. “But had it not been for Walt and Wayne coming forward, we probably wouldn’t have played.”

“I think that shows what the college was about when we were there,” she says. “How we were willing to help each other out. Here were these 20-, 21-year-old guys saying, ‘You don’t have a coach? We’ll coach you.’ ”

I could hear the gratitude in Deb’s voice through the phone.

“Oh, absolutely,” she declares. “I haven’t seen them in years, but I still have a great appreciation for them.”

Historical context. This 1971-1972 Centaurette year coincided with the final gasp of the pre-Title IX world of women’s athletics. In that era, nothing — nothing — could be taken for granted.

Meanwhile, for the Centaurettes, after a few weeks of preseason practice they got word that an informal scrimmage had been organized against the Lehigh University women’s freshman team, at their place. But when they arrived, the gym was set up for a real game. It got ugly quick.

“I don’t remember the score, but we were kept to single digits,” it says in Walt’s notes. “Our high scorer had two points.” Back in their dorm room that night, Walt and Wayne figure that this women’s hoops experiment was over. But everyone showed up – “strong” and “determined” – for the next practice.

For the games, Coach Compardo got the team grey ALLENTOWN COLLEGE T-shirts —  “and blue polyester shorts,” Sue says, dripping sarcasm. “And we were happy to get them.”

The first women’s basketball team at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales went 0 and 8 or 0 and 9 (numbers vary). As Walt has it in his notes: “We had a DEFEATED season.”

Though that’s not the point.

“What mattered,” Maria Martinez wrote me in an email, “was that we were starting a program for the women.”

“Not too many years after I graduated,” Sue told me, “I saw in an alumni newsletter what the team was like. And it made me think, Wow, we just had what we had. Look at what they have now!”

These days the DeSales University women’s Bulldog basketball program is a perennial power, having won an average of 20 games a season over the past decade.

“Without us realizing it,” Sue says, “we really pulled something off.”

(And yes: Walt and Sue married a few years after they graduated in 1973.)

COMING MONDAY: ‘Secrets of the Centaur’ Get an Unexpected Assist from an Unexpected Source

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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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