LEGENDS OF THE FIRST: The Original Centaurs Original Gift.

Posted on Oct 05, 2012

The future is not a gift; it is an achievement. Every generation helps make its own future. This is the essential challenge of the present.”  — Robert F. Kennedy, 1962*

 I have mentioned this before but it bears repeating. By the time I arrived at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in September 1970, the school itself was already five years old, there had been a basketball team for three and two senior classes had graduated.

In other words, as brand-spanking new as Allentown still was when I got there, the place already boasted history and legacy, each with stories to tell.

Wide-eyed, open-eared, a total freshman, I inhaled every one of these twice-told tales.

In three seasons, the Centaurs had already played 56 games. The wins had been few (15). But the victories did include a buzzer beater and a double-overtime, one-point win on the road, against a four-year college.

The 41 losses? Well, they’d come by every imaginable method.  Heartbreakers by a point or two. A couple where, in truth, the Centaurs might have won had they been more familiar with the concept. There were more than a few bone-crushing, soul-numbing, character-zapping obliterations, one by 70 – yes, 70!  —  points.  Some were of a pattern: overmatched Centaurs fall behind early, then hang in to lose by less than, say, 20, bestowing a certain respect.

There had been more than a few fights. (What is it about Catholic teams that fights are such a shroud of honor?)  There’d been long bus trips to nowhere. There’d been too many away games played in junior high gyms. Too many home games played in front of too few fans.

And there had already developed a nasty, nasty rivalry, providing the Centaurs with a team to hate, despise, want dead. Onward, Christian soldiers! More about that in future CENTAUR SEASONS posts.

And it had all started with that first-ever team, in ’68-’69. Much is owed them.

For me, taking it in, it was all ancient history – wonderful, aura-filled, awe-inspiring stuff. What did I know? I was a brand-new freshman off to college hearing it all for the first time. I could have been listening to the story of James Naismith’s original nine and the game they played at the Springfield, Massachusetts, YMCA 65 years (nearly to the day) before the Centaurs took the court.

It all seemed that long ago and at least that important.

Wait. It was that important.

Never once in the telling of these stories did I ever hear a narrator not take it serious. Which isn’t to say there wasn’t plenty to laugh about. There was plenty to laugh about.

Truthfully? There was as much about that first Centaur team that was pretending to be a college basketball team as actually being one.

But here’s the thing: in pretending to be real they became real. Some of the secret to the success of Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in those early days.

This was the ’69 Centaur team’s gift to Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales. This is their gift to DeSales University, even to this day.

In my research for CENTAUR SEASONS I dug through the school archives in an effort to reconstruct the narrative of each of the Centaurs’ first seven campaigns.

I read the clips from that first intercollegiate season, 1968-’69. Thirty-three guys tried out. Coach Walt Dreyfoos kept 17 and suited 12 a game.  No one over 6-foot-3; six no more than 5-foot-10. One — 1 — with significant high school experience.

I paged through the hand-lined mimeographed score sheets, checked out the typed-up two-game, four-game and ten-game stats reports (alas, there is no end-of-season wrap-up). There being no S.I.D., the players did all this themselves.

Find me college players willing to do that today. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

I lived their season through the yellowed papers and hand-typed sheets. And came to appreciate that they were doing their damndest to be a real college team.

It would have been so easy for them not to have gone after it as best they could. But no. They weren’t just a bunch of guys down Billera Hall playin’ hoops. This wasn’t just an intramural run. They were basketball players telling the story of their season even as they created it – just like any other college team.

Jack Sabota, senior, had 29 in the first game on some slick 14-of-24 shooting. He broke a hand in the second game and never got the touch back. Tom Junod, junior, averaged 18.4 points through the first 10 games. A mark which had it stood would still rank him third on the all-time single-season list. Then he, too, must have got hurt, as the rest of the year was something of a struggle. Freshman Tony Mazzeo got carred off the court (by the handful of fans in attendance) after that game-winning, buzzer-beating Billera bucket.

And so it went — these stories, these tales, these myths, these epics (what a freshman I was, listening!) — through to the end of that first season with its 3-and-14 reecord.

Were they a college basketball team? Sorta. Did they act like one?  Totally.  And because that first team acted like one, so then did the second and the third and the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and and and … all the way to last season’s forty-fourth.

Legends of the first, indeed …

Bob Koch, Tom Junod, Jack Sabota, Tom Paolini, Joe Leary,  Joe Schieber, Tim McGowan, Tony Mazzeo, Bill Ford, Larry Copes, Bill Durnan, Mike Dowd, Tony Hoppe, Jim Van Horn, Bob Blewis, Jerry Wilkinson, Andrew Torma. (I think that’s everybody.)

*SOURCE: “Robert F. Kennedy Quotations,” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

HOOPS HIGHLIGHTS FROM THIS CENTAUR SEASON ERA:

UCLA (Lew Alcindor)  vs. Perdue (Rick Mount), 1969 NCAA Final

Pistol” Pete Maravich at LSU

More Pistol, because why not?

 

 

 

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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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