SECRETS OF THE CENTAUR (part 1): Searching for that … ‘Something Else’

Posted on Oct 01, 2012

What’s the deal with this CENTAUR SEASONS? I mean, what am I trying to do here?

So far I’ve tried to provide a sense of why anyone would go to such a brand-new, barely there school in the first place. I’ve tried to explain why for me the chance to play for this fledgling program was a rare opportunity. And I’ve tried to provide some historical basketball context — BRUINS vs. CENTAURS — which I’ll continue to do soon in another post.

But I hope CENTAUR SEASONS can be about this as well:

Over the years, on those few occasions when we Allentown College types get together, as the night grows longer our conversation always circles the same topic. What was it about our time at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales – right there, right then – that still feels, even now, so … special? … unique? … different? … and ours alone?

I know what you’re thinking, and I won’t argue: Who doesn’t look back on their college days with a smile – to the best years of their lives, to all that and more?

But I insist – and when we get together we all insist – that there was something else going on at Allentown College right then, right there, forty years ago. There was something about the school. Something about the place. Something about the kids who went there.

Yes. That’s what I want CENTAUR SEASONS to be about. Finding that something else at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales. Blog by blog, post by post I hope to unearth it. The something else that was going on then that we can still learn from now.

Indeed, that was the challenge my senior-year roommate posed when I gave him a call. “How,” he asked me when I asked him, “can you take what happened there and describe it in a way that someone could look at it and say, ‘If I can replicate these things Steve is talking about in my own life, no matter what I’m doing I will be more successful?’ ”

Senior roommate Bob Zeccardi had played a bit as a freshman, and for all four years he was a mover and shaker at our brand-new school in the valley, bringing forth carnivals and concerts as if from out of the ground itself.

CENTAUR SEASONS, he said, can’t just be some old guys rehashing the old college stories. Yawn.

“Is this going to be a story about a quaint little place,” he demanded of me, “or is it a story about what makes a really great place anywhere?” That’s the question. “Because there aren’t a lot of great places, right? If you can communicate what it was that made that place so special, and you can somehow convey that those thing are transferable to other parts of your life, man, that would be powerful.”

Powerful, yes, and something else.

More than a few people have said this will be no easy task.

For instance: “I am not sure how you can capture the love affair that the first few classes had for the school,” wrote a revered Oblate priest back then who emailed me after I’d tracked him down. “It will be a test of your writing ability to make the story interesting for those who were not part of the growth stage.”

Well, uh, yeah, Father, I guess we’ll see, huh?

What I did was check in with many of the players from the first seven seasons. I asked them for all the old Centaur stories, sure, but I also asked them this: What was that something else of Allentown College?

They did not lack for opinion.

It was because Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales was “brand new,” … it was “small,” … it was “just getting started,” … it was “making itself up on the fly.”

It was because “everybody knew everybody,” … and “we were all in each other’s business,” … and “there was no place to hide.”

It was because “the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales were terrific educators,”…  and “all the teachers cared,” … and “you could really get to know each other.”

It was because the place “was in the middle of nowhere,’ … and “it was surrounded by cornfields,” … and “there were just a couple of buildings,” … and “there was no place else to go.”

It was because “nobody really knew what a college was supposed to be,” so everybody “just kind of made it up.”

It was because the place had “a particular vibe,” that only “a particular kind of kid could hear.”

Yes, it was all of that, and yet there was something else.

Something like: “There was no brick and mortar, there was just flesh and blood,” from Nick Nardo, a hoops taem stats guy.

Or like: “There was no ancient history, … because we were the history makers. Without even knowing it, we set the tone,” from Tom Shirley, a Centaur gaurd two years behind me.

Or like: “I can go on and on about the lack of things to do and, ironically, I can go on and on about all the things we did,” from Walt Pfiel, a Centaur his sophomore year.

I wish I’d said what Nick, Tom and Walt just said, plus what my roommate and the Oblate priest too, and all the players I’ve talked to said as well. They have helped me see that Allentown College — yes! — it really was something else. More important, they’ve helped me know where to look for it, too.

It’s the stuff between the lines, isn’t it? It’s the thing you can’t see but you know is there. It’s the space between the tiny dots in a pointillist painting, that place where color comes alive. It’s the Higgs bosun, even – “The God Particle,”   if you will — holding everything together, giving it all mass, meaning and momentum. Then and now.

The Secret of the Centaur – it’s something else.


On October 3rd, 2012 at 8:13 am, Steve McKee: Centaur Season said:

[…] SECRETS OF THE CENTAUR (part 1): Searching for that … ‘Something Else’ […]


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.