SECRETS OF THE CENTAUR (part 2) Why Us? Why First?

Posted on Oct 12, 2012

Someone had to be first. Someone had to be in those first couple of classes. Someone had to be there to get this new Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales thing off the ground and into the air.

But why was it us?

A question I promise to ask more than once in CENTAUR SEASONS. And I hope an answer can help explain “The Secrets of the Centaur” — how and why this brand-new school in the middle of nowhere actually DID get off the ground and into the air.

But first: I realize that “us” is a relative term. The first of “us,” in the scheme of these CENTAUR SEASONS, got to Center Valley in September 1965, freshman in the class of 1969. I got there five years later, freshman ’74. The last of “us” got there three years after that, freshman ’77.

We are all us, but this needs to be noted: The class of 1969, this very first of us, remains first among equals.

There are myriad reasons why. Here’s one:

When Bob Koch and the rest of that first 156 showed up on campus, the resident students were housed in a just-built dorm up the hill from the school, at Brisson Seminary.

“For the first few days,” Bob says, “I had the only functioning bathroom in the place. That’s a fact. They hadn’t finished the bathroom facilities for the rest of the student body. We had lines of people waiting to use the bathroom.”

Surely no better story can be told to establish the “We-First” bona fides of the Class of 1969.

“It would be tough to get students to commit to something like that now,” Bob says.

It couldn’t have been all that easy to get kids to commit then. Except they did. We did. Us. And therein lurks the Secrets of the Centaur.

“This whole ‘thing,’ ” says Jim Naccarato, “this ‘college,’ this ‘entity,’ all of it was an adventure.”

Jimmy Nac, two years ahead of me, arrived at Allentown as an Oblate seminarian. While the rest of us were in jacket and tie for away games, Nac was in his collar. It was a real kick, he remembers, when after a game he’d come out of the locker room and he could see opposing fans looking the man in black up and down.

As a “Sem,” Nac was certainly better plugged in than I was to the grand leap the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales were making in their attempt to conjure a college from the cornfields. “They had NO idea where this thing was going to go,” Nac says of the priests charged with the mission. “This was RISK. There was NO guarantee.

“Everyone,” Nac says – Oblates, teachers, staff and students — “was taking a gamble here.”

I am tempted now to declare that it took a special kind of kid to show up at Allentown College. I will resist. Though I will venture that it took a particular kind of kid – first to show, then to stay.

“Everyone,” says Dave Glielmi , my junior-year roommate,  “who goes to college looks back at their memories. But our memories are tied directly to the fact that it was all just starting out. And I think there was something inherent in that that made us different than just some average kid coming out of high school.”

Dave was the year behind me. Six-foot-two and 180 pounds, he was the best player to heed the call and come to the college during this CENTAUR SEASONS era. His curly reddish hair was already thinning, but so what: He looked like the actor James Caan, who was having his early career moment with a “Brian Song” and “Godfather” double-play.

Dave warmed immediately to the “Why Us?” question when I called him out of the blue.

“You go to a school that’s a hundred years old and your particular mark on that school for your four years isn’t going to change the school very much. Their times there have to do just with them, not the college. Our times, they were directly related to the infancy of the school.”

Dave played at St. Joe’s Prep – in the Philly Catholic League — with Mo Howard, who would go on to Maryland. In the City Championship Game versus famed Overbrook High, Dave played against Andre McCarter, who would go on to UCLA and an NCAA championship.

“Played me right out of my jock,” Dave says of guarding McCarter.

At Allentown, Dave remembers, “We had the unique opportunity to be someplace where the school changed year to year because of us – because we changed, and that changed the school. It was going through an evolution that we were involved in. I don’t think the average kid at the average school gets that kind of an opportunity.”

Dave Glielmi’s name, by the way, is pronounced … Dave …  GELL-me. Away-game announcers routinely butchered it. Some blundered ahead emphatically: Dave GLIM-ee! Dave Gim-LEE! Others asked for help imploringly: Dave [PAUSE] Glee-EL-ee-EL-mee? Every so often one would get through Dave and then just stop cold. At which point Dave GELL-me would run out and join the starting five so the game could start.

To make Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales work, Dave says, you had to be willing to wrap your arms around everything the school was — and wasn’t — right then, right there.

“When you embraced that atmosphere, it was all encompassing,” he says. “There were kids at that school who didn’t belong at that school and I’m sure they were miserable. You had to be willing to embrace the growing up of the school, that it was brand new.”

The Secret of the Centaur? Yes, Dave insists, but it was in the details. “You had to accept the fact that you were the one paying the dues for this college to eventually become something. You either sat back and said, ‘This isn’t a real school, this isn’t what people do at a real school,’ or you said, ‘You know what? This is kind of neat, and together we can have a good time here and we can make this special.’ Those were the choices we had.”

The “we,” of course, was “us.”


Brian’s Song” trailer … … The death of Sonny Corleone (violence and language) … …  1975 NCAA championship game, UCLA vs. Kentucky




On October 15th, 2012 at 6:07 pm, Steve McKee: Centaur Season said:

[…] SECRETS OF THE CENTAUR (part 2) Why Us? Why First? […]


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.