Summer Classic – A Period of Transition

 Summer Classic – A Period of Transition

Msgr. Vincent Keane in 1985.

By Keith “Bugsy” Goldberg

Ten years is a long time to spend running a volunteer organization or event of any kind. The Summer Classic celebrated its 10th year in 1994 with a special logo that adorned the league shorts. For the directors, it was 12 weeks of five hours a day, four nights a week, just at the schoolyard each night for 10 years. Many more hours were required on top of that, particularly during the six weeks leading up to the start of play every season.

Ace Proce in 1985.

Things would soon be changing. Bugsy married Marybeth Flanagan in 1991 and they would give birth to three boys by 1998. Bugsy left the floor of the N.Y. Commodities Exchange to take a job at Roxbury Mills on Beach 101st Street and also began a five year stint working the PM shift with FEDEX. This meant a change in his role since he could no longer be at the schoolyard at night for the games. He continued to produce the schedules, coordinate the uniforms, and work with the NCAA and the college athletic directors. Over the course of the first 10 years, Flip Mullen’s seven children had all moved through the program and as the second decade wore on, only Brian was still playing. Rosie Whelan picked up a partner to help with the female divisions as Flip’s niece, Kim Mullen, joined the team. Kenny Whelan continued to assign the officials for the younger divisions.

In 1995, Kevin Boyle approached the Summer Classic commissioners with a request to start a division for 35 and older men who still wanted to play but could not keep up with the intensity and physicality of the Men’s Open League. There was no court time available in the schoolyard, but they had a different idea. They wanted to play their games in the (hot, sweaty) gym. To that point, the Summer Classic was only played in the schoolyard, but the gym was now added and a new division, given the name Graybeards, was added. This would end up being a particularly noteworthy occurrence as it formed the basis of The Graybeards organization that would be created six years later. Summer Classic commissioner Steve Stathis was among the initial players and his Summer Classic role refocused to the Graybeards division. In 2001, he would become the first President of The Graybeards organization.

In 1997 with Bugsy working nights, Steve focusing on the Graybeards, and Flip’s children no longer active, the first major change in Summer Classic leadership occurred. Flip approached Kevin Boyle and Jimmy Dunn, and they accepted the challenge to be the new lead directors of the Summer Classic, after two years of running the Graybeards division. Boyle and Dunn helmed the program for a few years and then Kevin Raphael took the reins. The schedule was shortened to end the first week of August in order to leave the rest of the month free from having to be at the schoolyard. Commissioners for the different divisions included Ray Corrigan, Joe Mingino, Jim McKeon, Pat Klein, Frank Mangano, Carol Kelleher, and Joe and Debbie Kenel. Frank Dima’s role as the staff member became more prominent and he was assisted by Tommy French, Brian McKeon, and Danny O’Toole.

The players on the Men’s Open rosters in 1985 ranged from 18-35, with a few exceptions. As the second decade unfolded, many had aged and switched into the Graybeards division or simply retired. Rich McDonagh was the last player on a 1985 roster to retire from the Open division. He actually lasted into the third decade. With the first generation moving on and the season shortened, player commitment began to decline, and the Open league reduced in size before briefly discontinuing for a few years in 1996-97. The open league resumed in 1998 with eight teams under the direction of Erik McManus who then handed off to Ryan Whelan in 2002.

Fr. Dunne in 1985.

The focus was now on the younger divisions. It also became a Golden Era for the Girls/Women’s divisions, centered on the amazing trio of Clare Droesch, Janelle McManus, and Tricia Tubridy. Grace Kelly (Leahy) had been the star of a strong Girls High School division when it got off the ground, but Clare, Janelle, and Tricia took it to another level. During their time, eight or nine of the 10 girls selected as NY CHSAA All-Stars were regularly playing in the league each year. This then became more pronounced as they moved into the Women’s Open division as play was just a notch or two below the WNBA and included other women’s basketball legends such as Sue Bird and Christy Morrone.

Deep into the second decade of the Summer Classic, Rockaway suffered the first and worst in a series of tragedies and hardships that have beset the peninsula in the 21st century. The 17th season had barely ended a few weeks before when 9/11 changed all our lives forever. Among the many who were murdered that day were Michael Andrews, Charlie Heeran, and Jimmy Riches, who all had spent many years playing in the Summer Classic. Just two months later, Christopher Lawler died when Flight 587 crashed less than 100 yards from the St. Francis schoolyard. The Rockaway community and the Summer Classic family came together to support all the families who lost their loved ones. The Graybeard division basketball players were galvanized by the tragic events to form The Graybeards organization which has done so much in the years since. The Summer Classic is about basketball, but it has been and continues to be more than that. It is a place to be together as a community with St. Francis at its center. This was true in 1985. It was true in 2004. It is true in 2024.

Photos courtesy of Flip Mullen.

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