Summer Classic – The Golden Decade

 Summer Classic – The Golden Decade

By Keith “Bugsy” Goldberg

The success of the first year of the St. Francis de Sales Summer Classic surpassed all expectations. Interest grew and expansion followed. Year two included the start of the Girls High School division with four teams, and the separation of the Boys Grammar School into two divisions with eight teams in the Senior division for grades 6, 7, 8, and six teams in the Junior division for grades 3, 4, 5. This could only be accomplished by putting Court 3 into league use. The Boys High School division grew to 10 teams, and the Men’s Open league went to 14 teams playing a 13-game schedule, with four teams on a waiting list to get in. All the teams in the first year were essentially from St. Francis with the exception of the Blarney Castle, mostly from St. Rose.

The second year added teams from Breezy Point-The Dugout, and St. Camillus-Tubridy’s. To ensure that the league would primarily be composed of players from Rockaway, a residency rule was put in place, limiting teams to two non-residents on their roster. The summer bungalows downtown, and the cabanas at The Surf Club and Silver Gull in Breezy led to some “creative” resident qualification! Later on, an exemption was made for non-residents who had played a minimum of four years in the High School and Grammar School divisions.

Site improvements followed. A portable hot dog cart was initially used to sell hot dogs, soda, and water in the yard during the games. Flip Mullen had greater ambitions and acquired a 20′ shipping container that was refashioned into a full-blown concession stand that added ice cream to the menu. “The Green Monster” also served as the league office, a changing area for the officials, and storage of all equipment. It occupied the northeast corner of the Beach 129th side of the schoolyard and was quite a project, with not-yet Fr. Peter Rayder and Terry Cleary doing much of the electrical work. Bleachers were “acquired” with many thanks to “Jeff.” Additional lighting was added to eliminate some of the not-so-bright spots. Eventually, a new lighting system was put in place which lasted until Superstorm Sandy. The additional electric capacity of the lighting poles led to the replacement of handheld timers and flip card scoreboards with electronic scoreboards mounted on the poles. After the fifth year, the playing surface was wearing down and to keep the courts in top shape, a new layer of asphalt was added. This required the backboards to be raised so that the correct 10′ height was maintained. Finally, Court 4 was added. Because the space was not as large, it was smaller than the other courts, had no seating space, and was only used for play by the youngest divisions.

All this work required additional fundraising. The Century Club was held again and there was also a Sponsor’s Night party in the gym that included a thank you presentation to Keith “Bugsy” Goldberg who also sang with the band at the party, featuring Gerald Bair and Walter Ensor. Other fundraising projects included handling the parking arrangements at the Rockaway Rugby 7s’ tournament as Mullen was always looking for ways to pay for the improvements. The league uniform shirts were very attractive, with the logo that still adorns them today, but more notable were the league shorts which were required to be worn to play. It was a sad day when Champion discontinued them, and the new styles never felt quite the same. Rita Mullen was the unofficial enforcer of the uniform rule. If you forgot your shorts, you could buy another pair from The Green Monster in order to play. If you didn’t, you had to sit out the game.

The quality of our volunteer coaches, many of whom played in the Open league, was a large part of the league’s success. Just as important was the quality of the officials. Paul Fitzgerald originally assigned the officials before he was replaced by Tim McAleer. McAleer had access to the best officials working in the CHSAA, many of whom also officiated at the college level including in the NCAA tournament. A final ingredient was our staff member who handled much of the physical work every night setting up the bleachers and all the equipment and supervising the timers and scorers, as well as clean up at the end of each night. Paul Andrews served as the first staff member and was followed by Tony Dinger and then Lenny Levine. Others who served in the capacity over time included Frank Dima for many years, Brian Bagley, and Alex Goldberg.

Growth continued and eventually Girls Grammar School was added as well as a third section of Boys Grammar School. A Women’s Open division was started, and Roseann Whelan became the Director for the female divisions. Rosie was a great addition to the team of Flip, Bugsy, Steve Stathis, and her husband Kenny.

Still, much of the focus remained on the Men’s Open league. In year two, the Summer Classic applied for, and received approval from the NCAA as a sanctioned summer basketball league. This allowed current college players to play without forfeiting their collegiate eligibility as long as their college Athletic Director filed a letter with the league approving their participation. Open league rosters were littered with current and former players for St. John’s, Syracuse, Boston College, Miami, Fordham, Iona, Manhattan, Hofstra, St. Francis, LIU, Wagner, Columbia, Princeton, Cornell, Penn, Colgate, Lafayette, Fairfield and many Division 2 and 3 schools.

In 1986, team Blarney Castle became Connolly’s and went through the regular season undefeated. It looked like another title was in store for the squad. However, in the championship on August 29, Alpen-Zauber pulled off the upset, beating Connolly’s 89-76. It was one of the few setbacks for Blarney/Connolly’s as they went on to win seven of the 10 championships that first decade. We’rewolfe Printing which joined the league in 1987 won the other two championships and often battled Connolly’s in the final. Other contending teams in the first decade were The Dugout, The Magnet (Belle Harbor Tavern), Chauncey’s, Flynn & Flynn, and Raintower. For most of the other teams, it was usually a battle just to capture one of the eight playoff spots. There were many great players in the league over those 10 years, but the consensus is that the following stood out the most. Backcourt- Frank Walker, Mike Prendergast and Mike O’Reilly. Frontcourt- Dan Leary, Karl Butigian and Mike Wing.

There was also a great social aspect to the league with many of the players gathering together after the games, particularly on Thursday nights, at one of the sponsor bars. A great bond was formed that continues to this day and will be celebrated on July 20 at The Rockaway Hotel. It truly was a “Golden Decade.”

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