January 12, 2011
Championship teams and individual award winners from 1957-58
Jim McGrath in 1958 as a sophomore with coach Floyd Kenyon. Jim wrestled at 106 lbs. and was one of Long Island's best.
By Frank Barning
Here is the fourth and final installment of stories based on the 1957-58 Division Avenue High School awards banquet program provided by Jim Anton '61. The previous story, about coaches, concluded that several of the teams from that year, particularly football and basketball, were weak because it was our sophomores against older students.
Division was a new high school and the class of 1960 students were, in effect, seniors for four years. Older kids were shipped to Levittown Memorial High School even if they lived on the north side of town.
Looking at the program, it strikes me that our best teams that school year were junior high squads, mostly stocked with those who hoped to graduate in 1961. In other words, help was on the way for the next sports season, with a mix of 1960 juniors and 1961 sophomores. It turned out that our teams improved markedly in 1958-59. The class of 1961 featured many fine athletes, with Carl Kielbasa, Ernie Villatore, Bill Goldhammer, Tom Toscano, Jerry Reichert, Bob Bonacci and Jim Urban quickly coming to mind.
A team that was not weak, despite being younger than opponents was baseball. There was talent on that first varsity baseball team as indicated by the three award winning players, Pete Cybriwsky, Joe Forte and Dewain Lanfear. Forte was only a freshman but was old enough, according to the rules, to play varsity baseball. He was at Levittown Memorial the next three years, taking the option to change to the high school closest to his home.
Baseball was king in Levittown in those days. There were sensational Little League and Pony League programs that gave hundreds of boys a chance to play the game in a structured environment. Plus some of the coaches were outstanding: for example Jack McDonald. As a result, this was a great feeder system to the schools, kind of like what minor league baseball is to the big leagues.
Mike Newton was all-league in basketball and Ken "Tiger" Ganim in football. Both were born with talent and deserved the honors, despite being on over-matched teams.
And then there was wrestling. From the beginning, 1957-58, Division was outstanding in this sport. Jim McGrath, as you can see from the program, was voted "Outstanding Wrestler" in our section and battled his way to the League Championship in his weight class. This kid was born to wrestle. Now retired, he went on to success at Wayne State in Nebraska and is recognized as the greatest high school coach in the history of the Cornhusker State.
If there was a vote, some 50 years later, of who was the best athlete in the first graduating class from Division Avenue, the choice would not be anywhere near unanimous. Many would vote for the late Pete Cybriwsky, a great pitcher. I would support my high school pal John Koehler who was the best player on the football team the first couple of years and also the finest hitter on the baseball team. He was even a terrific varsity bowler. John was the first Division graduate to play varsity football in college, at Kings Point.
But considering his achievements in high school, college and as a long-time coach, Jim McGrath stands above the rest. No one ever kicked sand in this 106-pound high school wrestling champion's face.