January 11, 2011
Division Avenue's coaches in 1957-58; Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?
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By Frank Barning
Here's the third installment concerning pages from the 1958 Division Avenue High School sports awards banquet program. One chapter remains and I bet you just can't wait to see it. Control yourself, please. Let's deal with our coaches.
A few things jump out at me. The baseball coach was Joseph DiMaggio, and this was just six years after the real Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees had retired. The real Joe D had been married to Marilyn Monroe for much of 1954 and in the 1970s became known as Mr. Coffee when he became spokesman for that product.
Our coach had the same nickname, the Yankee Clipper. A couple of his players referred to him as "the little fat man from Richmond Hill." Not nice. Richmond Hill Joe was a real gentleman who would not have been distracted by Marilyn Monroe, perhaps.
Appearing three times on the page of coaches is James Amen, one of my all-time favorite people. I kid you not. It seems fitting that his last name comes at the end of most prayers. Eventually, he replaced our Joe DiMaggio as varsity baseball coach and had incredible success, including Nassau County championships. He took an early retirement because of a great pension situation and became an assistant coach at a couple of colleges. His son, Jim Amen Jr., followed in his dad's footsteps as a coach, mostly soccer, on both the high school and college levels.
Football was weak in the early days at Division Avenue. Al Tarney was the first varsity coach. Only boys from the class of 1960 were on that team and in our first varsity season got the living crap kicked out of them. To build a schedule, the Blue Dragons played teams with juniors and seniors. We only had sophomores and it was not a pretty sight. Don Davidson, a defensive lineman on that 1958 team said, "We were cannon fodder."
And yet, our guys were loyal to coach Tarney, who left after one year of varsity football. Some never played again, maybe out of loyalty to the coach, or perhaps because they did not want to endure another butt kicking. Players from the class of 1961 joined the team the next season and had more talent as a group than my 1960 classmates. Coach Jewell, listed above as the junior high football coach, took over the program from coach Tarney and by the time the 1960 guys had graduated, Division Avenue had some sensational football teams.
Floyd Kenyon started the wrestling team at Division and magically created some really great wrestlers, especially Jim McGrath. From the start, the wrestling team was successful and then Mr. Kenyon left. Richard Wright, his junior varsity coach, replaced him and the success continued.
Basketball was another weird situation in the early days. For a decade there was a carousel of coaching changes. The first varsity coach was Mr. Jewell. That was the 1957-58 season and the team was terrible, so terrible in fact that I was on the squad the second half of the season after replacements were needed when three or four players were dropped from the squad for academic reasons.
The team might have been okay except that Richie Glaski, who along with Mike Newton starred for an undefeated junior high squad, elected not to play. Newton and Glaski were a sensational tandem.
Except for a couple of freshman, Russ Mulroy being the best, most of the team was boys from the class of 1960. Again, we had to compete again older kids. And we got the stuffing kicked out of us, but at least there wasn't as much bleeding as our football buddies endured sophomore year. Mulroy became a star at Levittown Memorial High when he accepted the option to transfer to the school closer to his home. We lost Joe Forte, future National Basketball association referee, that way too.
The list of coaches includes Ann Smith for baton twirling. I have no memory of baton twirlers. It was difficult enough watching our teams during the 1957-58 school year.
By the class of 1960's senior year, Mr. Amen had became the varsity basketball coach. There was some success thanks to senior Newton and junior Ernie Villatore. I don't know much about the other coaches listed above, but for most teams it was a struggle in the early years. Success eventually came to many sports, but after the 1960 boys had graduated.
And I still wonder, where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?
Jim Anton '61, provided the awards banquet program. The final installment will be about championship teams and individual award winners.