August 23, 2011

The start of basketball at Division Avenue High and the opening of a wonderful gymnasium

Click on photo to enlarge it

1956-57 Division Avenue High School freshman basketball team:

Sitting: Skippy Orr, Doug Lindemyer, John Gentleman, Alan Kurtz

First row: Lefty Carlo, Marty Rosenberg, Ken Ganim, Ben Stark, Dewain Lanfear, Pete Cybriwsky, Mike Newton, Terry Tobey

Standing: Russ Green, Tom Krustangel, coach Jimmy Amen, Artie Dorrmann, (unknown), Richie Glaski


The previous blog post was about the opening of Division Avenue High School in September 1956. This time we will concentrate on one of the highlights of the new facility.

For guys like me who were gym rats, the crowning jewel of DAHS was the gymnasium. It was huge in comparison to the junior high facility. What became known as "the old gym" became the scene of "Sock Hops" and other school dances, and junior high gym classes.

Below the new gym in the basement were spacious locker rooms for both sexes. There was even a room to wash uniforms and towels, plus drying racks on which sweaty uniforms could be hung. For the wrestling team, there was a spacious room to hold practice. The old gym had small locker rooms adjacent to the gym floor.

The photo here is of coach Jimmy Amen and the freshman team he had chosen. I was one of the last kids cut during tryouts, so I volunteered to be the score keeper, just to be around coach Amen and the guys. A bonus was to be allowed on the team bus for away games with the added attraction that the cheerleaders were onboard.

It was a dream season. The Blue Dragons won all 10 of their games. The home contests, played a few minutes after classes ended, drew standing-room-only crowds and the cheering was so loud that some people put their hands over their ears. There was electricity in the air. It was all so new and exciting. Junior high kids were permitted to attend, so they got in the spirit of the new high school.

Mike Newton and Richie Glaski were the stars of the team. They were legendary in the Levittown school yards, so some of us knew in advance that they would be great players for the first school team. Both were fine scorers and Glaski was a man among boys as a rebounder. The future of Division basketball seemed bright for next year's first varsity season. But that did not come to pass.

Newton, who made all-league as a sophomore, was fantastic. Pete Cybriwsky was a solid point guard and as best as I can recall, Glaski only played a few varsity games as a soph and gave up the sport. His departure was a huge loss, but more importantly, he graduated with his class.

After our freshman year, many of the students who lived in southern Levittown were given the option to attend Levittown Memorial High School. If you lived closer to Memorial, it was an obvious choice for some. Frankly, I cannot define southern Levittown. It had nothing to do with Hempstead Turnpike as a dividing line, my original assumption, which was corrected by my classmate Bill Stanley.

Marty Rosenberg and Al Kurtz, important players on our unbeaten freshman team, left for the other high school. Both became all-league players. I did not see them again until our freshman year at Hofstra.

One of the players on our freshman team was Ed "Skippy" Orr, arguably the best athlete on the squad. The next year he left Division to attend Chaminade High School, another huge loss because he was a great football player. How great? He was a standout receiver for the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, a team led by quarterback Roger Staubach that went to the Cotton Bowl in 1964.

In the Cotton Bowl that Navy lost to Texas, Skippy caught nine passes for 112 yards. He and Staubach became best friends and, according to a Google search, Orr is currently employed as a Senior Vice President and partner at a company owned by the 1963 Heisman Trophy winner. Rumor has it that Staubach once joined Orr in Levittown while on leave (vacation) from Annapolis and wowed the guys in touch football games.

The loss of these players was the reason that for the next three years, Division never had a winning basketball season. It wasn't until after the class of 1960 graduated that the sport improved. But at least we had a shiny new gym for our home basketball games and intramurals. Our outstanding wrestling team shared the building and provided a great deal of excitement for the student body.

It would be difficult to imagine that students in most of the 50 or so classes that followed my 1960 crew would find the new gym such a wonderful place because to them it had always been there. It was a most interesting time for our school and our community.

Basketball team photo courtesy of Barbara Wittenberg Taylor, class of 1960.

Note: scroll down to "older posts" to see yesterday's story about the opening of Division Avenue High School in September 1956.

1 comment:

Marilyn Monsrud Frese said...

Never knew the history of our DAHS men's basketball team... very interesting! So many players lost after 1 year- yet the program was able to rebuild. And Mr. Amen was such an amazing coach, and an amazing man. Even a losing team would feel honored just to have played for him. I'm sure he infulenced quite a few lives. Great story, and great photo!!! GO BLUE DRAGONS!!!