Athletic community mourns
loss of former Nanticoke Area AD
Matt Bufano - Citizens Voice
list of what Jim Davis accomplished tells a story that personifies him as being
exactly who Ken Bartuska said he was.
Hes the father of Nanticoke
Area athletics, Bartuska said.
A product of Nanticoke High School
where he was a decorated basketball player Davis spent 30 years as an educator,
coach and athletic director at Nanticoke Area. At different points in his career,
he coached basketball and cross country, and was an assistant football coach too.
died Thursday. He was 80.
Among his important contributions to the community
was serving as Nanticoke Areas first athletic director when the Nanticoke,
Newport and Harter schools combined in the mid-1960s.
At the time, the three
high schools offered just basketball, baseball and football. With Davis overseeing
the athletic program, Nanticoke Area expanded to its current offering of a wide-variety
of sports to play.
He established all the programs. He was the one that
got everything going, said Bartuska, the districts current athletic
director. Every team, every program we have today has his mark on it in
some shape or form. ... He was a tough, old school, demanding guy. But theres
nobody that had your back more than he would have.
is not defined solely by his time at Nanticoke Area. He also was very involved
with District 2, where he succeeded Anthony Marchakitus as chairman in 1988 and
stayed on in that role for 10 years.
His impact and influence on the
student-athletes across District 2 was unbelievable, said current chairman
But it doesnt stop there.
Davis reach extended
past Northeast Pennsylvania, as he was a member of the PIAA State Board of Control
and was awarded state Athletic Director of the Year in 1995. In addition to his
1976 induction into the Luzerne County Sports Hall of Fame, he was inducted into
the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1991.
Asked how Davis found time to
delve into all these different ventures, in addition to being a church and family
man, Majikes laughed and said, Thats a very good question. But he
always found the time and he was available to everybody. Majikes added that
Davis very seldom, if ever, missed District 2 meetings in his time
After first knowing of Davis in the 1950s when Davis played basketball
at Kings, Majikes said Davis became a mentor to him.
Prior to Nanticoke
Areas boys and girls basketball games late last week, the gym shared in
a moment of silence to honor Davis. Bartuska said he hopes additional things will
happen at Nanticoke Area in Davis honor, though nothing is planned yet.
Nanticoke Area girls basketball coach Alan Yendrzeiwski played for the Trojans
in 1995-96 when they made the state playoffs. Davis was the athletic director
and biology teacher when he was a student.
Yendrzeiwski said Davis was frequently
at games with other administrators, supporting the team.
He was just
an icon, not just in Nanticoke, but the entire Wyoming Valley, Davis said.
It was just so sad that he passed away.
TROJANS CRY FOUL/ A LOOK BACK: 1969 NANTICOKE BOYS BASKETBALL
TEAM VS. STEELTON-HIGHSPIRE
By JOE PETRUCCI email@example.com
Sunday, May 22, 2005 Page: 1B
The Nanticoke High
School boys basketball team left the locker room after halftime with a commanding
16-point lead over Steelton-Highspire. When the Trojans returned to the locker
room 16 minutes of game clock later, they were a beaten team.
however, had little to do with the outcome of that March 15, 1969, PIAA Class
3A Eastern semifinal game. Nanticoke, it is believed by many, was beaten by a
pair of officials who inexplicably reversed the course of one of the best teams
in Wyoming Valley history.
By legendary coach Syl "Stretch" Bozinski's
estimation, Nanticoke was called for 23 traveling violations in the second half
against Steelton-Highspire after hardly being whistled at all for walking in the
first half or its previous 24 games.
"Phil Atwood and Norm Carden, I
never forgot them," former Nanticoke assistant coach John Kashatus said,
remembering the officials. "That's the first time I said those names in 20
years, but that's how indelible they are in my mind."
This was a Nanticoke
team that averaged 90 points per game when there was no three-point line. This
was a team that overcame the recent merger of Nanticoke and Newport Township high
schools. This was a team that was led by no true superstar, but rather by an athletic
group of winners - that Trojans senior class won five of six possible Wyoming
Valley League titles in football, basketball and baseball in 1967-68 and 1968-69.
"I don't want to cry on anyone's shoulder," said Dave Washinski, a senior
sharpshooter on that Nanticoke team. "When you lose, you lose. But it was
kind of plain to see now that I'm older ... You don't play 30 games and score
90 points or better and make 10 turnovers a game or less and then go into one
half and make 25."
Bozinski guided Nanticoke to the state title in 1961,
but these '69 Trojans were even better. They were undefeated in 1969, winning
24 consecutive games by an average margin of 20 points, heading into the Steelton-Highspire
matchup. Six regular players scored 20 points at least once during the season.
It appeared nothing could stop this Nanticoke team.
a near mirror image of the Trojans. Both teams lacked significant size but made
up for it with aggressive, up-tempo offenses and tenacious man-to-man defenses.
Not only did Nanticoke match up well with Steelton-Highspire, but the Trojans
also had a coaching staff as good as any in the country.
First there was Bozinski,
who at 6 feet 5 inches, was known as a gentle giant. He coached the Trojans for
"He put Nanticoke on the map. I never saw him angry or using
profane language. They called him the Cary Grant of basketball," said his
first assistant, Rich Rutkowski, a Nanticoke assistant under several head coaches
for 34 years.
Joining Rutkowski on the coaching staff were Kashatus and Joe
Ciampi. While Kashatus made his mark coaching varsity baseball at Nanticoke and
as an official himself, Ciampi went on to coach women's basketball at Auburn University
for 27 years and become just the 10th coach in women's college basketball history
to win 600 games.
From the opening tip against Steelton-Highspire, Nanticoke
continued its dominating ways. The Trojans made 73 percent of their field goal
attempts in the first half, racing out to a 23-10 lead after eight minutes before
outscoring Steelton-Highspire 16-13 in the second quarter for a 39-23 halftime
The Bilko brothers - Tom and Steve -- Washinski, Bob Yatko and Dave
Morgan were in rare form and found the confines of the arena locker room comfortable,
almost a prelude to another celebration.
"(Steelton-Highspire) came out
kind of sluggish and we really hit everything in the first half," said Washinski.
"It didn't seem like we were going to have any trouble."
however, was right outside the locker room as the second half started.
which didn't alter its game plan, was whistled for seven traveling violations
before scoring its first field goal of the half at 5:52 of the third quarter.
Steelton-Highspire outscored Nanticoke 15-7 in the third and cut the increasingly
surmountable lead to 10 points.
"It almost seemed like no matter what
we did, as soon as we caught the ball and took the first dribble it was a walk.
It was like nobody wanted to get the ball after four or five of them," said
With so much confusion, many fans from the Wyoming Valley wondered
why Nanticoke didn't call timeout during the second half. It wasn't for a lack
Ciampi nudged Kashatus with his elbow and said, "Coach, we've
got to tell Syl to call timeout." Kashatus, agreeing, then nudged Rutkowski
and relayed the message. Rutkowski followed in kind, but Bozinski wasn't a believer
in timeouts. He rarely used them, believing his team would be better served if
the players worked things out for themselves on the court. All the preparation
had been done already in Bozinski's highly organized, fundamentals-based practices.
"Syl said, `We've just got to get settled,'" Kashatus recalled.
As the final minutes counted down, Steelton-Highspire came perilously close to
taking the lead. Tom Bilko took a lob pass at the top of the key, took one dribble
and converted an uncontested layup to add to Nanticoke's shrinking cushion.
But there it was again. That sound. That whistle, which had gone from an occasional
game-stopper to a constant shriek, struck again. Officials called traveling on
Bilko. No basket. Steelton-Highspire marched down the floor and took the lead
The scoreboard read 57-54 in Steelton-Highspire's favor after the
final buzzer, and the Trojans found themselves back in the locker room trying
to figure out what happened.
"We stood outside with the coaches after
the game in disbelief," said Rutkowski. "Like when you had the Kennedy
assassination, it's just like shock. It takes a little while before it wears off.
"It was a long ride home. We never said anything about the game. We never
The PIAA, according to Rutkowski and newspaper accounts,
stood steadfast by the officiating. Bozinski declined to protest the game's outcome,
in part because the PIAA had upheld previous officials' rulings in several disputed
games involving area teams. Also, that just wasn't Bozinski's style.
were several conspiracy theories regarding what happened that winter Saturday
First, the officials were from District 1, or the suburban Philadelphia
area. A District 1 team, Penn Crest, played in the other Eastern semi. One could
conclude that the officials wanted their team to play the easier opponent, which
on paper and in a fairly officiated game would have easily been Steelton-Highspire
rather than Nanticoke.
Steelton-Highspire went on to beat Penn Crest and defeated
Farrell easily in the state championship, 61-50.
Another possible explanation
is the PIAA, or another outside influence, had something to do with the officiating
after halftime. Steelton-Highspire is located in the Harrisburg area and the perennially
contending Rollers played almost all of their games, including playoff contests,
within District 3's borders and always brought throngs of fans with them. More
fans meant more tickets sold, which led to a bigger payday for the state's governing
body of high school athletics.
"Who's this Nanticoke? Steel-High was
a moneymaker for them," said Rutkowski. "It was like a home team for
Rutkowski also said the PIAA was enraged by the coverage of the
game from Wilkes-Barre newspapers. Nanticoke did not have a game film of the game
to review the calls, although the PIAA did as it recorded most of its championship
"They felt the game was honestly refereed," Rutkowski said
of the PIAA.
Kashatus recalled hearing after the game from people close to
the Nanticoke squad that during halftime, fans were still looking to place bets
that Steelton-Highspire would win.
Finally, some felt Nanticoke committed
a lot of traveling violations in the first half, but they went uncalled. Also,
it was suggested to the Trojans that District 2 officials didn't know how to call
a walk properly and that's how Nanticoke played all season.
serves me correctly, we didn't have many walking violations during the year,"
The Greater Nanticoke Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter to
the PIAA calling for an investigation. In the letter, the group cited numerous
statistics, including one that had Nanticoke averaging 10-15 violations per game
during the regular season.
"My fellow players and I know we had the best
team in the state that year, in our minds," said Washinski. "I know
Coach told us plainly that we were as good or better than the '61 state championship
team. We were proud of our accomplishment, it's just too bad we didn't get there.
Sometimes that happens.
"We took it as a team. We were taught by coach
to play your best and usually you'll come out a winner. But in this case it didn't,
not when you have other people working against you."
"... We had
the best team in the state that year." Dave Washinski Star on 1969 Nanticoke
AREA GETS ITS REVENGE
By Jim Reeser - (Sports Editor) Citizens
Nanticoke Area's 1982 season went down
as one of the worst campaigns in school history. The Trojans went 0-11 and had
to forfeit two games because of a teachers' strike.
One of the Trojans' 11
losses was an embarrassing 41-6 defeat at the hands of GAR.
Area met the Grenadiers in Week 3 of the 1983, the Trojans were looking for revenge
and their first win over GAR since a 13-7 victory in 1979.
Phillips and defensive back Ken Schinski made sure the Trojans got their revenge.
threw for 175 yards and three touchdown passes and Schinski intercepted two passes
to lead Nanticoke Area to a 20-0 win over GAR.
Schinski was the star of a Nanticoke
Area defense that dominated.
The Trojans allowed just 145 yards of total offense,
including 69 yards on the ground. The defense had seven sacks and intercepted
"Schinski has that innate sense of where the ball is,"
Nanticoke Area coach Billy Goodman said. "We switched him from offense to
defense and it was like he played it all his life. He really burned it up out
GAR wasn't the only city school in trouble in Week 3.
was 0-2 and mistakes were proving costly.
"We've made some glaring errors,"
Meyers coach Mickey Gorham said. "We've beaten ourselves. We aren't a great
team but we should be more competitive.
"I'm perplexed by all the turnovers
and mistakes we are making. There's no question we have to play with more intelligence."
Mohawks had to wait to get their first win of the 1983 season.
caught two touchdown passes and Eric Speece had a 57-yard touchdown run to lead
Wyoming Area to an 18-7 win over the Mohawks.
Also, Hanover Area continued
its defensive dominance as it held Dallas to 73 yards of total offense and earned
its third straight shutout with a 34-0 win.
Neil Corbet - Citizens Voice
row, from left, B. Grabinski, J. Grzymski, R. Kiewak, G. Yanchik, J. Shepela,
K. Legins, B. James, J. Dudrick, L. Selecky, G. Ryback, J. Sunder and D Ford.
Second row, N. Groblewski, E. Guffrovich, D. Dudrick, A. Cihocki, D. Galanos,
R. Backstein, F. Machowski, D. Baron, H. Morgan. R. Pretulak. D. Maga and coach
Syl Bozinski. Third row, B. Bartles, G. Pegerella, J. Smith, D. Sherrick, E. Gryzmski,
J. Windt, A. Sands, T. Oshinski, H. Sinco and T. Williams.
winds of change already were in the air.
handsome and athletic young man from Massachusetts - John Fitzgerald Kennedy -
was just inaugurated as the 35th president of the United States. Kennedy's "ask
not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,"
signaled a change in direction for the USA. The dull 1950s were being swept away
and Camelot was taking its place.
That optimism in Washington
filtered to the Wyoming Valley which was moving ever so slowly out of its dependence
on the anthracite coal industry.
Now, a group of young
men were about to embark on a journey not seen in the area for more than 30 years
and would result in a state basketball championship that galvanized the area and
stamped Nanticoke as a city of champions.
High School captured state basketball championships in 1923 and 1926 and Newport
Township/Wanamie did the trick in 1936. But, those days may well have been in
a different century.
Radio and television sets were
no longer just for the wealthy. Most households in the area in the 1960s had a
least one of the appliances and, if not, a neighbor or relative did.
did not have to wait for the morning newspaper to find out the results of games
- key contests were broadcast over the radio and a select few were televised locally,
allowing fans to get caught up in the fun.
Rams took the ball and ran with it.
The Rams' championship
in 1961 was the culmination of a three-year run under the legendary Syl "Stretch"
Bill James, a senior on the team, recalls
how the team began to take shape when he, Ken Legins and Rick Kiewlak, were sophomores.
James, in an interview prior to the class' 50th reunion, called Legins the key
to it all. At 6-foot-4, he was tall for that era, had a soft shot and could still
run the break.
"Our freshman team was unbeaten
and I think we carried that through to our senior year. We knew we were good,"
The Rams won District 2 titles in 1959 and
1960 and both times the season ended with a loss in the PIAA playoffs, the last
to York in the Eastern final.
"Kenny was just a
terrific player," recalled James. "He started as a sophomore and I was
the sixth man. We lost our only game in the Wyoming Valley League to Kingston
that year and we had to play them again for the overall title and we beat 'em
James cites the 62-47 loss to York
in his junior year as the lightning rod to the run for the state title the following
year. "That was a tough loss," he said, "but it made us more determined
for next year."
In a way to challenge his team,
which already was playing "up" in the A classifications, Bozinski entered
the Rams in the tough Johnstown Holiday Tournament where they would face bigger
schools. The Rams lost to Sharon, 55-38, in the opener, but rebounded for a 69-57
win over a strong Chester squad, 69-57 to claim third place. In that game Legins
scored 25 points and hauled down 23 rebounds. James and Joe Shepela each added
"There was no stopping us then," James
aid. "We just knew we were not going to lose."
Rams proceeded to win 20-straight games, including a tough 51-47 win over Reading
in the Eastern final. It all culminated with a 56-46 victory over Hickory Township
in the Class A championship game at the Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg.
had us ready for anything," James said. "Every day we practiced 20 minutes
on pressing and against Reading we needed it. That's how prepared he had us."
than 8,000 fans from Nanticoke made the trip to Harrisburg for the final and it
was televised locally and fans took to the streets in Nanticoke, honking their
horns in celebration.
The following day, a crowd estimated
at 20,000 turned out for a rally at what is now Patriot Square in Nanticoke.
our way back to Nanticoke, our bus was greeted by fans in a lot of the smaller
towns," James said.
A big win for the Wyoming Valley
and a bigger win for Nanticoke.
Neil Corbett - Citizens' Voice
AREA First row, from left, Melissa Bentkowski, Kim Nork, Casey Comoroski, Samantha
Winckoski, Holly Kozlowski, Dawn Zidek and Kristin Surdowski. Second row, Lori
Scally, Michelle Stashik, Ellen Bartuska, Joelle Glushefski and Holly Ryncavage.
Third row, Nicole Getts, Tia Hornlein, Teri Galazin and Renee Piontkowski. Fourth
row, Tanya Sauers, Joanne Opachinski and Jennifer Szot.
passage of time can't take away the almost giddy feeling Lori Scally Zaleski gets
when she remembers the year the Nanticoke Area girls practically danced to a PIAA
"We just had so much fun," the mother of
twin boys who resides in Mountain Top said in a recent interview. "So many
people got caught up in what we were doing and not just fans from Nanticoke, but
from all over the Valley."
What the Trojanettes accomplished is unprecedented
in the annals of girls' sports in the Wyoming Valley.
Led by five seniors:
Scally, Casey Comoroski, Holly Kozlowski, Holly Ryncavage and Ellen Bartuska,
the team put up incredible numbers in going 30-0 and capping things with the PIAA
Class AAA championship.
"We had been playing together since junior high,"
said Scally, who also was senior class president. "We were really close and
not just as teammates. We had great camaraderie."
The team also was extremely
Four of the five seniors eclipsed the 1,000-point milestone: Scally,
Kozlowski, Comoroski and Bartuska. Only an injury during her sophomore year, which
limited her playing time, kept Ryncavage from joining the select group. Still,
she did score more than 900 in her career.
During the exhibition and WVC's
regular season, the Trojanettes averaged an eye-popping 96.9 ppg., and five times
they went over the century mark, including 117 points in their final WVC game
against Bishop Hoban.
With those huge scoring totals came the usual cries of
running up the score against inferior competition, but coach Rose Volpicelli held
fast to her rule of taking out a player once that player hit 18 points.
Trojanettes had to get ready for the playoffs. The previous two years the team
had advanced to the Eastern final only to be turned away by Lancaster Catholic.
think we always were thinking that we wanted to play them (Lancaster), said Scally.
the Trojanettes had to grab another District 2 championship, which they did, easily
beating three Lackawanna League teams: Abington Heights, 89-35, Scranton Prep,
83-31 and finally Honesdale, 95-48 for the gold medal.
were tough," said Scally. "Coach Volpicelli and (assistant) coach (Elaine)
Deluca were getting us ready. We did a lot of scrimmaging, we practiced situational
stuff like being down 10 with two minutes to go. It's hard to explain how wonderful
she (Volpicelli) was."
Wins over Pottsville and Strath Haven gave the
Trojanettes what they wished for - a rematch with Lancaster Catholic. This time,
it wasn't even close with the Trojanettes romping, 98-53.
An 80-68 win over
North Schuylkill sent Nanticoke Area to the championship game on a Saturday night
in Hershey and a showdown with Beaver Falls.
Befitting a championship game,
Beaver Falls gave the Trojanettes all they could handle and trailed by just four
heading in the fourth quarter, a time when Nanticoke Area usually enjoyed double-digit
"It was the toughest game we played (41 total fouls were called),"
said Scally. "They played a physical game, trying to intimidate us and then
there was the fight, but Casey had such a great game and led us to the win."
had a game for the ages, scoring 36 points, including 22 of 25 from the foul line
as the Trojanettes brought home the first PIAA girls basketball title to the Wyoming
The "fight" eluded to by Scally was more a skirmish and was
ignited when, with just seconds left in the game, a Beaver Falls player grabbed
Ryncavage by the hair from behind and pulled her to the floor. Ryncavage suffered
a scratched face, bruised ribs and chipped teeth.
When she was able to get
to her feet, she was afforded a long standing ovation by the thousands of Nanticoke
fans at the game.
"It was just an incredible time," said Scally.
"Winning the championship and then the parade at home with so many people
clapping for us."
PUTTING IN THE EXTRA EFFORT
Jill Snowdon - Citizens Voice
Published: December 19, 2012
Area Members of the Nanticoke Area softball team were, first row, from left, Amanda
Sisk and Melissa Makos. Second row, Diane James, Nancy Fine, Steph Lokuta and
Amanda Mieczkowski. Third row, head coach Gary Williams, manager Sara Shales,
Kristen Castano, Michelle Hazleton, Holly Walters, Kaylee Ziolkowski, Lindsey
Ludorf, Jess Brenner, assistant coach Bernie Dalmes and assistant coach Dave Warren.
Fourth row, Leah Lavelle, Leanne Harvey and Danielle Warren.
not often that a win comes easy in a state championship game. For Nanticoke Area's
2003 softball team, however, any victory that didn't require extra innings was
considered a breeze.
After five straight extra-inning games in the postseason,
Nanticoke Area's 4-0 seven-inning win in the Class AA state title contest was
an otherwise easy day at the office.
"It was brutal," Nanticoke
Area coach Gary Williams said of his team's streak of extra-inning games. "We
even had T-shirts made up that read, 'Extra Innings Rule.'"
To add to
the fun, a pair of the marathon games (Bishop Hoban in the District 2 tournament
and Mifflinburg in the state quarterfinals) were played over two days, testing
the Trojanettes' mental and physical strength.
"The game against Mifflinburg
is definitely one of those games I will always remember," said Williams,
who retired last month after 22 seasons with the Trojanettes. "We were playing
down in Bloomsburg and after 18 innings the game got called because of darkness.
We had to come back the next day and play two more innings. We ended up winning
A few days later, Nanticoke Area held off Danville for a 2-0 win
in 14 innings. The win over Danville sent the Trojanettes to the Class AA state
title game against Center High School, marking the first time a Wyoming Valley
Conference softball team played for state gold.
Despite not having a senior
in its starting line-up, Nanticoke Area was a well-deserving contender with all
of its starters returning from the previous season. And sophomore pitcher Jess
Brenner was the Trojanettes' anchor.
One of three starting sophomores, Brenner
established herself as the best pitcher in the conference that season and she
carried the Trojanettes through the playoffs with 80 innings pitched, 24 hits
allowed, a 0.35 ERA, 79 strikeouts and 15 walks in seven postseason games.
"Her mental approach was remarkable," Williams said. "You would
actually see her best pitching in tighter games."
The Trojanettes set
Brenner up to shine as they weren't an overpowering team on offense and many of
their wins came by just one or two runs. They did enough to keep ahead on the
scoreboard and turned things over to their defense to handle the rest.
had an exceptional defense," Williams said. "They were a tough-minded
group that demonstrated confidence. Everyone knew we had a great pitcher, but
we were really good defensively. In the playoffs we didn't have an errors."
Brenner, who allowed just two earned runs during the regular season, dazzled in
the state final. The righty threw a two-hit shutout with seven strikeouts. Nanticoke
Area's bats got going early against Center but the runs didn't come in until the
Holly Walters, a junior catcher, sparked the offense with three
hits and two RBIs and she also helped turn a pair of double plays.
ended the 2003 season with a 22-4 record, a league title, a District 2 championship
and a state title, making them the most successful squad to ever come out of the
"The closeness of that team was really something special,"
said Williams, who finished his career with a 330-162 record and another state
title in 2010. "They really had a family kind of attitude toward each other.
And still to this day, they will give me a call or send a text to see how things
are. I'm proud to say that we were the first team from the Wyoming Valley to win
a state softball championship."
- 2010 CLASS AA STATE SOFTBALLCHAMPIONS !
can still read all State Champion articles here.
Nanticoke Rams captivated community
Neil Corbett - Citizens' Voice
When basketball fans in the Wyoming Valley discuss
the greatest teams in the past century, the talks generally rests on the 1961
PIAA champion Nanticoke Rams - but more commonly referred to in print and on radio
and TV as the Nans.
Perhaps no other team captured the imagination of a community
like those Nans did over a three-year period, 1959-61.
straight Wyoming Valley League championships.
Two straight District 2 Class
A (Class A at the time represented schools with the largest student populations).
Two straight trips to the PIAA Eastern finals.
One state Class A championship.
Senior members of the team along with their classmates got a chance to recall
those glory days over the weekend as the Class of 1961 from Nanticoke High School
celebrated its 50th reunion.
"Magical," is how one member of that
team - forward Bill James, described the Nans three-year run which culminated
in that state championship. "We were the toast of the town. Everybody loved
us. We played before packed houses. I think our gym held about 1,000. But every
game, they packed in about 1500."
Coached by the legendary Syl "Stretch"
Bozinski, the team that would win the title began to take shape in 1958-59 when
a group of sophomores led by 6-foot-4 center Ken Legins, who had gone unbeaten
as freshmen, joined an already talented team. By the time that sophomore class
graduated, history had been made.
"Kenny was just a terrific player,"
said classmate James. "He started as a sophomore and I was the sixth man.
We lost our only game in the Wyoming Valley League that year to Kingston and we
had to play them again for the overall league title and we got our revenge . .
. beat 'em pretty bad."
The following year, the Nans were the overwhelming
favorite to win the WV League and they didn't disappoint.
had us ready for anything," James said. "Every day we worked 20 minutes
on pressing defense. We never had to use it - until we played Reading and we needed
it to win. That's how prepared he had us.
James also praised Bozinski for
never wanting to embarrass his opponent. "Our senior year, he played everyone,
everybody on the team earned a letter," James said.
As word spread, WILK
radio jumped on the Nans' bandwagon and began broadcasting their games with the
late Johnny Sobal, letting the rest of the Wyoming Valley in on the excitement.
That team, with Legins and James joined by the likes of Rich Kiewlak, Jim Shepela
and George Dudrick, tore through the Wyoming Valley League and District 2 and
took a 26-0 record to the Eastern final where the Rams were stunned by York, 62-47
at the Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg.
"That was a tough loss," said
James, "but it made us more determined for next year."
that Bozinski wanted to have his team ready for the state playoffs the next year
by entering the Johnstown Tournament, going against bigger teams like Sharon and
"That was the thing many people forget," James said. "We
were really a "C" team by enrollment and Stretch elected to play us
in "A" against the bigger teams. We really were like the team in 'Hoosiers'
- small school taking on the bigger schools."
The strategy seemed to
backfire when the Rams lost the opener to Sharon, 55-38, but bounced back the
following night to stop Chester - then as now, a perennial state power, 69-57.
"There was no stopping us then," said James. "We just knew we were
not going to lose."
And they didn't, ripping off a 20-game win streak
which culminated in a 56-46 victory over Hickory Township in the championship
Over the course of the year, the Rams averaged nearly 73 points per
game while limiting their opponents to just 48 ppg., winning by an average of
25 ppg. Their toughest game again came in the Eastern final against Reading where
the Rams squeezed out a 51-47 victory,
More than 8,000 fans made the trek
from Nanticoke to Harrisburg as the basketball fever engulfed the town.
was a crazy time," recalled Les Williams, a 1961 grad who joined his classmates
over the weekend for the reunion. "Even in school, the teachers were caught
up. Our advanced algebra teacher even made up formulas on game days to show us
how we were going to win. It really was a lot of fun."
recalled how the caravan from Nanticoke to Harrisburg stretched along Route 11
for as far as the eye could see. "We had somewhere between 45 and 60 buses
James said when he looked at the crowd from the court floor,
he thought the whole town was there.
When the game was over - it was televised
locally - the town erupted with cars taking to the streets and blowing their horns.
The players did not return until Saturday and, as James recalled, the Nanticoke
bus was stopped in several of the smaller towns along the way, including Berwick,
where fans congratulated them.
When the bus reached West Nanticoke, the players
were taken off the bus and rode on the back of convertibles where fans lined the
At what is now Patriot Square, it was estimated 20,000 fans turned
out for a rally and the players each got to say a few words.
had captured previous state championships in 1923 and 1926 but nothing captured
the imagination of not just a town, but a whole valley, as the 1961 teams.
As James said, it was "magical."