Basketball, Bobby Trapp, Brian Keating, Danny Pisselli, Fast Break, Father Shine, Frankie Cullen, Georgie Rauthier, Gerad Trapp, Glenn Thomas, Holy Name Schoolyard, Howard place, Jimmy Cullen, Jimmy Rauthier, John Corrar, Midwood Field, Snow, Taps, Tommy Kash, Windsor Place
Growing up a devoted catholic, I was taught by the nuns and the priests at Holy Name that heaven was located somewhere up above. I got news for them, I lived across the street from heaven.
It was the spring of 1970, I was a couple of months shy of my 6th birthday. This was right about the time the New York Knicks were on top of the basketball world. You remember Willis Reed, the Knicks captain, their heart and soul limping out of the locker room for game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers? The crowd at M.S.G roared when Willis appeared from the tunnel.
It went down as one of the most courageous moments in sports history. I had my fearless moment too.
I’m not talking about Rae and Otto’s Candy Store on the avenue where they made the best egg creams. I’m not talking about L&J Bakery either and no, I’m not talking about playing Seven Minutes in Heaven with Laura Loesch.
This skinny, freckled face, redheaded kid found something better, something more meaningful which would have a major impact on my life; that memorable day I walked through the unlocked fence to the boys schoolyard at Holy Name of Jesus.
If you attended H.N.S. or lived in the neighborhood, it’s almost certain you spent some time in the yard. If you didn’t, I feel for you. You missed out…
Passing the yard on either Howard Place or Prospect Avenue, looking through the chain-linked fence you might see Gerard or Bobby Trapp. Maybe you could see John Corrar shooting his left-handed outside jump-shot from either corner? Quick point guards Richie Deere and Brian Keating displaying their ball handling wizardry. It’s possible you saw Cadge catching the ball in the low post and powering the ball up for a lay-up. How about Tommy Kash looking around the court always questioning a call? Then there was Jimmy Rauthier scoring at will on the defense from either outside or driving to the basket for an easy layup in traffic. Sure there were others, but those 8 guys left an impression on this impressionable young boy.
By the way, how lucky were the Trapp’s to live at 15 Howard Place, right across the street from paradise. Keep in mind too, that if you didn’t have a basketball, you could always walk down their basement steps and ‘borrow’ one. That’s the kind of people the Trapp’s were.
“For me, our schoolyard was a special place,” Gerard Trapp told me. “I always knew it was a good place to be growing up but I never really knew what we had until I had children of my own and saw what they had in comparison. I wish my children could have had the experience of our schoolyard.”
3-on-3 was a game I enjoyed watching. Every possession was important. Guys would get pissed off if they missed a shot or turned the ball over. Because if you lost, there was a long wait to get back on the court. Over on the sidelines you sat down against the fence thinking of how you lost or you played the game ‘taps’.
As I aimlessly cruised into my teens, ‘The Yard’ became a daily escape for me, an escape from my dysfunctional and oftentimes confusing life at home. Our address was 228A P.P.W., we lived in a five-room, railroad apartment on top of Bob’s Hardware Store; no one in my family encouraged me to play basketball; I learned how to play from watching the older guys. Lessons on how to play the game from coaches like Georgie Rauthier, the late Joe Farrell and Danny Pisselli, whet my appetite for the orange roundball.
On Saturday mornings I’d wake up and eat a bowl of cereal, watch Popeye the Sailor man, get dressed, and rush out of our apartment. Speed walking down Windsor Place, hanging a right up Howard Place, I would start to listen for the bouncing of the ball or the voices of the kids coming from the boys schoolyard. I played a little game with myself while I dribbled; I wasn’t allowed to hit the cracks on the sidewalk. Most times I was one of the first to arrive. For some reason, I had no problem getting to the schoolyard early to play basketball, but when it came time to making the first school bell Monday through Friday, I was often tardy.
The Cullen’s; Jimmy, Frankie and Dave, Glenn Thomas, Michael Campbell, Kevin Molloy, John Godfrey, Jimmy Corrar, Ricky Ferro and Joe Lee were kids around my age who spent just as much time as I did in the yard. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Hispanic and black kids from Prospect Avenue and 17th street who often came by to play, they were always welcomed and always came in peace.
The color of your skin didn’t mean a thing once you stepped into the yard.
Like the older guys, 3-on-3 half-court was usually the flavor of the day. When we had enough guys we’d go 5-on-5 full-court. Taps, Around the World, Utah and 21 were other popular schoolyard games
Again, if you won, you stayed on. Lose, and you were waiting a while to play again. The games became physical because no one wanted to sit out. I enjoyed playing full-court the most; I liked pushing the ball and running the fast break. We had classic games. One day it was me, Frankie, Jimmy, Dave and Glenn against Timmy Kemp, Barry Welch, Jose, Tito and Ray. We went to 100. Each basket was worth two points. Some days they beat us, other days we beat them. Most important, it was competitive which enabled us to improve.
I might as well have rolled my bed into the schoolyard, that’s how much time I spent there. I was a fixture. My mother always knew where I was though, I think?
The best thing about basketball is that you don’t need multiple players to have fun. I often found myself alone shooting jump shot after jump shot at all hours. I’d shoot from all over the court and chase down the rebound. We didn’t have nets on the steel rims so every time I made a jump shot from the outside the ball would roll away from the court and I’d have to chase it down. We had those half-moon shaped backboards so shooting a bank shot was never one of my favorite shots. Matter of fact, I never used the banker.
All alone at night, under the moon and the stars I imagined I was going one-on-one against my favorite player, Phil Chenier of the Baltimore Bullets; I never lost…
We’d also work on our dribbling going baseline to baseline keeping our head up just like Danny would tell us during practice. They used to have a sign on the church wall with the schoolyard hours. Danny would make us read them out loud.
One day I was walking past the yard on Prospect Avenue and Edgar Dela-Rosa and his boy Gammie were out there. I had no intention of playing on this day, I was actually coming from my cousin’s house on Fuller Place. The snow blanketed every part of the schoolyard except for one long, narrow path that they had shovelled. With a shovel, these two dedicated ballplayers cleared a path from the Howard Place baseline to the church wall. A side note: Often times you grabbed a shovel and cleared the court to play. (Do kids still do that today?)
I was mesmerized by these two fantastic and disciplined point guards going up and down working on their dribbling skills; it’s no wonder they were two of the best point guards to come out of the neighborhood. Watching them for a few minutes, their drive and desire to improve enticed me to join them; which I did and they welcomed me with open arms, as long as I shovelled a bit.
Oftentimes you could find anyone in the yard as early as 9 A.M. or as late as 12 midnight. When it got dark, you were often thrown out by Monsignor Downing or Father Shine.
“HEY, GET OUTTA THE SCHOOLYARD!” Father Shine screamed at us one night from the window of the red brick church rectory. Can you blame him? It was well past eleven and I’m sure the priests couldn’t sleep on the count of the bouncing ball.
We took off as fast as we could, sprinting out of the schoolyard and down Howard Place like we were running the 100 yard dash for Mr. Gruschow at Midwood Field.
Standing on the corner of Windsor and Howard I shouted “FUCK, I FORGOT MY SWEATSHIRT.”
After getting thrown out of the yard more times than a drunk gets tossed from Farrell’s, I thought my ass was going straight to hell.
The musical artist Meatloaf sang about Paradise by the Dashboard Light, if I was writing a song about the schoolyard, it would be titled, ‘Paradise on the Schoolyard Pavement’.
More highlights from the Holy Name Foundation Dinner-Dance
Over the years many people have purchased lottery tickets from Rae and Otto’s (it’s now owned and operated for the past 25 years by Ricky and his family, sorry but I don’t know the correct name, I just know they are good people. If you know the family, Ricky’s mom addresses everyone with ‘Hello Love’!)
I used to try my luck often with lottery tickets – no way Jose, as you can see I still have a job.
Father Jim Cunningham stepped up to the microphone last Friday night at the Holy Name Foundation Dinner-Dance and announced, ‘it felt like he had won the lottery‘, this coming after being named the future pastor at Holy Name.
Of course it was a metaphor for how he feels being at H.N.
I kinda felt the same way on that special night.
Cunningham seems like a great fit for the Parish. His speech was outstanding (TOP NOTCH, TOP NOTCH!).
On that unforgettable night, I had the pleasure of meeting Rev. Peter Rayder, a frequent and compelling contributor to the comments section of Container Diaries. He has since moved on to O.L.H.C., but his presence at the dinner shows his loyalty to Holy Name. Speaking of Our Lady Help of Christians, I think I scored 24 points against them when I played Rookie basketball.
After being greeted by the lovely Mrs. Dolan, who did the honors of pinning a gorgeous rose on me, I stepped into the area where they served the appetizers and lo and behold I walk into Bobby Trapp. (By the way, Mrs. Dolan did a great job taking photo’s all night long – hopefully she e-mails some of them to me so I can put them up on the blog)
What a pleasure to see one of the best dude’s the neighborhood has ever produced.
Jimmy Rauthier was also in the house. Jimmy is another one of my favorite guys of all-time. He was always real cool with me. Matter of fact, he took me out one night to the Mustard Seed in Bay Ridge…what a night we had! It was the first time I had ever stepped out on the town. Jimmy still looks great, he looks like he can take guys to the ba-ha like he often did in the schoolyard! And it must be mentioned that I had the chance to meet his lovely mother; whom I haven’t seen in years. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jimmy’s brother Georgie’s son who was also in the house. The Rauthier clan is one of the best from the neighborhood.
I stood there and chatted with Bobby for a bit and had a great conversation with Jimmy. To my surprise, along comes Ray Nash. The guy looks great! He gave me my first chance at coaching High School basketball when he hired me to be the head boys freshman coach at Ford. (The year before, Danny Pisselli hired me as his assistant for the J.V. team)
While chatting with all the lovely people from Holy Name, out of the corner of my eye I noticed everyone passing me to get at the food. I kept thinking to myself, ‘maybe I should just get on line’? Most people were probably coming from work, so I couldn’t blame them.
Stares from people who probably didn’t know me, or even recognize me were the norm. A quick ‘hi’, or a warm smile from a few folks, all the while thinking to myself, ‘damn, what if they run out of food’?
I hadn’t eaten anything all afternoon, my stomach was growling. I actually thought of crossing the street to Nathan’s on my way from the subway to grab a dog or two but remember, I was running behind…damn I was starving.
Also representing the Ford Falcons; Dennis Nolan, Pete Goyco and Eileen Long. Eileen was great. I had watched her play basketball for Bishop Ford years ago and we had never had any conversation before Friday night. I had always seen her and even crossed paths with her at Ford but never did we exchange a word. She reminded me, “remember when I wore goggles at Saint Francis”? Of course she was referring to her playing days down at the college as a Lady Terrier.
Dennis is a great guy. He’s now the boy’s head basketball coach at 500 19th street. The following morning I awoke extra early to get up to the gym to observe him working his guys out. He’s one of the best teachers on the court. I’m glad to see him back at his alma mater. During my tenure as freshman coach, Dennis was the JV coach, we spent a lot of time together on and off the court.
Pete is now the athletic director at Ford. He’s done a good job over the years as Nash’s right hand man; but now he’s steering the ship. While we chatted in the gym watching the basketball team on Saturday, I couldn’t help but notice how many keys Pete had on a ring. It looked like he had the keys to everyone’s house in the neighborhood.
To be continued…