As a young boy, the one thing I recall about the Holy Name Summer Basketball League was the set-up before the start of the games.
Seeing Danny Piselli walking from the girls schoolyard carrying a very tall ladder usually between 6:15 and 6:30 at night I knew that it meant one thing; the games were about to go down. Danny was the commissioner of the league. (I also recall Mickey McNally being in charge too. These two were the ‘David Stern’s’ of the Summer League)
“Wanna help?” Danny shouted out to me on a warm July night as he stood in front of the basket on the middle court closest to the red-brick church wall.
Standing alone at the other end of the court dribbling my basketball, without hesitating, I jogged down towards him.
As a kid I was awful at taking the initiative; when someone asked me to help them, my self-esteem went through the roof. But why wouldn’t I reach out and ask, “You need any help?”
All six steel rims in the boys schoolyard were netless. When you attempted an outside jumper, and made it, the ball would roll away from you. But during the summer league games Danny would put up two, white nylon nets on the middle court rims for the 3 games that night. Nothing like seeing a jump-shot go through a net after a made basket.
As I made my way to the basket, Danny had planted the ladder in front of the rim right in the middle of the lane area and began his climb.
“Make sure you hold it tight so I don’t fall.” He said.
As he began his steps up the ladder, I moved in closer and held it with all my might.
I leaned my skinny body against the steel ladder and looked up to watch Danny put the net up. I could see the bottom of his Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars.
Danny was a huge influence on my love for basketball not only as a player but as a coach too. I played for him when I was in the 4th and 6th grade. Years later in my early 20’s he would hired me as his assistant coach when he was the JV head coach at Bishop Ford.
Besides our rims not having nets, the backboard was connected to a pole which was cemented into the ground right in the lane area. If you drove to the basket, you had better be careful because you could run right into it and get hurt. But with all the experience of playing in the yard, you learned how to avoid it. You went around the pole on your drive to the basket.
After the nets were put on the rims and Danny got down off the ladder, I always made sure to shoot a bank-shot against our half-moon backboards. The ball would go through the net slowly. As I reached up to get the ball, I would move to a few different spots and shoot again. Danny would close up the ladder and head down to the other basket.
As a jump-shooter, there’s nothing like the feel of swishing a shot.
But there was more work to be done. Sometimes Danny would tell me to go get the three folding chairs that needed to come out from the basement of the rectory and placed at half-court for the timekeeper, scorekeeper and spotter. One night I was keeping score and John Corrar took a seat next to me. Corrar was one of the best people from the neighborhood. As he sat he said hello to me while he enjoyed an ice from Bonalli’s.
On the court there was a foul called against a player who’s last name was ‘Smirka’. He felt it was a bad call and was not happy and of course voiced his displeasure as he walked to his team’s bench.
Corrar seeing all of this taking place screamed out, “WIPE THAT SMIRKA OFF YOUR FACE!”
Everyone within a few yards laughed out loud.
Besides the nets going up and the chairs being taken out I would also see Mickey or Danny walking around the perimeter of the yard picking up trash before the crowd would arrive. If there was one thing that wasn’t tolerated it was trash being left on the ground in the yard.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how Danny would have to tell the handball players that their game had to end. Most times they were upset; but they got over it.
When Danny was on the ladder putting up the nets, I knew it wasn’t long until the 6:45 game would begin. The Summer League was an event that everyone from the neighborhood enjoyed. Didn’t matter if you were a ballplayer or not; it was the place to be. Fans lined both sidelines to cheer their friends and outside the yard, they leaned against the fence on Howard Place yelling at the refs after each call.
It was the place where you were safe for the next 3 hours; it was a place where your parents didn’t have to worry about you.
Keep in mind though, after the games were over, the nets from the rims were taken down. I guess Danny didn’t want anyone to steal them.