CHESHIRE – Even after 50 years, the La Salette Seminary boys basketball team's most crowning achievement remains vivid in the mind of co-captain Jim Callahan.
|The CHAMPS: Front row, left to right: Robert Ippolito: scorer,
Alfred Jasnocha, John Miller, Paul Baxer, Thomas Kelly,
Donald Delery, Charles Langevin, Edmund Normantowicz:
equipment manager; Back row, left to right: Jerome
Misiewicz: manager, Chester Sygiel: statistician, co-captain:
James Callahan, co-captain: Philip House, Jeffrey Gallahue,
coach: Fr. James Lowery, Robert Oblon, Michael Verrengia,
Michael Donahue, Albert Chase: assistant manager.
"Seminaries from all over came down to watch us play," Callahan said, "and after the game, they picked each of us up and carried us on their shoulders throughout the streets of New Haven celebrating."
On the night of March 13, 1964, La Salette had plenty to celebrate as co-captain and point guard Phil House scored 13 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out 11 assists to lead the Crusaders to a 62-43 win over Woodbury at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium in the 1964 Class C state championship.
But the celebration was short-lived, as Callahan recalled. "When we got back on the bus to go back to Cheshire, it was grand silence," said Callahan. "Being in the seminary is much like the military, and you don't break rules."
Still, there was plenty of joy for the players from the small Cheshire-based seminary, which originated from Hartford and was located on a 100-acre farm off Oak Avenue. The property was bought in 1957, opened in 1961 and closed in the mid-1970s. Every so often, Woodbury's Jack Wright thinks back to the game against La Salette, and the first name that comes to mind is House, the game's Most Valuable Player.
"Phil was so smart and was our catalyst and made the team go," said Callahan. Teammate Jeffrey Gallahue called House a "wizard" with the basketball. "All you had to do was get open and he'd get you the ball," said Gallahue. Wright also praised La Salette's triangle-and-two defense, which stymied Woodbury's offense in the first half. La Salette led 36-18 at halftime. "They really disrupted us," said Wright.
|Shouts of joy ring out in the Yale Payne Whitney locker
room, as the Varsity and coach, Fr. Jim Lowery, clutch the
ball used in the winning game.
Callahan said the strategy of La Salette's coach, the Rev. James Lowery, was to press Woodbury as soon as a basket was made. "Coach was so determined to win that game," said Callahan.
"We played very well, but unfortunately, we never were really in it and got way behind," recalled Wright. "I hit the floor so many times that I had a lot of bruises. We played hard, and it was a bit disappointing, but nobody lamented afterward. It was a great experience, but when it was over, we were on to the baseball season.
|Co-captains, Jim Callahan and Phil House,
ride high on the shoulders of the students
moments after the Varsity had captured
the State Class C basketball crown, by
"We were playing with house money and not expected to do much," added Wright. "It was unexpected to get to the final. We were happy to be there and enjoyed the run that we had. The towns supporting us and the cars going down the roads following us for two weeks or so for the length of the tourney was fantastic. For me, it was a win-win."
Reflecting back, House recalled La Salette's 52-46 overtime win in the semifinals over Guilford. "That was our introduction to the Payne Whitney Gym (at Yale)," said House. "Playing that close against another quality team helped us."
House credited Lowery for keeping the team on an even keel. "He certainly never let us get overconfident and kept us humble," said House. "He was so organized and so precise in preparing us in order to be successful. He gave all of us a great foundation."
Gallahue, the only junior in the starting lineup, said Lowery's impact was immeasurable. "Father Lowery showed so much confidence in me as a person and as a player," said Gallahue, who made two free throws late in the win over Guilford. "He allowed me to play in his system, and it was such a tremendous feeling that he had trust in you."
Gallahue compared the tournament experience to the movie, "Hoosiers," and how Lowery got the players to believe they could win. "We were mesmerized by being there," said Gallahue. "It was such a thrill to be a part of such a great achievement." Even now, 50 years later.
From left: Mike Verrengia lays in a two-pointer against Washington in second game of tournament; State Class C basketball champions,1964 La Salette Seminary Varsity in Cheshire, CT; Bob Oblon for two on a push shot against Old Saybrook in the quarter-final game; Jim Callahan on a jumper against Guilford in the semi-final game at Yale.
(Reprinted with permission from the Republican-American newspaper, entitled “La Salette is no more, but memories of title win linger”, by Mark Jaffee, Sunday, March 16, 2014.)