This story appeared in the Daily News on the 10-year anniversary of the game, in 1978.
In a week and a half, the players on the Catholic League basketball champion for the 1977-78 season will follow a time-honored ritual.
It will begin as they count down the final seconds in " the biggest win of the year, " continue as they rush onto the court for a knifing of the nets, intensify as they scamper into the locker room for a dunking of the coach and a barrage of interviews and, undoubtedly, heighten the next day as they scoop up 15 copies of all the city dailies.
Then, the arguments will commence. Does Team X really rank among the truly great ones to win the league? Has it carved a niche? Does it deserve even more attention than it's already received? Should it be doused in bronze.?
The answers, of course, might be yes, yes, yes and yes but the memory of that team, whichever one it is, will NEVER be stamped in the minds of league followers in such an indelible manner as the one of a team that preceded it 10 years earlier and advanced no further than the quarter- finals.
ON THE NIGHT of Feb. 26, 1968, North Catholic High made national headlines with a 77-60 victory over Bishop McDevitt in a Catholic League Northern Division playoff opener. But not in the normal fashion. It did so with a squad of junior varsity players, subbing for the suspended varsity.
The coach, and man behind the suspensions, was Jack Friel, now manager of the Blue Bell Inn in suburban Montgomery County. His fill- in starters were juniors Iggy Brodzinski, Joe Evanosich and Mike Kaiser and sophomores Bill Dever and Jim Boylan.
They took the floor to the sound of deafening boos from the Falcon rooting section and chants of " We want the varsity . . . we want the varsity, " trailed just once, 2-0, scored the final 11 points of the game after McDevitt had sliced the lead to six with 2:45 to go and had become larger than life - even to some McDevitt fans - by the end of the night.
Later, Friel received countless awards and honors for his noble stand and, to boot, letters of admiration from as far away as the West Coast. Six days later, with the varsity reinstated for the semifinal game with Cardinal O'Hara - which the defending city champs lost agonizingly on a tap by Lou Ferro that rolled around the rim for 2 seconds before falling in at the buzzer - Friel saw fit to dress six of his JVs. Two played, Kaiser and Dever.
BUT THAT'S GETTING ahead of the story, which began with a special Mass and a directive from Friel to the players that they go out for some breakfast then return for second period. The first part went fine, but the players never returned, at least not on time. Friel then tracked them down and the machinery was set in motion to prevent them from representing the school that night.
" The kids were due back at 9:15, " said Friel. " I happened to be in the discipline office at the time and I noticed the attendance slips came back with their names marked absent.
" By 10:30, they still weren't back. I made a few stops and met them as they were coming back to the school. I said, 'On your way back, think about not playing tonight. ' I gave them the opportunity for an explanation, but none seemed to hold water. I then went off to discuss the matter with the principal, Rev. Edward Corcoran, and the vice principal, Rev. William Guerin.
" There was no hesitation. We had to show the kids in the most forceful way possible that they were students first, athletes second. The kids took a liberty. As athletes, they felt they deserved something extra. But they always got that through the accolades they received for playing the games. Another punishment never entered my mind. It was clear-cut as far as I was concerned. "
BUT THE NEWS did NOT spread like wild fire.
" I'll never forget, fifth period history class, " said Brodzinski, now the Falcon JV coach. " There were a couple JV players and a couple varsity players. One of the varsity guys, Billy O'Hara, whispered to me that the varsity had been suspended and that the JV would be playing. He was such a practical joker, though, I didn't take him seriously. Then, the teacher mentioned something that he had heard a rumor to the same effect. I started believing it.
Later, the players received notes to " come to the disciplinary office after school " and waited there until 3:30, when everything was made official. They then practiced for a half-hour (they hadn't played in eight days and some had to borrow sneakers and socks) went to the Northeast Diner for what was supposed to be a light meal (Evanosich and Dever, it is recalled, ordered spaghetti and meatballs, sundaes, and everything else that would not be found at a normal pre-game munch) then rode the El to the Palestra.
" When we came out and the North fans were booing, it made us feel more mad than bad, " said Evanosich, best remembered for his floppy, parted-down-the- middle mop of hair. " I was so into what was going on, I didn't even hear it until Dever mentioned it. But we got ticked off and we wanted to show 'em.
" ALL ALONG, I thought we could win. On the El, some of the guys were saying, 'People will read about this in the comic strips, not the sports section. ' I told 'em, 'They might be a year older than us, but they're still just kids and they put their sneaks on one at a time like we do. ' "
" Nobody expected us to win, " said Dever, who had not started all year for JV Coach Fran Dougherty (now the AD) but was employed by Friel. " When Mr. Friel told me I was starting, I was thinking, 'Don't put ME in there, don't do this to me. ' At halftime, I figured we could play with them, but when they cut it to six I figured, 'Oh, oh, now they're playing like they should. That's it, the fairy tale's over. ' Then we scored the last 11.
" That was the greatest year of my life. In football, our first two quarterbacks got hurt and I played in the Thanksgiving win over Frankford. Then, the JV game. "
Dever's role in the game was ballhandling, while Evanosich (13 points) handled the outside sniping. Kaiser (6-2) totaled 20 points and 23 rebounds, Brodzinski (6-3) 19 and 18 and Boylan (6-4) 14 and 15 as the JVs - who had split once with McDevitt's JVs - posted their highest point total of the year and a 62-36 rebounding advantage.
" THE ONLY DISTINCTION between us and the varsity, " said Kaiser, now a commercial lending officer in Maryland, " was that they played the second game all year. We had a lot of talented players and we were all pretty close.
" At first, I wasn't sure if the school was making the right decision and if we were making the right decision to take their place. It was sort of like we weren't supporting the varsity. I asked the guys what they thought. They were so psyched up to play, I had to go along. "
" If I remember right, " said Brodzinski, " Mike didn't think very much of the school for putting us on the spot like that. He was not too enthused. Meanwhile, we thought it was great. Really, we were the perfect matchup for that team. It was a little scary when we first came out, but the booing really helped us. We had a few lunatics on the team. That was all they needed to push them over the hump. I know Jack Friel deserved a lot of credit for what he did, but Fran Dougherty deserved a lot credit for what we did. The JVs were his. He had us prepared so well. "
" When the varsity came back, " said Friel, " it did so with a super attitude. None of the guys were sullen or hanging their heads. They had a feeling like 'Hey, it's done, we're alive, let's go do something about it. ' They were good kids, they really were. They just made a bad mistake in judgment. "
FROM THE OTHER side, the whole chain of events was a nightmare for McDevitt's players and their coach, Steve Chapman, who recently bagged a first-ever Keystone Scholastic Athletic Conference title at Church Farm School.
" I happen to think it was a psychological freak, " said Chapman. " Our kids had nothing to win and everything to lose. For their kids, it was just the opposite. When we got to the end of the first quarter down (15-10), that was enough to set off their psyche. Against the varsity, we would have been right on schedule. Against the JVs, well, there was nothing I could say to my kids to shake them out of it. People that talk about Xs and Os are crazy. It wasn't that at all. "
" You know, it's funny, " said Friel, on hand for the first-round doubleheader at the Palestra on Sunday, the anniversary of the game 10 years to the day. " The first person I saw when I walked in here today was Steve Chapman's uncle, a guard. Boy, did that bring back the memories. "
Memories that are big enough to overshadow anything that happened last year, that will happen this year or, as we said earlier, in any year to come.
This story appeared in the Daily News on the 25-year anniversary of the game, in 1993.
Fran Dougherty felt there was no chance of winning.
Sure, he was a coach. Sure, he had tried to instill in his players the belief that anything is possible when an effort is made.
But this game?
Under these circumstances?
"To be very honest," Dougherty said, "I felt there was no way. "
On Feb. 26, 1968, when North Catholic took the Palestra floor for a first- round Catholic League basketball playoff against Bishop McDevitt, the booing from its rooters was intense.
The reason: North was using its junior varsity.
That morning, varsity coach Jack Friel had suspended all 12 of his players for taking the l-o-n-g way back to school after attending a team Mass, then eating breakfast at a nearby diner.
The JV, coached by Dougherty, had ended its season eight days earlier. Even against McDevitt's JV, it had earned only a split.
But on this night, in front of a crowd of 5,495, on only 3 1/2 hours' notice, the stand-in Falcons accomplished the impossible. They not only topped McDevitt. They hammered 'em, 77-60.
McDevitt's only lead was 2-0, thanks to a basket 1:50 into the game by junior guard Bobby Haas, who earlier that season had scored a league-record 51 points against Archbishop Ryan. North scored the next seven points and rolled
The starting lineup consisted of juniors Iggy Brodzinski, Mike Kaiser and Joe Evanosich and sophomores Jim Boylan and Bill Dever.
Kaiser collected 20 points and 23 rebounds. Brodzinski, who later would coach the Falcons, had 19 and 18. Boylan had 14 and 15. North rang up a 62-36
rebounding advantage over the smaller Lancers. Evanosich, an outside shooter, scored 13 points. Dever scored nine points and handled the offense brilliantly.
"It was Jack's idea all the way" to suspend the varsity, Dougherty said. ''I heard rumors going around the school, but I couldn't believe it was happening. When we had a meeting, I remember (athletic director) Phil Looby telling Jack, 'If you follow through on this, I'll make you famous. ' Jack did become famous. The story went national. Sports Illustrated ran something on it. "
Game time was 7 o'clock. (La Salle played Father Judge in the nightcap. ) The JV players knew beforehand that something was in the wind, but they were not told that they would represent the school until 3:30.
They practiced for a half-hour (some had to borrow socks and sneakers), wolfed down a quick dinner at the same diner where the varsity had eaten breakfast, then rode the El to the Palestra.
"I was more nervous than the players," Dougherty said. "They were laughing and joking. But when they went out there, they were serious. They looked like they expected to win. When we got off to the good start, I thought, 'Geez, maybe we've got a shot here. ' All night, we kept going right through their press.
"Something like that could never happen today. Back then, there were a number of quality players at North Catholic (the enrollment was 2,800). Ten, 15, even 20. The JV scrimmaged against the varsity every day. Sometimes we beat them. "
In '67, North had won the Catholic League championship. One starter, Hank Siemiontkowski, who would star at Villanova and play in the NBA, returned in '68. He won the division scoring title (22.6 points per game). The other starters were seniors Joe DeMuro, Steve Pascavitch and Jim Asman and junior Mark Williams.
The response to Friel's decision from the players' parents was mostly favorable, Dougherty said.
"The only guy I remember really being hot was Mr. Siemiontkowski," he said. "We saw him that night. I thought he was going to pop us. And he was a big man. "
That Sunday, North met Cardinal O'Hara in a league semifinal. Friel dressed 18 players. Included were six JVs, two of whom (Kaiser and Dever) saw action.
But the magic ended. The Falcons lost, 51-49, on a buzzer-beating tap by Lou Ferro.
This story appeared in the
Daily News one week after the 25-year anniversary. It shows
The victory by North Catholic's junior varsity in a Catholic League basketball playoff 25 years ago was not a euphoric occasion for all concerned.
Steve Pascavitch, for one, endured the flip side.
Pascavitch, a senior, was the starting point guard and a tri-captain for North's varsity, which coach (and school disciplinarian) Jack Friel suspended on the morning of a first-round 1968 playoff game against Bishop McDevitt.
After attending a team Mass, the players received permission to eat breakfast at a nearby diner. They took too long to report back for classes, however, and all 12 were suspended.
That night, the JV Falcons squashed McDevitt, 77-60, to draw national attention.
"I still feel bad about the whole thing," Pascavitch said last week. "I thought we got the short end of the stick. McDevitt did, too.
"I never thought McDevitt's feelings were considered. North was in a win- win situation. McDevitt was in a lose-lose situation. They were thrown a psychological curveball. If they beat a JV team, big deal. If they don't . . . They had to come out on the court figuring, 'Hey, we're in the second round. ' All of a sudden, a JV team was beating up on them. Imagine what that must have been like for them.
"The proper thing for North to do, I've always felt, would have been to forfeit the game. That would have sent the message. "
According to Pascavitch, who lives in Northwood, the varsity players were not trying to take advantage of the situation.
"That was the biggest moment of our lives. Getting ready for a playoff game at the Palestra," he said. "Why would we jeopardize that? We weren't a bad bunch of kids.
"All that happened was that we lost track of maybe a half-hour's worth of time. We were high on the moment. Sitting in the diner, having fun. Throwing napkins at each other. Putting cups on our heads. We were just a bunch of goofy kids. Through the years, a lot of people seemed to think we were prima donnas. That wasn't the case.
"If we'd gotten back to school just a few minutes earlier, we would have been back in our classes and none of it would have happened.
"The last thing I want to do is come off as bitter. But it's something I continue to think about to this day. Any time North makes the playoffs, I relive it. This year, being the 25th anniversary, I thought about it even more. "
This story appeared in the
Daily News in 1998, when Jack became the first inductee in
North's basketball hall of fame.