Philadelphia High School Basketball
A Look at
West Philadelphia's 68-Game
Winning Streak 1976-1978 (13, 30, 25)
From January 25,
1976 through Feb. 19, 1978, West Philadelphia High's basketball
team, coached by Joe Goldenberg, claimed the still-standing Pennsylvania record by
winning 68 consecutive games. (The former record was 60.) The 1977 team finished
perfect at 30-0.
On this page are results, rotations, stories, PL scoring totals and the names of all
Speedboys during the streak.
Return to TedSilary.com Home Page
Tribute Page |
68 Straight Wins
This story was written in 1977 by Mary Flannery, of the Philadelphia Daily News, after the Speedboys finished a 30-0 season by beating Father Judge for the City Title . . .
This story was written after West Philly
won the 1976 Public League
championship . . .
This story was written after the streak
ended on Feb. 21, 1978, with a 62-61
arch-rival Overbrook . . .
By Ted Silary
From the beginning, it was obvious that the Public League basketball happening at Overbrook High yesterday afternoon
would be remembered for years to come, but with just 11 seconds remaining and The 'Brook on top, 60-59, it was not
yet clear for what reason.
No one was quite sure whether the game would go down in history as just another victory (albeit with all kinds of
excitement) in a West Philadelphia streak that had reached the lofty heights of 68, or whether it would REALLY be the
day that the Speedboys came tumbling down.
Only one guy, effervescent Panther point guard Ricky Tucker, could fill in the blanks, and, luckily for cardiac units
at hospitals throughout the area, he was not one to dilly-dally as the hearts of an estimated 950 people who had
sardined their way into a 700-capacity gym began to pound profusely in syncopated rhythm.
AFTER ABSORBING A gentle shove near midcourt from All- American Clarence Tillman during a dribbling exhibition
that had begun 12 seconds earlier off an inbounds play, Tucker quickly and confidently gave the Speedboys the kind of
hard push they had not received since Jan. 24, 1976 by hitting nothing but net on both ends of a one-and-one.
After what seemed like an eternity - which included a basket by West's Kevin McCray at 0:06, a 'Brook timeout at
0:02 and a midcourt interception at 0:01 by Tillman, who never got off a shot - the final count, 62-61, was all but
dancing on the scoreboard. And the Panther fans, who had false-started twice already, were all but dancing on the
shoulders of their heroes.
That was the way it was when a streak of previously-unheard of proportions in hoop-rich Pennsylvania came to an end
. . . players hugging fans, fans hugging players, players hugging players, fans hugging fans. And for the first time in a long
time, they were NOT from West Philly.
"All I had to do was step to the line, take a deep breath and let 'em go," said Tucker, who finished with 11 points and
countless kisses from female admirers in the mayhem. "I had a long time to think about shooting free throws because I
knew I'd have the ball and I knew they'd foul me from the time the ball went out of bounds (at 0:23 as West's Vincent
Ross blocked a Tony Costner shot)."
"ACTUALLY, I'D BEEN waiting for a situation like that since we lost to West a year ago tomorrow. And I knew I'd
make the most of it."
"I feel gooooood," said 6-3 forward Carlton Willis, who totaled a game- high 25 points and a team-high 11 rebounds,"
so good I can't even describe it. I'd never played in a game like that, one with so much pressure. But it was a good kind
of pressure and we did a good job under it. We knew we could do it all the time. I mean, we were fired UP!!"
At the outset, it seemed like Overbrook's fire was going to be snuffed out before it ever got a chance to rage. West
stormed to an 8-0 lead after just 2:09 on two free throws by Tillman (24 points, 11 boards), a banker by James (Pee
Wee) Thomas on a pass from Kevin McCray, a Tillman turnaround and a McCray drive.
But the School Up on the Hill gradually regrouped to forge a 29-25 halftime lead, then expanded it to 44-33 by making
seven of its first nine shots in the first 4:10 of the third quarter. But back came West, using a low-post bucket by Tillman
with 6:43 remaining to go ahead, 49-43.
In the stretch run, however, Overbrook was clearly the team with its head screwed on straight and Coach Mark (Max)
Levin gave much of the credit for that development to John Bartram, which forced his team to blow a seven-point
lead in the final 1:43 of regulation while absorbing an 81-80 overtime setback in the first of the Not-So-Holy-Wars.
"MORE THAN ANYTHING," said Levin, "losing to Bartram helped us beat West. Right after that game, we began
to bring out our clock again at practices and we set up every situation imaginable . . . down 10 with 3:00 to go, down 13
with 4:00 to go, up five with 1:00 to go. We wanted the kids to become conscious of the score-time relationships and
how to deal with them. We knew - at least we thought - we could stay with West and that the extra work might make
"When we had the one-point lead (58-57) and West committed that turnover (a walk by Burt Biggs with 1:08 to go),
we went right into 'Hold 'em,' " said Levin. "It's not a total freeze, but we do want drives only. We didn't go into the
deep freeze then because, really, we don't pull that off too well unless Ricky inbounds the ball, catches it and never
gives it up. We wanted a three-point lead and Ricky gave it to us with that drive (at 0:54)."
All game, Tucker was the Hilltopper catalyst, more than negating playalike McCray, who was limited to six points
and, more importantly, just three assists.
"Mr. Levin told us Tillman would be the man, but that McCray would be the key," said Tucker. "We're always
trying to outdo each other. He talks to me, I talk to him. He elbows me, I elbow him. He tried to get me off my game,
but it didn't work. No matter how hard we go at each other, we always wind up shaking hands."
WHICH WAS THE same thing that happened between Levin and West Coach Joe Goldenberg. In fact, they
eventually left the building all but arm-in-arm with plans for dinner and a night at the Palestra.
"I might even pay for the meal," said Goldenberg, laughing. "Wait, I will pay for the meal."
"Nah, I think we'll go Dutch," said Levin. "I'll tell you, the fact that I can still be friends with Joey after all the wars
we've had on the court is something I really cherish."
Here's to good friends and a day that was something special.
The Streak: 68 games (13 to finish '76, 30 in '77, 25 in '78). Began with 68- 66 victory over Holy Trinity on Jan.
25, 1976 in consolation game of Long Island Lutheran Invitational. Gene Banks scored 22 points.
Last Defeat: 92-85 to Long Island Lutheran on Jan. 24, 1976 in opening round of LILI. Banks totaled 46 points,
7 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 blocked shots as West played minus injured soph Clarence Tillman.
Last Local Defeat: 72-68 in overtime at La Salle on Dec. 1, 1975 in first game of season. Mike Finley (26 points)
led the Explorers, Banks (fouled out) and Don Watkins each scored 16 for West.
Last Public League Defeat: 55-54 at Overbrook on Feb. 14, 1974 in next-to- last game of regular season. Michael
(Moon) Black scored 16 points and gave Overbrook the lead for good at 52-51 with two free throws.
Miscellaneous Facts: West had won 55 straight Public regular season games, beginning with 63-55 victory over
Southern on Feb. 21, 1974 . . . West had won 104 of 106 over four years, 121 of 128 over five.
|Individual Scoring in League Games/Playoffs During the Streak|
|Total Points in Regular Season/Playoffs|
|Totals / 83.2 average||43||3577|