By Jeanne Sager
LIVINGSTON MANOR It was a dream team if there ever was one.
Forty-two straight wins. Six players all capable of putting up double digits on the scoreboard on any given night.
The Livingston Manor Wildcats were THE basketball team to watch from 1959 to 1962, a team that will come together once again this July.
Their 42-game win streak shattered state records, earned Coach Si Pesavento two ‘Coach of the Year’ awards and kept the boys in maroon and silver atop the Western Sullivan League (WSL).
In a Livingston Manor Times article dated Nov. 19, 1959, the boys were credited with rallying a town.
“For one evening a week, during the heart of our bitter, harsh winter months, community residents would come in out of the cold night air and with the sound of bouncing basketballs echoing from the oak paneled walls of the school’s auditorium, cheer on our young boys for success over their rivaled competition on the basketball court,” the article read.
That was just the beginning.
It wasn’t until mid-way through the 1961-1962 season, against their archrival Blue Devils from Roscoe, that a community would be disappointed by a loss.
Rallying from a 10-point deficit, the visitors from up the road ended the streak by a score of 64-58.
The Wildcats’ visit to Roscoe later that season wasn’t pretty.
“We did absolutely pummel Roscoe when we came back to them,” Wildcats center Harold VanAken recalls with a laugh.
There were no hard feelings really.
More than 40 years later, VanAken buys his cars from Ralph Kirchner even if Kirchner put up 15 points toward a Blue Devil win on Dec. 19, 1961.
But VanAken is a little afraid to invite Kirchner to the reunion.
“He might get roasted,” VanAken said with a laugh.
After all, the July weekend will celebrate a time when Livingston Manor was king of the WSL.
It began with a non-league win against St. Joseph’s Seminary on Dec. 1959, with a team made up of Bill Vick, Barry Foster, John DuMond, Richard Robinson, Charlie Banks, Don Greenlee, Richard Seeley, Carl Eugeni and William Hutchens.
In 1960, DuMond was back. So were Robinson, Banks, Eugeni and Greenlee. They were joined by Van Aken, Richard Welch, John Hoos and Richard Diescher.
Hoos, VanAken and Welch moved front and center for the ‘61-’62 season with Tom Vick, Rich Fries, Richard McKune, Joseph Hauptfler, Leonard Welch and Richard Gorr also donning the Wildcat uniforms.
And, of course, there was Pesavento.
A taskmaster, Pesavento wasn’t there to be friends with the players. He was in Livingston Manor to win basketball games.
He did it with a firm hand that won the respect of a community and the players.
“He wanted us to work as a cohesive unit and we did,” Foster said.
Decades have passed since he played for Pesavento, but Foster, a former school teacher and Manor sports card shop owner, will be coming to the reunion to emcee the event.
Like most of the guys, he’s coming to see Pesavento.
“We played very, very hard and we practiced very hard,” Foster recalled. “Coach wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“We loved him.”
“He was good for recognizing talent and getting the most out of it,” VanAken recalled. “I could jump, so he’d make a mark on the backboard and say, ‘Touch that 100 times.’
“When I got comfortable with it, he’d bring out the stepladder and move it higher,” VanAken continued.
He was the shortest center in the WSL, but VanAken could dunk.
So could the bulk of the Wildcat lineup. Pesavento got them started.
“Anybody he saw that looked like they had any potential, he’d give them a basketball and open the gym up for them,” VanAken recalled. “There would be all these kids in there taking shots at the basket.”
Pesavento first handed VanAken a basketball when he was in eighth grade.
“He said, ‘Dribble this, dribble this all the time,’” VanAken said with a laugh.
Folks in the Manor have hundreds of Pesavento stories, tales that have become legend.
One story has the coach “conning” the newspapers, telling a reporter that his three best players were suffering a laundry list of ailments before a big game.
On game night, the worried fans piled into the gym ready for the streak to end. They found the Wildcats in tip-top shape, running the gym from end to end.
Needless to say, they won that game and a few others.
Now living in Wallkill, VanAken is the chief organizer behind the July 18 reunion weekend.
He’s put the word out to former players, cheerleaders, even the fans who filled the bleachers in those days. He’s even tracked down Pesavento.
The coach is coming from Ohio with his girlfriend.
The weekend will begin with dinner, cocktails and a presentation at 6 p.m. on July 18 at King’s Catering.
Saturday will be “golf with Si” the coach spent his summers as assistant pro at Tennanah Lake, now he’ll play his players on the course.
Saturday night will bring together the Manor classes of ‘63, ‘58 and ‘53 and anyone else who’s been out of school for more than 50 years for the traditional reunion festivities.
The bulk of the basketball and cheerleading team rosters have been contacted.
A few have passed away sadly team captain John DuMond, ‘61-’62 player Leonard Welch, and team manager Stanley Naumovitz are gone.
The latter never played, but he had a love for basketball that formed the heart of the team.
Gone too is JV Coach Norman Schultz who, according to Foster, “fed the varsity team excellent ball players.”
Information and a list of folks who haven’t been found is available online at www.livingston manor.net/BasketBall/index.htm
For folks who won’t be able to attend the festivities, the site provides an in-depth look at the Wildcat dream team, but VanAken hopes it will leave them wanting more enough to call for reservations for July 18.
“The basketball reunion can be attended by anyone with an interest in the basketball team in the ‘50's and ‘60's,” he explained.
For information, check out the site or send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.