Transfer questions then … and now

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Transfer questions then … and now

Postby rlee » Thu Jan 03, 2008 4:01 pm

Transfer questions then … and now
By STEVE TOBER
for The Montclair Times

Even though the tensions of the times were ever-present on the streets of Newark in 1967, the high school basketball scene was still enjoying a relatively undisturbed heyday, when homegrown talent dominated the Brick City scholastic hoops scene with names such as South Side’s Lonnie Wright and Ron Kornegay etching their individual marks on a history-laden sport that still lives on with gusto well past the tumultuous decade of the ’60s.

Superb but perhaps less ballyhooed standouts from the Brick City such as Central’s Bob Lester would go on to be a college star at nearby Montclair State and later became a legendary coach at both East Orange and Montclair High.

It was well before the time when AAU types emerged on the scene and dedicated gurus like Sandy Pyonin of the Roadrunners drove around in their beat-up, old station wagons with future stars such as Luther Wright and Al Harrington in the passenger seat, seeking top quality games and -- of course -- exposure for their phenoms.

Newark circa late ’60s was still a generation removed from the latter day scholastic success stories of both the public and parochial variety. Who would have thought that one day the city of Irvington would issue a proclamation announcing Luther Wright Day for a young man who was a star for the Elizabeth High School State championship basketball team?

Predating Wright, there were times when people questioned just how many stars for coach Ben Candelino’s Elizabeth Minutemen were actually from Betsytown. Montclair High had many a heartbreaking loss to Candelino’s crew in the 1980s before Lester’s Mounties upset the Minutemen in 1986 in one of most memorable MHS hoops wins of all time, in the North 2, Group 4 final played before an exhilarated crowd at Cranford.

Meanwhile, as the 1990s progressed, it would be Elizabeth’s parochial neighbor, St. Patrick, that would begin its steady trend of going beyond New Jersey’s borders to welcome in New York City talent such as star guards Shaheen Holloway and Corey Fisher to bolster its championship pedigree. These moves would eventually help push the Celtics past Bob Hurley’s popular St. Anthony Friars as the premier power program of late.

In fact, coach Kevin Boyle’s Celtics have beaten Hurley’s No.-1 ranked Friars three games in a row, including last year’s Non-Public, North B final.

If you hark back to 1967, St. Benedict’s Prep had not yet become an international soccer power. And, the Grey Bees had not yet invited precocious hoops talent from locales such as Venezuela (Gregory Echenique) to come to America, live in Ridgewood and attend school in Newark where the fruits of one’s labor on the hardwood will translate into a big-time college scholarship.

It was instead a more concentrated and -- yes -- innocent era, both power-wise and geographically speaking. The late coach Les Fein built an immortal team at Weequahic, where the back-to-back seasons of 1966-67 and ’67-’68 produced two of the finest high school squads in New Jersey hoops history.

Jump ahead 40 years to our current state of the Jersey high school nation and the transfer topic is still center stage more than ever as the NJSIAA powers that be continue to discuss dealing with the issue. Either in conversation in some back offices in Robbinsville, huddling with lawyers, or out in the conference rooms with their 50-member executive committee, which will look further into how to deal with a dilemma where the select few seem to reap the benefits as they only get better on the court or field, while most everyone else remains relatively status quo.

Long before Fein built highly successful diet centers in Livingston, he groomed basketball talent to behold in the Brick City. The 6-foot-9 center Dana Lewis moved with his mom to Newark from New York City and joined a Weequahic lineup in the autumn of 1966 that included the immortal guard Dennis “Mo” Layton, fellow backcourt partner Charlie Talley and forward Larry Bembry.

Layton would later star at Southern California, and then later embark on a professional playing career that included a stint with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.

Juniors Leroy Cobb and George Watson would share the other slot up front.

Then, in 1967, with Talley and Bembry graduated, a terrific guard from Hudson County named Billy Mainor, who would later go on to be one of Digger Phelps’ backcourt stars on a memorable Fordham Rams squad in 1970-71, wound up in Fein’s team locker room.

“All of a sudden, the best guard from Jersey City was at Weequahic,” recalled veteran sportswriter Art Polakowski of the Independent Press, who grew up in Newark in the late 1950s before his family moved to Chatham. “Mainor’s transfer raised a lot more eyebrows than Lewis’.

“But, it was a more innocent time when transfers may have happened, but not enough to make many people really take much notice.”

Weequahic went on to its brilliant State championship season in 1967-68, with Mainor and Layton in an all-time backcourt, Cobb and Watson starting at forward and Lewis emerging as one of the state’s very best big men before heading on to Oral Roberts University to enjoy a fine college career.

Fast-forward 40 years later and the transfer topic has far-reaching political and legal overtones. Fast-talking attorneys have successfully presented cases for student-athletes at schools such as Paterson Catholic (remember 6-10 center Darryl Watkins, who went from Passaic Tech to Cougar country). And then there is DePaul, where a football player from Verona transferred last autumn after indicating to the NJSIAA he was relocating to a relative’s home in East Orange.

And no, you can’t make these episodes of high school transfer lore up. They are cases that are few and far between the approximately 450 transfer cases the NJSIAA’s assistant director Robert Baly says his organization handles every year.

While the NJSIAA simply hopes the more dicey transfer cases never occur, they still do. The recent story where no less than 10 wrestlers somehow found their way to Queen of Peace in North Arlington after former St. Mary’s of Rutherford coach Scott Weaver went to coach there was one of the more outlandish cases the state association has had to deal with.

And, even with somewhat mild penalties in terms of not allowing Queen of Peace to compete for NJSIAA “team” titles in a sport where individual accolades are first and foremost anyway, simply reinforces the fact that in the world of topical transfer cases, lawyers more often than not win, or the state association has to look for moral victories and move on.

But, changing the 30-day rule for transfers to sit out after switching schools without a change in residence to a full one year is not the way to go.

Instead, an independent arbitrator/investigator should be brought in to study the controversial cases and assist the NJSIAA in its legal process.

There is no easy solution, but penalizing a typical high school student-athlete who goes from a parochial/private to a public school for family or financial reasons is certainly not the answer.

Going from 30 days to one year will not stop cheaters and opportunists. Instead, the NJSIAA should be better empowered by the majority of school districts around the state in order to make a case-by-case determination of a transfer’s validity, while also gauging one’s legal capabilities.

After all, in a realm of life where $150,000 scholarships may weigh in the balance, lawyers are bound to become involved, but they should not be able to see the proverbial white flag of surrender be hoisted up either.
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Re: Transfer questions then … and now

Postby John Grasso » Thu Jan 03, 2008 5:41 pm

rlee wrote: The late coach Les Fein built an immortal team at Weequahic, where the back-to-back seasons of 1966-67 and ’67-’68 produced two of the finest high school squads in New Jersey hoops history.

Long before Fein built highly successful diet centers in Livingston, he groomed basketball talent to behold in the Brick City. The 6-foot-9 center Dana Lewis moved with his mom to Newark from New York City and joined a Weequahic lineup in the autumn of 1966 that included the immortal guard Dennis “Mo” Layton, fellow backcourt partner Charlie Talley and forward Larry Bembry.

Layton would later star at Southern California, and then later embark on a professional playing career that included a stint with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.

Weequahic went on to its brilliant State championship season in 1967-68, with Mainor and Layton in an all-time backcourt, Cobb and Watson starting at forward and Lewis emerging as one of the state’s very best big men before heading on to Oral Roberts University to enjoy a fine college career.


One of the local stations in New York (either WOR or WPIX) used to televise a high school game of the week during the 1960s. Marty Glickman was the announcer. I remember looking forward to seeing the famed Weequahic high team featuring Dana Lewis and company one Saturday morning.

The game turned out to be a major disappointment. Weequahic's opponents froze the ball for most of the game and the elapsed time of the entire telecast including halftime was about 45 minutes.

Lewis, later drafted by the 76ers, turned out to be a major disappointment as he failed to make the team.
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Postby John Grasso » Thu Jan 03, 2008 7:19 pm

The Weequahic game mentioned above was 12/17/66. Final score -
Weequahic 29 Newark South Side 17.
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