The elite days of the Syracuse Parochial League provided great basketball drama, intense rivalries, somewhat heated neighborhood debates with some of the local all-time high school coaching legends getting the most out of players who represented their schools with the deepest of loyalties. And, oh what great basketball this community witnessed in those days!
One of those unforgettable collections of athletes and a legendary coach leading his group was the 1965 and 1966 St. John the Evangelist basketball squad led by coach Bobby Felasco. Molding a cohesive unit was no easy task as the Evangelist school had no gym.
Felasco scheduled practices at Grant Junior High with the league games at Henninger High School. A coach who loved to run his team, the Eagles played it to perfection along with a defense that shutdown some of the league's most potent offenses. Add in a radar-like outside shooting touch and the '65 and '66 teams were tough to beat.
The string began with nine consectutive victories in 1965. Following a buzzer beating loss they then won 28 straight games, including the Parochial League and much coveted City League titles. The 1965 team beat perennial powerhouse Nottingham while the 1966 squad did it to an overpowering Corcoran five that included Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame inductee Jimmy Collins, Joe Reddick, Harold Broadwater, Bob Stroman and Howie Harlow. The '66 championship game has many calling it one of the greatest high school games ever played in our town.
Among those who made it all happen on the court were a group whose names were known by all basketball officiandos in Syracuse. They inclued, in no specific order:
Tom Downey, who later starred for Tom Niland at LeMoyne College, made the Dophins Gold Wave Hall of Fame and was named to the list of the top 200 players in the Parochial leagues. He went on to practice law in San Francisco.
Al Denti, who was three years all-league, went on to play for Creighton and kept his roots here in Syracuse.
Dave Guinta was a two year all league performer who was the only player to be on five consecutive Parochial League champions.
Billy Jackson, Mr. Syracuse community organizer and leader of multiple sclerosis research in our city, was a three year all-league star.
Joe Russo, another three year all-league standout, went on to LeMoyne college and starred for Coach Dick Rockwell on the baseball field. He, too, is a LeMoyne Gold Wave Hall of Famer and member of the school's Board of Regents.
LeMoyne also had an outstanding basketball career from John Zych after being a four year all-star at Evangelist. He was named to the list of the top 200 players in the Parochial League.
Bob Barth and Dan Jones were two-year varisty members and went on to play at Dade Community College in Miami.
Mark Adams was a co-captain of the '65 team.
Also contributing to the team's success were Ed Aresenault and another co-captain--Jim Murphy.
Juniors on the championship '66 team were Jim Benz and Mike Jarvis.
It was a remarkable era in Syracuse high school sports and St. John the Evangelist, the small school without a gym, made an impact that will never be forgotten.