Reunion For Championship Squad

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The squad
The squad

The 1974 Roslyn High School basketball team was one of the legendary squads in the school’s history.

That year, the Bulldogs won the North Shore Championship, finishing with a 10-2 record in Division III play and a final record of 18-5.
This year, team members held a reunion with their coach, Joe Lettera. The reunion tops off a banner year for Lettera who earlier was named to the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame.

Players who attended the reunion included Michael Silvershein, Dan Post, Doug Friedman, Jim Mockler, Peter Itzler, Ken Gomez and Andrew Rawson. The players enjoyed reliving the glory days of that championship season, but they also wanted to say thanks to a man who say devoted his life to teaching young men far more than basketball.

That championship season, 40 years ago was the first and only team in Lettera’s 30-year coaching career that had four starting players with double-digit scoring averages. They were: Stu Silpe (10 points), Ken Gomez (10 points), Carl Walker (12 points) and Gary Lipp (14 points).
The team also sported a great bench. Points contributed from bench players won fourteen games. Both Gomez and Lipp were voted to the All-Division Team.

Summing up that great year, the 1974 Roslyn High School Yearbook included note by Lettera together with its own assessment.

“This year’s varsity basketball team continued last year’s championship style of play, attitude, and dedication of each member toward team success,” Lettera wrote. “They also overcame the handicap of little or no varsity experience and developed into a poised, excellent defensive unit that made the big plays in a pressure packed schedule. The record speaks for itself: Division III Champs, North Shore Champs, and second place in Nassau County. The tremendous support of the student body, faculty, community and friends was outstanding throughout the season. The high point was beating Westbury in overtime for the North Shore Championship at the Nassau Coliseum. Captain Gary Lipp’s two foul shots with six seconds remaining can never be forgotten.”

In all, the 1974 squad proved to be one of the most successful teams in the school’s history, all of it against long odds. The Bulldogs started the season with only three returning varsity players, as Lettera turned the 12 individuals into one team.

All throughout the season, Roslyn played fine defense, upsetting more favored teams, including a playoff win over Syosset, 46-43.
During the playoff run, Walker and Lipp’s performances were notable. Walker was the high scorer and was instrumental in closing the nine-point third quarter deficit against Westbury to force an overtime period. Lipp made both ends of a one-and-one with six seconds remaining in overtime to tie and then win the game, by a 56-55 margin. Walker and Lipp were voted to the All-Tournament Team.

Lettera has described the overtime win against Westbury for the North Shore Championship as the most outstanding win of his 30-year career. Westbury was coached by Ed Krinsky, who like Lettera, is a member of the State Basketball Hall of Fame. In one of many class acts, Krinsky took out an ad in the program congratulating Lettera for his induction into the Hall of Fame in March 2014.

Ken Gomez recently unloaded the following two-minute radio clip of the game onto the Roslyn High School’s 40-year reunion facebook page. It reads as follows:

“As broadcast live on WGBB 1240 AM radio, Captain Gary Lipp made two pressure free throws with six seconds remaining in overtime to win by one point the 1974 North Shore Championship before more than 4,000 screaming fans at the Nassau County Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum. The two-minute clip of the radio broadcast includes a brief interview with a humble and hoarse Coach Lettera just seconds after his team’s stunning victory. Junior guard Carl Walker was instrumental in closing a 9-point third quarter deficit to tie the Westbury Green Dragons in regulation. Carl Walker’s efforts, aided by strong showings by starters Peter Itzler and the late Stu Silpe, not to mention the critical off-the-bench contributions by Reed Kiviat and Jim Mockler, especially down the stretch, were punctuated by the clutch performance by Captain Gary Lipp. A win for the ages.”

Here are more impressions of Gomez about the game.

“During the first regular season game against Westbury, our perennial archrival, we won by two points on our home court, 65-63. In the second regular-season game against Westbury, played on Westbury’s home court, they blew us out of the gym, 46-51. At the time, the Westbury players and fans let us know in no uncertain terms that the second game was payback for the earlier defeat of Westbury.

“No doubt Westbury was excited to play us in the championship game (as we had beaten Syosset, perhaps the best and certainly the tallest team in the tournament, to get into the North Shore Championship),” Gomez added. “To their credit, Westbury beat highly rated Farmingdale and Port Washington (by one point) to reach the North Shore Championship.

“Late in the fourth quarter, Carl Walker, Roslyn’s game high scorer, fouled out of the game. The situation was made even more dire, when early in overtime, Roslyn center Stu Silpe had to leave the game due to injury. In other words, Roslyn won the game in overtime without two of its starting players. Just incredible.”

Forty years later, as Gomez claims, the 1974 season still resonates.

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Joe Scotchie is the editor of both The Roslyn News and New Hyde Park Illustrated News. In 2009, he won a New York State Press Association award for a sports feature. Joseph Scotchie’s past publications include biographies of Thomas Wolfe and Richard Weaver and a comprehensive history of the city of Asheville, North Carolina.

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