Reliving a classic Beaky's 80 turns 50 A half century ago St. Mary's George McDonald scored 80 points in a CYO game against St. Ann's
By DENNIS GILDEA Special to The TIMES NEWS firstname.lastname@example.org
George "Beaky" McDonald, (number 13) muscles his way to a basket during a CYO game in 1956.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Dennis Gildea is a Coaldale native and a Marian High School graduate. He played on the 1955-56 St. Mary's of Coaldale basketball team, and is the son of the late Vince and Mary Gildea, and the nephew of James "Casey" Gildea,who published the weekly Coaldale Observer. He now teaches English and journalism at Springfield College in Massaschusetts, the birthplace of basketball, where the score of the first game ever played in 1891 was: Students 1, Dr. James Naismsith's Faculty 0. Obviously, the Faculty team could have used George McDonald.)On the occasion of Kobe Bryant"s outpouring of 81 points in a recent NBA game, Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan rated individual scoring efforts. Fifty a game, he noted was “cool”; 60 “majestic”; 70 “awesome”; and 81 “unimaginable.”But slapping the “unimaginable” call on 81 points, I"d argue, comes about because Ryan has the athletic disadvantage of being a Boston product rather than a Panther Valley product.Fifty years ago this month, Feb. 8, 1956, to be exact, George “Beaky” McDonald scored 80 points as his St. Mary"s of Coaldale Panther Valley Catholic Youth Organization League team beat St. Ann"s of Lansford 102-26.And this fete was accomplished in a 28-minute game; four quarters of seven minutes each.I didn"t look it up, but I would bet the proverbial ranch that McDonald"s 80 is still a Panther Valley-Carbon County scoring record on any level.In its game story the next day, the Lansford Record observed: “McDonald, the league"s leading scorer, scored an amazing 80 points on 37 field goals and six fouls to break the old individual scoring record by 16 points set last year by Tommy McHugh of St. Joseph"s of Summit Hill.”“Did we pour it on? Oh, you bet we did,” says McDonald, who along with his brother Dan and his late father George Sr., operated the Lewis Insurance Agency in Lansford.McDonald is now retired and living in Tarpon Springs, Fla.Poured it on. And he"s not apologizing for it, either.In fact, I was a member of that St. Mary"s team and on the floor that night 50 years ago against St. Ann"s, and I"m not apologizing either. Nor is Moe Burns, or Gerry Donovan, or Bill "Angel" Donovan, or his brother Jerry, or Dave Lewis, or Jerry McGeehan, or Bill Scutta, or Bob Urban, or any of the 1956 St. Mary"s Harps.The 102 points we rolled up amounted to a league scoring record, too. We wanted it; we reveled in it; we grinned with every swish of the net.So, not apologizing, but maybe explaining.(And celebrating? Sure, even five decades later. For good reason.)All of the above-named Harps were on the floor in the old St. Joe"s gym in Summit Hill the previous year when Tom “Smokey” McHugh scored 64 points against us. St. Joe"s scored 90-some points on us, which at the time was a PV CYO team record. It was topped just a few days before McDonald"s 80-point game when league champion St. Mike"s of Lansford piled up 99 points against the same hapless St. Ann"s quintet.So pull out all the lame clichés about worms turning and every dog having his day, because for St. Mary"s, we"d been down so long that up was looking pretty good.In previous years in the league, we almost never won. Going .500 would have been considered a great season, and we never even came close.We didn"t even have uniforms if you define uniforms as every guy on the team wearing the same outfit. We had multiforms, hand-me-downs from the old St. Mary"s High School teams. Beaky and most of the bigger kids, for example, wore navy blue T-shirts with HARPS written across their chests.I had a royal blue spaghetti-strap type jersey that had just a number on the front and back. Nobody had matching shorts. We didn"t even have home and away outfits; we always wore different hues of blue, which usually suited our style of play and the outcome of our games.In those days, the CYO season was divided into halves, and in the first half we went down the tubes to powerhouse St. Mike"s 91-39. For St. Mike"s that day, Joe Harmonosky had 33; John Hackash had 28; and Bobby Canter had 18.We were never in the game.But in the second half of the "56 season, things changed for the Harps, and the prime agent of change was Joe “Moe” Burns, who made the jump from public school in Coaldale back to St. Mary"s, a “transfer student,” he still likes to call himself. He became instantly eligible, and we became instantly good.That"s the way it went in the CYO league add a good bigger kid to the mix and watch out foes.“Moe made the difference,” McDonald says. “He could really bang around inside, and Davey Lewis was improving as the season went on.”McDonald was the league scoring champ in "56, and Lewis was scoring champ the next year.We opened second-half play with St. Cyril"s on the Coaldale High floor, and the last timeSt. Mary"s had beaten St. Cyril"s the Four Horsemen were playing for Knute Rockne.With Moe in the lineup, we won, 59-54. And St. Cyril"s was always good.“The St. Cyril team, figured to be in the running for second half honors, fell behind at the start and never could quite reach the Harps,” the Record"s game story noted.Beaky had 26 points, and Moe scored 15. The late Paul "Mucho" Kovach led St. Cyril"s with 19, but the Harps were starting to play a strange, new, winning tune.We got St. Mike"s on our home court in the second half, and we almost pulled it off, losing 53-51, our only defeat the rest of the season.“We even beat a team from Philadelphia,” McDonald says. “Father (Bernard) Herron (our coach) had a brother who was a priest and was coaching the St. Stephen"s team from Philadelphia. Father Herron arranged a game, and we beat them 62-55.”St. Mike"s, though, didn"t lose in the second half, and that clinched the league title for them.But what our effort against St. Mike"s clinched for us was new uniforms. “I think some parents got together with Father Herron, and they chipped in for new uniforms,” McDonald says.White for home games, and blue for away games, and all the Harps finally looked the same. “And I remember the satin warm-up jackets; I still have mine,” McDonald says.We were wearing our new uniforms, maybe for the first time, when St. Ann"s came to our floor on Feb. 8. They caught us on a bad night for them; dressed like a real team, we were psyched.That St. Ann"s team wasn"t particularly big or good. “One of the things I remember about that game is Buddy DeMichele chasing me up the floor but never catching up,” McDonald says. “That summer we went to Camp Greenwood together, and he told me that he got worn out chasing me up the floor.”Gabe “Buddy” DeMichele, a genuinely nice guy who was tragically killed in an auto accident in 1958, was a Mr. Five-by-Five, short and stocky built for football, which he played at Marian, but out of his element in basketball.Beaky scored 10 points in the first quarter and 15 in the second quarter, by which time we had to be comfortably ahead.He added 20 in the third quarter to bring his total to 45 points. Then it was decision time.“I"m sure Father Herron would probably have pulled us all out,” McDonald says, “but Joe DeMatto said to him, `Keep them in."”DeMatto, a St. Mary"s parishioner and a Coaldale High football player at the time, always served as our referee, and he had seen us being pounded and humiliated in seasons past.“It was "Suck" (DeMatto"s typically Coaldale nickname given to him God knows why) who kept saying, `Keep ‘em in there; keep ‘em in there,"” says Burns, who still displays St. Mary"s team photos on the walls of his Halupki House Restaurrant in Coaldale.Father Herron relented, and McDonald scored 35 points in the last seven minutes. No one else shot; the order of the period was, Pass it to Beaky.And St. Ann"s seemed to have given up playing defense long before the last quarter started. McDonald"s 35 points would indicate that he made at least one foul shot that quarter (remember, no three-pointers in those days), and I"m surprised a St. Ann"s player got close enough to foul him.Bill "Angel" Donovan, who then a fifth grader, claims to have scored his first two points ever in that game with McDonald smiling and giving him the thumbs-up sign. But after thinking about it for a bit, Angel says, “But maybe it was some other game.”For the 50th anniversary of the league a few years back, former Allentown Call sports writer Rudy Bednar compiled a history of the league, and he credits Joe “Pepper” Perilli of St. Joe"s in Summit Hill with being the career scoring leader with 1,305 points compiled in 1959 and 1960, followed by Cas Kosciolek of Ss. Peter and Paul in Lansford with 1,243 between 1974 and 1976 and Jerry Holubek of St. Cyril"s with 1,098 between 1960 and 1961.But nobody came close to matching McDonald"s 80.McDonald went on to play football at Coaldale High guard, center and even a stint at quarterback but he played junior varsity basketball only in his freshman year and then gave up the sport.“I stopped growing,” he says. He was 5-10 in eighth grade, which was pretty good size in the Fifties CYO League.And on that February night 50 years ago, no one was larger and nothing was bigger than Beaky"s 80