I confess. I'm a basketball junkie. Have been since I was six, when Gary Swetland
and I used to roll up one piece of orange Hotwheels track, tape it to the kitchen cupboard, clear the room,
and play one-on-one with a small rubber ball. I wrote down the stats while Swets provided the play-by-play
The experimentation continued. In 1970, 4th and 5th graders in Portville had an open gym in the elementary
designated for basketball at 10 am on Saturday mornings. It was an awesome time of wild, pick-up hoops that gave
us 9-year-olds our first taste of 5-on-5, full-court competition outside of gym class with Mr. Dorman. It was cool.
were picked by captains, and the whole event was run by guys like Denny Russell, who was in the 7th grade. You never
knew who you would be teamed with, and after several weeks, a few stars began to emerge.
That was the time when the New York Knicks won the NBA championship,
Bonas had Lanier, and the Buffalo Braves came into existence. I quickly became a Knicks and Bonas fanatic, absorbing
the Olean Times Herald Sports Page daily.
Soon, my dad started taking me and my junior high friends to Buffalo, where we were awed by Bob MacAdoo, Ernie D,
Randy Smith, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Clyde Frazier, Willis Reed, Jabbar, and all the other
greats of the 70s.
course, we dreamed of becoming NBA stars...always hoping that some scout from St. Bonas would venture by.
Sixth grade marked the beginning of an organized interscholastic
team, coached by the legendary Marv Smith. Besides my dad, Uncle Dave, and Denny Dorman, he was the first guy in
town to teach me about the intracacies of the game. Most of us were coming off our 3rd year in football and
listened intently to Mr. Smith's authoritative, but friendly mentoring.
As well, we learned about playing as a team - Scott Nix, Mike Sherwin,
Albino Warner, Swetland, John Sprague, Mark Childs, Joey Caya, Mark Campbell, Boomer Connell, Stone, Travis, and myself would
spend alot of time battling on the courts over the next several years. Younger guys like my brother Todd, Dan Sherwin,
Rob Pockalny, Tim Russell, and Jim Shepard joined us.
During this era, the Portville Panthers had some great players and teams (Click Hoops 1946-2012). I, the Sherwins, the Spragues, Nix, Gary, and Joe often hooked up on the bleachers as youngsters to watch giants
like the Dibble Twins, Paul Dorman, Keith McDivitt, and Russ Pancio light up the net.
Mr. Dorman coached the 7th and 8th grade teams. He was like
a John Wooden character to us in 1973, and we managed to have fine won-loss records. We crushed squads from Otto,
Bolivar, Hinsdale, Cuba, and Limestone, but had a hard time with Allegany, Salamanca, and Franklinville...and for years
JV coach was Cliff Hogan, and in '75, we won many games behind Nix, Randy Hunt, Jerry Holcomb, and Mark Peace.
We added Mike Milne to the mix that year. John Depp and Bill Fowler came on board around that era as well.
we watched the Class of 76 kick every arse in the region on the gridiron and on the court as they went 9-0 and 18-0 during
the two regular seasons. It was incredible to watch Jeff Nix, Tom and Tim Yanetsko, Fred Caya, Tim Hinman, and
company work the ball and dominate on D. They became our local heroes. DeLand always had a smile, as did the whole
town that year.
spent hours in the lockerroom getting ready for practices and games. Greg Warner had a superstitious habit of wearing
4 pairs of socks for practice and 5 for games. Most of us preferred 3-4 pairs, and they were of the knee-high
brand at the time. It was Old School Ball.
As sophomores, Nix, Sherwin, and I (and Caya at the end of the year), played on the varsity with Ray Auman, Barry
Crocker, Tom Rasey, Clark Pytcher, Jim Cughan, Hunt, Warner, and Holcomb. We sucked (8-10) compared to the 75-6 team
that was 20-1, and it was Coach Ray DeLand's first losing season. Ouch!
On the other hand, the JVs won almost every game... and by a huge
margin. Milne, Connell, Chili, Caya, Bino, and others provided the town with a fun team that was known for its heterotrophic
antics and school spirit.
I became addicted to the game big time that year. Nix, Caya, and I would spend up to 8 hours on good-weather
Saturdays playing basketball at one of our home baskets. My dad built a big court off our driveway in 1973, and we had
some long games with 6-10 guys regularly. We pushed each other to the limit and had alot of fun. During the
winter, we reverted to the Hotwheels format.
Under DeLand, Nix, Campbell, and Fowler became the hoops specialists, but Caya and Depp (both 4-sport jocks) soon
joined them. Milne and I became more interested in literature, chicks, and parties, so we evolved into subs who would
rather practice than get scorched for 35 by the Gator's Mark Saglimben or one of the Weise boys. Boomer joined
the swim team, Chili worked on his car that winter, as did Sprague, and Gary layed block.