From the Sports Editor: ’72 Holy Cross baseball squad members keep memories alive

 

Before they could make believers of everybody else, the Crusaders had to prove it to themselves.

The way Bill Winters remembers it, that critical moment came when the Holy Cross High baseball squad toppled mighty Salesianum in the first half of the season.

“That was kind of when we looked at ourselves and said, ‘You know what? We might be able to pull this off if we can keep this up,’” Winters recalled.

They did pull it off.

The baseball squad from the tiny Catholic school in Dover shocked everyone by winning the Catholic Conference and making the state tournament in that 1972 season. And remember, it was just an eight-team tourney back then.

It was such a special spring that, 44 years later, the guys from that Holy Cross team still like to get together and reminisce about it.

They had another excuse to do so on Wednesday when 15 former Crusaders went to a Wilmington Blue Rocks game to celebrate the 85th birthday of Fr. Jack Kavanaugh. It’s the third straight year they’ve gotten together with Kavanaugh to celebrate the occasion.

‘Father Jack’ as he’s better known, was Holy Cross’ pastor in the 1970s. But he was also the JV coach for the baseball team and probably the biggest driving force behind Holy Cross athletics.

The now-defunct high school probably had only 75 boys back then.

“He was always involved in sports,” Winters, the Dover accountant, said about Kavanaugh. “Every school that he went to, he made sure the sports programs were well taken care of. He’s just a special person.

“He used to go out and play baseball with us. He’d play basketball with us when he was younger. And he was a competitor. He didn’t cut you any slack when he played against you.”

Father Jack even officiated high school soccer, baseball and softball games. Now retired, he lives outside Elkton, Md.

Perhaps the true testament to Father Jack’s bond with his players is that about eight of the dozen players from that ’72 Holy Cross baseball squad made it to the Blue Rocks’ game this week. Another former Crusader, John Stant, helped come up with the idea three years ago.

The coach from that team was Rupert Smith, who now lives in Bethany. He couldn’t make it to Wednesday’s informal reunion but Winters remembers the way he got the most out of his players.

“He was a task master,” Winters said with a laugh. “He’d just come out of the military. And we felt like we were in boot camp the way that he treated us. He was rough.

“I’ve never run so much in my life. I think every guy on the team would tell you that. And if we asked him ‘how much longer,’ he’d say, ‘I’ll let you know.’”

The fact that Smith’s tough approach pushed the Crusaders to the state tournament just gives them one more thing to tell stories about now.

It was a season worth remembering.

“We probably shocked everybody,” said Winters. “It was one of those unique group of guys that just played enough baseball, often enough. It was just all in sync for the right year.”

Smyrna makes some history

It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

Earlier this season, Smyrna High baseball coach Mike Henderson thought it’d be nice to honor the 1996 Eagles on the 20th anniversary of their Henlopen Conference Southern Division title.

But now this year’s Smyrna squad has earned its own place in school history.

On Thursday, the Eagles clinched the program’s first Henlopen Northern Division crown with a victory over Caesar Rodney.

While it lost a tough, 6-4 extra-inning decision to Cape Henlopen on Friday, Smyrna still ended up 12-1 in conference (15-3 overall).

“My coaches and I kind of avoided all the hoopla as we know how tough the Henlopen Conference is,” said Henderson. “We just tried to keep the boys focused, and keep a one-game-at-a-time mentality, as always.

“But I have to admit that it even crossed my mind a time or two that it would be a nice touch to win the conference on the 20th anniversary of the last conference champs.”

The Eagles, of course, hope they’re not done making history yet. They’re seeded No. 2 in this week’s DIAA state tournament and already own a win over top-seeded St. Mark’s.

“This team has played its guts out for each other this entire season,” said Henderson, whose team has won five one-run games this spring. “The coaches deserve a ton of credit and I couldn’t be prouder of this team, especially our seniors: John Barkley, Shawn Dulin, Jared Gillis, Ryan Seymour, and Kalen Wilson. This program has come a long way in the past three years, and we just hope to keep it going.”

UD search gets serious

Sixty-five days after firing coach Monte’ Ross, the University of Delaware is finally getting serious about finding a new men’s basketball coach.

Chrissi Rawak, who was hired as UD’s athletic director last week, reportedly interviewed candidates this week.

According to the website Hoopdirt.com, the list of potential suitors includes Billy Lange, a 76ers’ assistant who was Navy’s head coach from 2004-11 as well as a former assistant at Villanova and the head coach at Merchant Marine.

Other reported candidates: Will Brown (head coach Albany), Chris Caputo (associate head coach Miami), Baker Dunleavy (associate head coach Villanova), Martin Ingelsby (assistant coach Notre Dame), Mike Pegues (assistant coach Xavier) and Andy Toole (head coach Robert Morris).

Pegues, of course, is the former Blue Hen star player while Ingelsby works with former Delaware coach Mike Brey at Notre Dame.

While the new coach is going to have his work cut out for him rebuilding the program, new UD president Dennis Assanis apparently has some pretty lofty goals for the Hens.

“I see the basketball program as a wonderful opportunity for the University of Delaware,” Assanis was quoted at Rawak’s introductory press conference. “I can see this as being one of the jewels of our athletics crown.

“There’s no reason why in four years we couldn’t be beating teams like Villanova.”

Odds & ends

•Dover’s Darin Jawahar recently won the Maureen Connolly Tennis Foundation Middle States Tennis Championships in Newton Square, Pa.

A sixth-grader at Postlethwaite Middle School, Jawahar qualifies for the regionals, which will be played in Homewood, Ill. in July. His older sister, Rebecca, plays for the Dover High girls’ tennis team.

•Former Delaware basketball star Elena Delle Donne was chosen to repeat as the MVP of the WNBA in a preseason vote of the league’s general managers.

•The Henlopen Conference can boast of having both sprinter Tyra Reid (Caesar Rodney) and discus thrower Sarah Hillman (Polytech) qualify for the NCAA East Regional. Both compete for the Delaware women’s track & field team.

“I am so very proud of Sarah and Tyra for their accomplishments this season,” said Blue Hen coach Wendy McFarlane-Smith. “It is an honor for these ladies to make such a competitive list. We are even more proud that they are both from the state of Delaware representing the university at the NCAA level. … Kudos to them for the hard work and commitment to a very long track and field season.”

•Like Dover High grad Trip Thurman (Bengals), Delmar High grad Alex Elis took the first step towards an NFL career when the Titans signed him to a contract as an undrafted free agent after seeing the former Tennessee tight end in camp two weeks ago.

•In February, 2015, Faye Adcox suffered multiple injuries when she was pinned in her car after skidding on a patch of ice. A fundraising 5K was held to help the Wyoming woman with her medical bills.

Now Adcox is keeping the ‘Gotta Have Faye-th 5K’ going to help another family in a similar situation. The event will he held next Saturday at Wild Quail Country Club. Go to trisportsevents.com for more information.

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