A Dream Season
Jamestown’s 1971-72 Hoops Campaign Was Pretty Special
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story appeared in The Post-Journal on March 2, 1997 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Jamestown High School’s Section VI championship basketball season. Now, 48 years after that special 1971-72 campaign, it still remains one of the greatest teams this area has ever seen. This is the first in a series of “Remember When” stories featuring some of the area’s most memorable sports moments through the years.
Just a suggestion to the Jamestown High School class of ’72.
If you really want to get your 25th reunion off to a good start this summer, here’s a sure-fire way to do it.
Hold it in the old gym at the school.
Granted, it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing place, but what it lacks in ambiance will certainly be made up for by the basketball memories that most of the alumni have of that wonderful 3 1/2 months during the winter of 1971-72.
Looking for conversation? Bill Miley, Greg Becker and Steve Carney — super fans all — may lead a friendly rendition of “Beat Their Heads.”
And, maybe, just maybe, John “Red” LaMancuso, a reserve on Coach John “Dutch” Leonard’s Section VI Class AAAA championship team, will show the form that made him a fan favorite a quarter century ago.
But just in case those aren’t enough to get the nostalgic juices flowing, the master of ceremonies might consider some more name-dropping. How does Chili, Edstrom, Young, Grissom & Ahlstrom sound?
A law firm it wasn’t, but a basketball team it most definitely was.
“We had a unique team,” Jim Young said.
Call it one for the ages.
Leonard had an idea that the players who reported to practice in November of 1971 would be something special. After all, they were coming off a 10-10 season and had four starters returning.
Leading that group was a 6-foot-10 shot-blocker named Terry Chili. The forwards were Mark Edstrom, a starter since his sophomore year who stood 6-3, and Dan Ahlstrom, who was 6-2. Young and Tim Grissom were the guards. Steve Waite, a junior like Grissom, was the sixth man.
“We came together as a team that summer before our senior year,” said Young, now a chiropractor in Navarro, California. “Edstrom was just Edstrom, but better. I finally became a player and Chili became a 7-footer. It’s very rare when you have a 7-footer around and a phenomenal scorer like Edstrom who had the instinct of a college player. I sort of did a little bit of everything and Grissom was as fast as a fly. We had one of everything that year.”
Chili ended up averaging 20 points a game. Edstrom 18, Young 15 and Grissom nearly 10. Ahlstrom and Waite combined for about 10 between them.
But while they complemented each other on the court, they also were best friends off it, so that there were rarely any bruised egos along the way.
“First and foremost, we were friends,” said Tom Benson, a junior reserve on that team and now the president of Clark Laboratories in the Town of Ellicott. “The whole team was a group of pals. There weren’t any egos involved. We hung out together. That’s what made it different. It didn’t matter who scored or who got the rebounds. You don’t see that much anymore. Dutch had a lot to do with it.
Noted Edstrom, who is the postmaster in Greenfield, Massachusetts.: “It was definitely a real close team. The practices were very competitive and that’s what helped. You knew most games wouldn’t be as rough as our practices.”
So while Chili, Edstrom and Young received most of the publicity, Leonard said he particularly enjoyed the reserves, most of whom saw only limited action at the end of games. They included LaMancuso, Benson, Jeff Bloomquist, Mark Asel, John Willems and Bill Johnston.
“There were seven guys that were clearly the game players and we had four or five that were called the “red team,”’ Young said. “They took on a personality. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have been as successful.”
“They were certainly as much a part of our success as the guys who scored the points,” said Leonard, who recently retired after 37 years as a math teacher at JHS.
And, boy, could the Red Raiders score points.
The “old’ gym at JHS gave special meaning to the phrase “home-court advantage.”
“It was kind of like a mini-Duke game,” Benson said.
Even with the bleachers on each side of the floor, plus a balcony, space was at a premium. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for people to begin lining up for tickets two hours before the varsity game.
Once seated, the fans, particularly in the raucous student section, harassed, and otherwise verbally abused opponents. With the bleachers literally inches from the sidelines, the vocal crowd did anything and everything to intimidate even the most hoop-hardened foe.
Chili, who would later earn a scholarship at Duke, likened the crowd to a scaled-down version of the Cameron Crazies.
“The gym was small so that everybody could be packed in there,” he said. “In Jamestown, any place warm is where you wanted to go.”
“I never compared it to any other place,” Edstrom said. “It was just something that’s pretty hard to describe. Everyone was involved. My parents used to leave at 5:30 (for the 8 p.m. varsity game) to get a seat because there was no place to sit.”
Added Benson: “The electricity in that place was unreal.”
And the fans were plugged in from the start.
“It was a coming together of the players and the crowd,” Young recalled. “We had a really special group of fans. We had the classic cheerleaders and then we had the very rare situation with the guys who were almost affiliated with the cheerleaders.”
Enter Miley and company.
“Carney would dress up as the mascot of the other team, we put him in a casket and we’d carry the casket out,” he said. “It was great for the fans, too. It was just a good time all the time.”
Game nights were such an event that Vere Lindquist, Leonard’s assistant coach, remembers having a packed house for the junior varsity games.
“They were locking the doors at 6:30,” he said. “We had a standing-room-only crowd for the jayvee game. That was great.”
It was merely a foreshadowing of what was to come in the varsity game.
“The school was always buzzing about the games,” Edstrom said.
Ah, yes, the games.
Young thought the close-knit team was going to be something special as far back as the summer of 1971. After all, most of the teenagers hung out together anyway, so it wasn’t unusual to find them playing pickup games somewhere in the city.
The other teams in the Lake Shore League quickly found out how cohesive the Jamestown team was.
After posting non-league wins over Dunkirk (87-50) and Warren (80-53), the Red Raiders won their Lake Shore League opener, 91-73, over Erie Tech. The only thing notable about that game was that all five starters – Chili (22 points, 20 rebounds), Edstrom (20 points), Young (16 points), Grissom (10 points) and Ahlstrom (10 points) – scored in double figures.
It was the perfect prep for their showdown with Schenley, a national power from inner-city Pittsburgh.
“We had a little revenge in mind,” Leonard said.
For it was a year before that Schenley buried the Red Raiders. On that squad was Maurice Lucas, who later went on to play in the NBA.
“We started four juniors and a sophomore (in the 1970-71 game),” Leonard said. “The game was over before it started because our kids were afraid and I didn’t know it. I never went into a game thinking that we were going to get beat, but that game I didn’t realize our kids were frightened.”
“They were like the Harlem Globetrotters,” Benson said.
One year later, the Red Raiders exacted some revenge.
Young poured in 25 points, Chili and Edstrom each had 21, Ahlstrom added 11 and Grissom chipped in with 9 as Jamestown rolled to an 87-73 victory.
“We ‘held’ Jeep Kelly to 34,” Leonard said. “He was awesome, but we beat them by 14. That had to be a confidence builder for our kids.”
It also marked the beginning of the heavy recruitment of Chili, who was drawing interest from Division 1 colleges all over the country. Walt Nowell, a scout for Wake Forest, was in attendance for the Schenley game.
Noell was among the first recruiters to attend a JHS game, but he certainly wouldn’t be the last.
After a 79-64 victory over Strong Vincent on Dec. 30, the Red Raiders were ranked second in the state, providing even more exposure for a team that was the talk of Western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania anyway.
By the night of Jan. 14, JHS was 7-0 entering its home game with Erie Prep. It easily became 8-0 as St. Bonaventure coach Larry Weise, among others, watched the Red Raiders bury Prep, 66-44, behind Chili’s 17-point, 19-rebound performance.
Jamestown looked unbeatable for all of four days.
In a Jan. 18 game at Erie Academy, the Red Raiders were upset, 75-66, as they shot just 36 percent from the floor. A week after that, in yet another road game, Jamestown lost to Strong Vincent, 83-66. All of a sudden, the Red Raiders were in serious danger of being eliminated from contention in the chase for the Lake Shore League title.
“Syracuse coach Roy Danforth saw both games,” Leonard said. “He said he wouldn’t jinx us anymore.”
Even though Chili was sick for both games, Benson maintains they shouldn’t have lost anyway.
“They were back-to-back, flat-ugly losses. Neither of those teams were slouches, but playing in those gyms we really got intimidated.”
Noted Leonard: “I remember asking, ‘How are we going to win the league with two losses?’ We needed help.”
Fortunately for the Red Raiders, they righted the ship quickly, dispatching of Erie Tech on the road, 68-64, behind Young’s 23 points. By Feb 5, their record stood at 9-2 with Olean coming to town for a non-league game.
The Huskies might just as well have stayed home.
With seven players hitting double figures, Jamestown erupted for a 103-59 victory. Chili led the way with 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocked shots. Waite, Willems and Johnston came off the bench to score 31 points between them.
It didn’t take long for the Red Raiders to hit the century mark again. Six days later, they avenged their loss at Academy with a 114-59 drubbing. The offensive output is a record that still stands today.
Jamestown shot 59 percent (48 of 82) from the floor and led 55-20 at halftime, thanks to a 30-6 run in the second quarter. Chili had 24 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots, while Edstrom had 22 points and 16 rebounds.
Chants of “We Want Prep” filled the gym.
The Red Raiders, who now sported a 12-2 record, got that chance on Feb. 22 when they clinched a tie for the league title with a 63-57 road win at Prep.
“Nobody is supposed to beat Prep at Prep,” Leonard said.
Chili turned in a monster game with 27 points and 17 rebounds, but even that effort paled in comparison to his performance in the title-clinching win over Erie East three days later. In that game, the 6-10 center poured in 32 points and hauled down 28 rebounds, breaking the old mark of 24 set by Donn Johnston.
The Red Raiders closed out the regular season with a 74-48 road win over Olean, setting the stage for the Section 6 playoffs.
In the quarterfinals, Jamestown buried Lancaster, 83-50, as Chili missed just two of 13 shots and finished with 23 points, Edstrom had 17, Young 13 and Grissom 12. The Red Raiders’ next opponent was Hutch-Tech.
As it turned out, it was one of the most infamous games in school history as Chili had his nose broken by a Hutch-Tech fan who came out of the stands during the second half of what turned out to be a 77-61 Jamestown victory.
“Terry was standing at the foul line and this little guy came running out of the stands, jumped on him, wrapped his knees around his waist and punched him in the nose,” Young said. “It was a strange scene.”
Added Leonard: “I thought when that incident happened that Hutch-Tech was going to steal the game from us, but we still won by 16. We went into a four-corner, held the ball and got a standing ovation from the fans behind us.”
Edstrom was the man of the hour in that game, scoring 32 points, while Young had 18. Scouts from Pitt, Duke and West Virginia, as well as Canisius coach Bob McKinnon saw Chili score 11 points before leaving the game with the broken nose.
“The way it turned out, that was supposed to be the game,” Edstrom said. “It was kind of like the NFC championship games are now before the Super Bowl.”
But with just three days until the Section VI AAAA championship game against Kenmore West, the big question was whether Chili was going to be able to play.
“I was worried because at the time they didn’t have the same type of protective gear that they do now,” said Chili, who is the director of programming marketing and affiliate sales for Home Team Sports in Bethesda, Maryland. “Then it was kind of a mask. It wasn’t common. The medical expertise wasn’t good, plus my nose hurt for a long time after that.”
But when the Red Raiders took the court for their game with the Bulldogs at Buffalo State, Chili was in uniform.
SECTION VI CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
“When we went out on the floor, the Hutch-Tech team was standing on the sidelines,” Leonard said. “As we went out to warm up, the kids had to run by all of them. It gave us the impression that they were to finish us off.”
The way the Red Raiders played the first half, they were doing a good job all by themselves. In fact, at halftime they’d managed just four field goals, committed 15 turnovers and trailed Kenmore West, 23-14.
Suddenly, there was a fear that the dream season was about to end in a nightmarish fashion.
“I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach,” said Benson, recalling his feelings as he watched from the bench. “I thought, “Oh, my God, how can this happen?”’
Added Leonard: “I remember telling Jim Young that if I’m going to play someone who’s not going to shoot, I could have played. Then he got 12 points in the second half and we scored 42.”
In the fourth quarter, the Red Raiders got untracked, outscoring Kenmore West, 21-7, en route to a 56-46 victory. Chili finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks, Edstrom had 17 points and nine boards and Young added 12 points and eight rebounds.
“I remember the headline the next day,” Leonard said. “It said, ‘Waking A Slumbering Giant.”’
The Red Raiders’ dream season was now complete.