Red Raiders’ Win Over Lackawanna Capped A Magical 1979-80 Season
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article first appeared in The Post-Journal in 1995, 15 years after the Jamestown High School boys basketball team completed one of the finest seasons in school history. The look back at the 1979-80 campaign is the latest in the “Remember When” series.
He was arguably the best high school basketball player in Western New York when he visited Jamestown in the summer of 1979, a quick and talented point guard who could push the ball up the court and find the open man with dazzling no-look passes.
Tyrone Beaman was a teenager without a school, a prep phenom without a team.
The Niagara Falls native had spent his sophomore year at Niagara Falls High School and his junior year at Bishop Neumann in Williamsville. But when the latter closed its doors in June 1979, Beaman was free to transfer.
Jamestown High School, a team already equipped with a fine array of basketball talent, was happy to accept him.
“I was real excited about that possibility,” recalled Mike McElrath, the 6-foot-7 senior center, who was the Red Raiders’ top returning scorer. “I remember when Tyrone came down to visit … we started talking about how exciting it could be.”
If they only knew.
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It was November, less than a month before the Red Raiders were to tip off what figured to be a banner 1979-80 campaign, when the Erie County Interscholastic Conference stepped in and tried to stop their season before it even began.
Members of the ECIC Athletic Council were infuriated when Beaman decided to move to Jamestown and were aghast when he took up residence with JHS coach Joe Piscopo, who became his legal guardian.
“I knew his style and philosophy and I really knew what he wanted us to do,” Beaman said. “I kind of felt right in place with him. … I really felt part of the family. He kind of raised me and I felt kind of good about it.”
But the ECIC didn’t.
In a meeting at Pioneer Central School, the athletic council decided that the way Jamestown handled the Beaman matter wasn’t in the true spirit of the ECIC. For that reason, JHS was censured by a council vote.
Furthermore, in another vote, the ECIC decided that Jamestown could use Beaman if it wanted to, but all of its league games would not count in the standings, meaning that a berth in the Section VI playoffs was a moot point.
Jamestown appealed the vote and it was later overturned. The league games would count after all.
“It was not a distraction to me whatsoever,” Beaman said of the preseason publicity. “I went through the same thing in Buffalo (the year before). It might have been a distraction to some of the players with the notoriety I was getting. … (But) as a team we stuck together. They really accepted me, the team, the faculty and the student body. It wasn’t a distraction. To tell you the truth, it was a lot of fun. I learned a heck of a lot.”
Jamestown’s successful appeal wasn’t greeted happily by the ECIC, which cast a suspicious eye on the Red Raiders because of another newcomer — Mark Prechtl, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, who transferred from Panama Central School.
One transfer was bad enough as far as the ECIC was concerned, but two?
“Mark transferring here raised some suspicion, but there wasn’t anything wrong,” McElrath said.
“I played in the Empire State Games (in the summer of ’79) and the coaches I dealt with out there said that staying at Panama would be a detriment (to attracting the attention of college recruiters),” Prechtl said. “(JHS) was a bigger school, more people would see me. My dad felt it would be a wise move.”
And while it was difficult to leave his friends at Panama, Prechtl, like Beaman, knew the decision to attend JHS was the right one for his long-term future.
They were the final two pieces to the Red Raider puzzle.
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When preseason practice began in November, Piscopo was greeted by as talented a group of players as have ever put on a JHS uniform.
The 5-foot-10 Beaman was the point guard and 6-foot senior Dave Currie was the off-guard. Prechtl and senior Sam Restivo, a 6-foot, 215-pound all-state football player, were the forwards, and McElrath was the center.
“We had three great players and two football players” said Currie, who, along with Restivo, were key members of Jamestown’s championship gridiron team.
In reserve, were, among others, juniors Ron Giordon and Chris Campion, and sophomore Erick Piscopo, the coach’s son.
“The thing I remember most were the great athletes,” Prechtl said.
Beaman, who would end up being Western New York’s Player of the Year, went on to star at the University of Tennessee; McElrath played at Miami (Ohio) University and, later, Gannon; and Prechtl at LeMoyne. Restivo didn’t play college basketball. Instead, he earned a full ride to Florida State and played football for four years under Coach Bobby Bowden.
The Red Raiders were loaded.
The fact that no one outside Jamestown could stand them, didn’t matter at all.
“It was fun going into those gyms because everybody was against us,” McElrath said. “That was good. It was a lot of fun.”
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Under Piscopo’s guidance, the Red Raiders were a fast-breaking machine.
“Having a point guard like Tyrone allowed us to run a numbered break, which put the ball in his hands,” said Joe Piscopo, who is now an assistant women’s basketball coach at Buffalo State as well as an elementary physical education teacher in Gasport. “We had an up-tempo type game, which fans like.”
Noted Currie: “(Piscopo) was the one who taught us how to fast break. He knew his Xs and Os. By being so quick, we didn’t have to worry about presses.”
And if a team tried one, Beaman could break it by himself.
Fact is, there have been some great players at JHS through the years, but none as flashy as Beaman, who averaged 23 points and 10 assists in his one year in Jamestown.
“He’d hit you right on the nose as you were in stride going to the hoop,” Currie said.
“He wasn’t a great shooter,” Restivo recalled. “But as far as dribbling and passing he was the best I’ve ever played with or against.”
Beaman had plenty of help, too. McElrath averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds, while Prechtl checked in at 15 points and 10 boards. Currie and Restivo also contributed in both departments, as did Giordon, Erick Piscopo and Campion off the bench.
“We had three great (starters) and two football players that could play good defense,” Restivo said of he and Currie, “We knew basketball, but we didn’t have any real talent. We were just out there playing.”
As a team, the Red Raiders averaged 77 points a game and regularly attracted capacity crowds at the Jamestown Community College gym.
“It was a small town, but a good sports town,” Beaman said. “The fans really followed us.”
Ironically, the biggest crowd of the year — estimated at more than 3,000 — saw Jamestown lose its only regular-season game, 76-51, to Lackawanna in the Board 39 IAABO Tournament title clash in late December.
“We felt we were on a roll until we ran into them,” McElrath said.
But after that loss, Jamestown ran off 15 straight wins, including Class A-1 sectional playoff victories over North Tonawanda (67-60), Niagara Falls (76-73) and South Park (93-84), setting the stage for a rematch with the Steelers, the A-2 champs, for the overall Class A title.
“Things seemed to come together the second time we played them,” Currie said.
Did they ever.
Did someone say, “miracle?”
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A standing-room-only crowd jammed the Erie CC-South gym on March 12, 1980, to see the rematch between Jamestown and Lackawanna. Originally scheduled for Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, the game was moved to Erie CC because of a scheduling conflict with an ice show.
The change in venue turned out to be the difference in the game.
Fifteen years later, it’s still being talked about.
“There must have been 5,000 people at that game,” Joe Piscopo said. “They still say it was one of the finest games and one of the most exciting finishes.”
Added McElrath: “When I go up to Buffalo, all these people remember that game.”
Who could forget it?
Trailing, 65-62, Jamestown, which was playing without Beaman who had fouled out with 6:22 remaining, closed the margin to one, 65-64. following McElrath’s layup with four seconds left. The Red Raiders called a timeout, preventing the Steelers from standing out of bounds and letting the clock run out.
Still, when play resumed, the odds were definitely stacked against Jamestown.
“Well, it’s been 15 years, and now that I’m a coach and the way I see games, no game is ever over until the horn goes off,” Beaman said. “But I’d be lying to you if I didn’t think the game was over. I never thought we’d get the ball back. I never thought we’d win. It was a miracle.”
Here’s how that miracle unfolded:
Lackawanna’s Terry Cheatom, inbounding the ball underneath Jamestown’s basket, spotted wide-open teammate Tony Kelly at the other end of the court.
“My guy was wide open,” Restivo said. “I got back-picked.”
But Cheatom’s pass hit a net hanging from the ceiling, turning the ball over to the Red Raiders. And there were still four seconds left on the clock. Ironically, had the game been played at the Aud, as originally scheduled, the ball would have never hit the ceiling.
“It was like our prayers were answered,” Prechtl said.
After a Jamestown timeout, Erick Piscopo inbounded to the burly Restivo, the all-state football player, who laid the ball in for the go-ahead basket with two seconds remaining.
“I had a touch like a brick,” Restivo said. “(but) he had nobody else to throw it to. I was going up with my right hand and right foot, which was wrong, (because) I was holding (Kelly) with my left arm.”
Was he committing a foul attempting to hold off Kelly?
“I probably was,” Restivo admitted. “I fouled everybody. After I made the shot, Piscopo took me out because he thought I was going to foul somebody.”
Lackawanna called a timeout and got the ball to midcourt without any time ticking off the clock. But Justyn Hardwick’s 35-footer banged off the rim and the Red Raiders came away with the stunning victory.
“It was a miracle,” Restivo said. “Talk about going from goat to hero.”
Overshadowed by Restivo’s heroics was the brilliant performance of Prechtl, who poured in a game-high 26 points, made all 12 of his free throws and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Beaman had 16 points and 11 assists, Restivo had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and McElrath added 10 points and 17 rebounds.
After the game, the players threw Piscopo in the shower.
And the community “showered” the Red Riders with their support.
“That was something that still sticks with me,” McElrath said. “People I didn’t even know were showing up at these games. … I remember coming home from that (Lackawanna) game and having a banner made by one of the neighbors.”
But the “banner” season came to a screeching halt three days later.
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To this day, Prechtl can’t stand the thought of his last game as a Red Raider.
“It’s a nightmare every time I drive by Rochester,” he said.
For it was in the Rochester War Memorial that Jamestown saw its 15-game winning streak and a chance to advance in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Tournament go up in smoke.
Leading, 54-49, seconds into the fourth quarter, the foul-plagued Red Raiders couldn’t stop Penfield’s Dave Aughey, who scored 11 of his game-high 25 points in the period.
Jamestown also was hurt by the loss of Beaman and McElrath, who both fouled out in the final three minutes. Penfield rallied to win, 73-68.
“That was the only game I fouled out of the whole year,” McElrath said. “I had three fouls in the first quarter. We didn’t feel we got a fair chance, but that was the politics of basketball.”
The Red Raiders were whistled for 28 fouls, compared to 17 for Penfield.
“Losses don’t stick with me that long,” said Beaman, who scored 24 points to finish the season with a then-school record 529 points and dished out nine assists. “I can’t remember that much (about that game).”
But Prechtl, who scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds, does.
I still can’t believe we lost,” he said. ” … After getting by Lackawanna, I figured we would have a good chance.”
Added Currie: “I was very disappointed because I really thought we were the better team … if we’d stayed out of foul trouble.”
Noted Restivo: “It does make you sick.”
Still Joe Piscopo is philosophical about the abrupt end to a great season.
“It was a disappointment,” he said. “You always want to go all the way, but overall it was an exciting season.”
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Today, the starting quintet that led their school and city through a remarkable season, are in their early 30s.
With the exception of Beaman, who is an assistant basketball coach at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, the four other starters on that 1979-80 team live and work in the area. McElrath is a middle school guidance counselor in Westfield; Prechtl is an insurance claims manager; Currie is a physics teacher at JHS and Restivo works at an area restaurant.
McElrath and Prechtl still play basketball together at the Jamestown YMCA, but, except for those once-a-week games, the talk of that remarkable season is confined, for the most part, to class reunions.
But Restivo wouldn’t mind seeing that old team get together again, lace up the hightops and see what they could do in the Over-30 League at the Jamestown YMCA.
“We might do that,” he said.
Wouldn’t that be fun?