Recovered 1956 all-star banner connects to Hopkins Academy, Hampshire Regional basketball history

  • Hadley's Don Pipcynzki, left, and Hopkins Academy athletic director Amy Jennings examine a 1956 Greater Springfield All-Stars banner at Hopkins Academy on Tuesday. Pipczynski wanted to donate the banner, which a family friend spotted at a thrift store. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Hopkins Academy athletic director Amy Jennings, left, and Hadley's Don Pipcynzki display a 1956 Greater Springfield All-Stars banner at Hopkins Academy on Tuesday. Pipczynski wanted to donate the banner, which a family friend spotted at a thrift store. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Hadley's Don Pipczynski, right, shows Hopkins Academy PE teacher - and former athletic director - Erik Sudnick examine a 1956 Greater Springfield All-Stars banner Tuesday at Hopkins Academy. Pipczynski wanted to donate the banner, which a family friend spotted at a thrift store, to the school. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Hadley's Don Pipczynski displays a 1956 Greater Springfield All-Stars banner Tuesday at Hopkins Academy. Pipczynski wanted to donate the banner, which a family friend spotted at a thrift store, to the school. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 9/7/2022 11:01:02 AM
Modified: 9/7/2022 10:57:12 AM

HADLEY – The name “Pipczynski” jumped off the maroon felt.

Theresa Kokoski didn’t know what she had when she purchased the triangle pennant from the Cancer Connection’s Thrift Shop for $5 in early August. It looked like a fun find for an avid thrift shopper.

“I love going and finding goodies or just going. It’s relaxing,” she said. “It was just laying down. I recognized some names from Hadley. I knew it was something special.”

Her instincts rang true. Kokoski called her friend Katie Pipczynski and asked if her husband Don Pipczynski wanted it.

“I’d be tickled pink if I could have it,” Don Pipczynski said.

The pennant recognized the members of the 1956 Greater Springfield All-Star team. It included Don’s cousin John Pipczynski and his Hopkins Academy teammate Ted Kosior, both of whom later played at UConn (Pipczynski basketball and Kosior baseball).

Hopkins placed two athletes and a coach on the team despite being the smallest school in the area – there were 11 boys in that year’s senior class, and six of them played basketball. They owed that in part to the Golden Hawks’ legendary 42-game unbeaten run from 1954-56 that included a small school tournament championship in 1955.

It ended with an overtime loss to Worcester Commerce in the Western Massachusetts tournament’s opening round. Don Pipcynzki attended the Worcester Commerce game in elementary school. He doesn’t remember any of the basketball but can vividly recall a stoppage where players combed the floor for his cousin’s contact lens — knocked loose in the fray.

Joe Moynahan, Bob Kelleher, Will Beaudry, Don Constance, Jack Flanagan and Jim Stevenson also adorned the banner representing Chicopee, Holyoke, Holyoke Catholic and Williamsburg. Legendary coaches Earl Tonet (Williamsburg) and Bud Kneeland (Hopkins) led the team.

“We were considered the best basketball players in Western Mass.,” Kosior said.

They faced a team from the Berkshires at the Boys Club in Pittsfield, winning 56-51 in front of 900 people. After the game, Pittsfield’s John Kulis hand sewed the players and coaches names into just two pennants – cream thread on a maroon felt background – that were presented to the team’s coaches.

“It’s not like the modern ones we see today just pressed and printed,” Don Pipczynski said.

Kneeland eventually passed his banner down to Kosior. He hung it in his woodshed man cave in a place of honor. 

“Bud Kneeland was my mentor, my father figure. I spoke at his funeral,” Kosior said. “He brought me through a lot of stuff.”

He thought he had the only banner, much like Pipczynski assumed his was the only one remaining.

Tonet’s stayed at his house, fresh and rarely disturbed. He passed away in 2015, and the pennant remained with his wife Lee Tonet in the house until her death in February. Once the house was cleaned out, it moved to Cancer Connection waiting for someone to notice it. 

Don Pipcynzki wanted to donate it to Hopkins Academy from the moment it came to him. He envisioned it hanging with Bud Kneeland’s jacket, the photo from the 1956 team and other trophies honoring their legacy.

“Hopkins is very well-known, especially in that era for basketball. For that group of people, he delivered a piece of nostalgia that was found,” Hopkins Academy athletic director Amy Jennings said. “I feel it was really important to him and I’m glad he was able to hand it off to the history that lines the hallways. It’s neat to have someone so proud and passionate of what they accomplished.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.
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