Players remember Smith Academy’s 1960’s championship basketball teams

Staff Intern
Published: 3/18/2021 10:21:15 PM

It was a trip down memory lane for Smith Academy fans and players as members of the 1960 and 1961 championship basketball teams recalled their famed glory days on a Zoom panel Thursday. Players included Jim Majesky, Jim Southard, Bill Celatka, Bernard “Bernie” Pelis, Marty Wilkes, Sandy Belden and Charlie Symanski. Cheerleaders Clare Donelan and Merle Snook were also present.

Hosted by the Hatfield Historical Society, the night began with a thank you to Marty Wilkes, who started the whole project of preserving the history of the Smith Academy teams.

“Marty called me and asked if we were going to preserve the history of these teams,” said curator Kathie Gow. “I said we had one photo and I knew nothing about it.”

The night began with introductions of both players and cheerleaders. Players then began to dive into stories from those famous seasons, with a focus on late star Bob “Jingles” Kovalski.

“I had a great amount of fun watching Jingles from the bench,” said Sanford “Sandy” Belden, a bench player on the 1960 team. “If someone was guarding Jingles too aggressive, Coach Skarzynksi would send me in to try and straighten them out.”

Majesky, a player for the 1961 team, felt that the team had a great bond heading into high school.

“We had been playing with each other since fourth and fifth grade,” he said. “In 1961, when we came out to shoot one practice, I think a lot of us began to realize that this might be a special year.”

As a cheerleader, Donelan would witness history for Smith Academy, but never forgot the cheers she did for the team.

“Our style of cheerleading was very military-like,” she said. “One cheer I loved though was a moving clock cheer we did which was based on the ‘Rock Around The Clock’ song by Bill Haley.”

Though every story was interesting in its own way, the best story of the night came when Southard read Frank Godek’s memories about the team playing at the Boston Garden.

“I’m doing jump shots and I look at the sideline and out comes Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman and Tommy Heinsohn,” read the forward for the 1960 team. “Heinsohn walks over to me, says ‘let me show how this is done.’ He shoots a 25-footer and knocks it in. I couldn’t believe it. I was getting a lesson in jump shots from Tommy Heinsohn.”

Marty Wilkes then came on and spoke about being on both the 1960 and 1961 teams and the various amounts of pressure they faced.

“In 1960, we lost to South Hadley,” he said. “When that happened, the team as a whole decided that was not going to happen and we ended up winning the whole thing. In 1961, we had Jingles and four new starters so the objective was to see how we could do with new players. To make it more difficult, we had Amherst breathing down our necks all season.”

The 1961 season was a great success for the Falcons as they went 22-0 before losing to Hartford Public in the first round of the New England High School Championships.

“We played at such a fast pace. So fast that we would run right past teams,” said Sandy Belden.

The 1961 season stuck most with Wilkes, who felt that the team has overcome so much by the end of the season.

“It was the greatest moment when we won the state championship because we had come through even with all the pressure we faced,” said Wilkes.

The video of the Sixty Years Later: Remembering Hatfield’s Hoop Miracles in ’60 and ’61 event will be posted on the Hatfield Historical Society website for all to watch within the coming week.


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