Historical Perspectives / Ed Chrostowski
Rams eye state basketball crown
When the first crocus peeks through a leftover snow bank and training camps open in sunny Florida, baseball is traditionally the buzz in the world of sports.
Not so in New Canaan during this week in 1962 when the town was in the throes of its own "March Madness" because the high school basketball team was in hot pursuit of a state championship.
Not since Wilky Gilmore left to star at the University of Colorado and then the pros had the Rams worn the coveted crown. But in this year even Coach Bill Murphy, always cautiously optimistic, acknowledged that "we have a good shot to go all the way" and the fans at Izzy Cohen's place on Elm Street were beside themselves with excited anticipation.
There was good reason. The Rams had rolled to victory over Waterford in the opening game of the tournament at Yale's Payne-Whitney gym as Gary Liberatore, Gorton Wood and Don Overbeck scored 19 points each.
The week was noteworthy too because there were early signs, however tentative, that the commuter lifeline, the New Haven Railroad, might be taken over by the state governments of New York and Connecticut.
Ted Winpenny, chairman of New Canaan's railroad study committee, was informed that a proposal for public operation of the passenger service had been advanced at a meeting of the Regional Plan Association and officials of the bankrupt line.
The news prompted First Selectman Charlie Kelley to speculate that a commuter parking committee would re-activate its efforts to secure downtown lots. Created after voters twice rejected the idea of a train station in Fairty Orchard off Old Stamford Road, the committee was focusing its attention on six or seven small lots scattered through the business center, its chairman, David Kirkbride, indicated.
In the meantime, there was mixed news for train riders. Due largely to the efforts of Abner Sibal, Fourth District Republican Congressman from Norwalk, and New York Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, repeal of the 10 percent tax on passenger fares appeared imminent. Almost simultaneously, however, the court-appointed trustees who were then running the railroad received clearance from regulatory agencies to raise the price of tickets by about seven percent.
At the Town Hall that week, control of New Canaan's government appeared to be in the hands of a military junta as uniformed personnel took over all offices after a "coup" at the polls. Not to worry. They were Boy Scouts taking part in the annual "know your government" program.
In the Scouts' election, Brett Haire of the Constitutionalist Party defeated the Nationalists' candidate for first selectman, Anthony Vitti, who nevertheless received a consolation honor in a unique development after the polls closed. Dick Pippenger and Mike Suffredini had tied for tax collector and the two first selectman candidates were designated to make a choice by flipping a coin. Vitti won the toss and named Suffredini tax collector.
At lunch that week in the Melba Inn, Stamford Police Capt. Ignatius Montagnino warned members of the Lions Club that suburbs were not escaping the rampant use of drugs commonly perceived to be a city problem. He said an addict needs to steal as much as $80 a day to finance a $20 a day narcotics habit and will typically look to get it at homes that are more isolated in small towns.
Jim Catto, director of the New Canaan Firehouse Band, had his own answer to the challenge of juvenile delinquency. To keep more young people "productively active," he was planning to expand his band beyond the present 25 members and he invited all teens to join the fife, bugle and drum brigade in a full slate of summertime parades.
During the same week, three teenage boys had been arrested for taking cars from local parking lots to go "joy riding" and then abandoning them. Chief Henry Keller credited "good police work" by Officer Gene Ready and Lt. Fred Tiani with tracking down the youths after they had taken six cars.
Elsewhere, Ed Weed, master of Harmony Lodge, represented New Canaan at a tri-state Masonic dinner held in Norwalk to celebrate the birthday of George Washington, who was one of the most famous of all Masons.
Back home, not all basketball headlines were made by the Rams. The Landscapers defeated Home Oil for the Recreation League championship. Leading the champs were Joe Spadaccini, Dinny Lapolla, Paul Torpey, Gene Ready and Johnny Corr.
Confounding the old wives' tales about March coming in like a lion and leaving like a lamb, the new month dawned sunny and warm that week and there was a collective sigh of relief in town after a wintry February. Jim Eddy, who ran a full-fledged weather station in his backyard on Mariomi Road, reported that February snowfalls had totaled 26 inches and temperatures averaged 26.
After a month like that, there was no reason to beware the ides of March, curbside philosophers mused as they gathered in the backroom of Ed Janis' Elm Street haberdashery.
Ed Chrostowski can be reached at email@example.com.