Historical Perspectives / Ed Chrostowski
New Canaan High wins State Title in last second
Hollywood could not have filmed a drama more suspenseful than the climax of New Canaan High School's quest for a state basketball championship back in 1962.
With one second left on the clock, the team's captain, Gary Liberatore, walked confidently to the foul line and swished two shots through the hoop to give the Rams a one-point victory over heavily favored Plainville in the tournament final in Yale's Payne Whitney gym.
What led the game to that pressure point was almost as extraordinary. A furious rally by the Rams had a large contingent of New Canaan fans on their feet as it set the stage for Liberatore's heroics. New Canaan was trailing by 10 points with only six minutes left in the game, but closed the gap to a single point as the clock ran down to one second. Liberatore drove to the hoop for a shot that would have won the game, but he was fouled as he went up. That stopped the clock and then he made his two foul shots and the Rams won, 49-48.
The Rams were the talk of the town for a long time after that eventful week 48 years ago. Welcomed home as heroes were Coach Bill Murphy and his players -- Dick Zavesky, Liberatore, John Christensen, Don Overbeck, Tom Wilhelm, Dick Olson, Norm Hoffman, Dick Bickford, Tom Cody and Gorton Wood.
After all that excitement, the normal routine in community life seemed pretty mundane, but there were some other significant developments.
Reassured by state and federal governments that they would come to the rescue of the bankrupt New Haven Railroad, New Canaan's commuter parking study committee announced that it would resume its work and have a recommendation ready by mid-summer.
The committee, headed by David Kirkbride, had been formed by the Board of Selectmen after voters rejected, for the second time, a proposal to move the railroad station from Elm Street to Fairty Orchard, off Old Stamford Road, where there would be ample parking.
Kirkbride explained that his group's work had been held in abeyance during the time when it appeared that the commuters' lifeline into New York City would be terminated by the financially troubled railroad.
Kirkbride indicated that the committee was likely to recommend town acquisition and development of six or seven "scattered sites," three of them in Talmadge Hill, for commuter parking.
Ironically, as the town looked to a government bail-out of the commuter lines, Civil Defense Director Charlie Morton was cautioning local residents not to take the government's word on fall-out shelters. Federal guidelines, he said, were "misleading" and he said residents should not be "deluded" by the standards listed in government brochures.
Noting that many families were installing shelters at their homes, Morton claimed the federal guidelines for minimum protection standards were "far too low."
At Town Hall that week, Edward M. Pauley, chairman of the Board of Tax Assessors, noted that the 10-year revaluation of all taxable properties on the grand list was about to get underway as required by state law.
Almost immediately, the New Canaan Board of Realtors decided at its luncheon at the Roger Sherman Inn to take an active role in the revaluation. At the request of First Selectman Charlie Kelley, the board appointed George Haynes, Stuart Higley and Whit Mitchell to serve in an advisory capacity.
Also that week, Kelley appointed three men to represent New Canaan on the Fairfield County Chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Named were Town Clerk Reginald J. Reynolds, a Catholic; Selectman Julius Groher, a Jew, and Assistant Town Counsel John C. Sturges, a Protestant.
A couple of years later, when Groher as president of the New Canaan Old-Timers called on Walter Barnes to say grace before a sports dinner in the hall at St. Aloysius School, Barnes remarked that it was the first time in history that a Jew asked a Protestant to say a prayer at a Catholic school.
A final step toward instituting a new pension plan for town employees also was taken during the week. Although there was some concern about the additional $26,000 it would cost the town each year, the new plan was approved unanimously by about 90 voters at a town meeting.
An application before the Town Planning and Zoning Commission also generated some buzz that week in New Canaan.
Dr. David Brown and Dr. Horace Crary applied for permission to place a fifth physician in their medical offices on East Avenue. They had applied initially for 10 doctors' offices in the building, but the Zoning Commission, concerned about traffic and commercial use in a residential zone, had authorized only four.
On the sports scene, the Dartmouth College rugby team took off for Ireland to compete in a St. Patrick's Day tournament there. Among the Dartmouth players was T. Brock Saxe of Oenoke Ridge.
All in all, it had been a pretty good week. It had to be to offset the vagaries of March weather which had been predictably unpredictable. The widespread flash flooding that followed several days of heavy rain, some windblown snow and treacherous sleet somehow seemed less insufferable when the town had a state basketball championship and a brighter outlook for the railroad and commuter parking to savor.
Ed Chrostowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.