The local Mecca was the Jersey City Armory and its exciting inhabitants were the Peacocks of St. Peter's.
The architect of those glory days at the Armory, the man who built the SPC hoops program from small potatoes into a big-time Eastern college power, was Don Kennedy, who spent 22 years as the head basketball coach and later athletic director at the school.
Kennedy, the all-time victory leader at SPC with 323 wins, died Tuesday afternoon after a long illness. He was 97 years old.
Kennedy was the men's basketball coach from 1950 through 1972. He guided the Peacocks to five berths in the National Invitation Tournament, which at the time, was held in higher regard than the current "Big Dance," the NCAA Tournament.
In the late 1960s, it was Kennedy's famed "Run Baby Run" teams that electrified the Armory and put SPC on the national basketball map, when the Peacocks made it to the semifinals of the NIT, upsetting the nation's No. 1-ranked team Duke, 100-71, before falling to Kansas in the semis.
The 1967-68 team finished 24-4 in a dream season, averaging nearly 90 points per game and bringing an average of nearly 4,000 fans a game to the Armory.
It was a glorious time for local basketball, one that current SPC head coach Bob Leckie vividly recalls. Leckie played on some of those "Run Baby Run" teams and paused to remember his coach, with whom he had a special relationship.
"Without a doubt, considering I am now the coach here, he would call me to commiserate with me," Leckie said. "He would tell me what I had to do. We had more of a closeness now than I did when I was a player. When I was a player, I had more of a fear of him than anything else. I tried to avoid him at all costs. But when I became the coach, I got to see him in a different light. He was a good man, a staunch basketball man."
In fact, when the school decided to remove former coach Rodger Blind from his position, Kennedy was adamant about having Leckie replace Blind.
"He was very helpful and influential in me getting the job," Leckie said. "He did everything he could to see me get it."
Although Kennedy was up in years and in very ill health since a frightening fall last summer, Leckie said that there was a sense of sadness in his passing and it caused Leckie to reflect on those glory days.
"It's tough not to do that," Leckie said. "I immediately thought of my teammates and got on the phone to call some of them. I spoke with Kenny Grant soon after I heard that Coach was gone. It really makes you think back to those days. Everyone remembers those days fondly. It was a great time for basketball in the area. I'm trying hard to bring a little bit of it back. I think we've turned the corner a little now and getting there."
Leckie spoke of the love that the Peacock players - his teammates like Harry Laurie, Elnardo Webster and Grant - had for Kennedy some 35 years after their graduation. He said Kennedy played an important part in their lives to the very end.
"I think I was able to share with my teammates and with Coach Kennedy this special bond," Leckie said. "That bond lasted all these years. He provided that bond for us and kept it for us. We stayed in contact through all that time and those friendships have now lasted a lifetime. I'm really going to miss him."...
Here's an NJSIAA football state playoff update. As we head to the last few games before qualifying, several local teams are looking good, while others will need help and even others will need miracles.
In the Parochial Group 4 bracket, St. Peter's Prep, which had already clinched a berth in the playoffs, has now apparently locked up the No. 1 seed in the bracket with last Friday night's 17-7 win over North Bergen. The Marauders have 78 power points, tops in the state, and six points ahead of closest competitor Notre Dame of Lawrenceville. It looks like Rich Hansen and his team have secured trips to Jersey City to meet the Bergen County state powers as they come calling in a few weeks.
In that same bracket, Hudson Catholic is in some dire straits. The Hawks hold a precarious three-point advantage over Paramus Catholic for the eighth and final spot in the bracket, but PC has a game in hand. So the Hawks will have to win this weekend and hope for a PC loss to gain a return date against St. Peter's Prep in the state playoffs, a replay of the season opener won by the Marauders, 17-14.
In Parochial Group 2, Marist is in some trouble. Although the Royal Knights are currently in sixth place, which would be enough to qualify, they own a 3-4 record and a team has to be at least .500 (4-4) at the cutoff date to make it in. It means that the Royal Knights will need a win at 5-1 Morris Catholic this weekend in order to get a bid. Seems unlikely.
Among the public schools, Hoboken remains solid in North Jersey Section 2, Group I. Although the Red Wings suffered their first loss last weekend in a 22-14 setback to Emerson, they remain as the top seed heading to the home stretch with a commanding 13-point advantage over Hasbrouck Heights.
Undefeated Secaucus is fourth in that same section with 25 points and will hope to secure a first-round state playoff game with one more victory, although the Patriots have their work cut out for them this weekend when they face undefeated St. Mary's of Rutherford and standout running back Jeffrey Jones.
In the North Jersey Section 2, Group III bracket, both Emerson and Union Hill remain strong, with both Union City schools owning 4-2 records and both tied for fifth place with 31 power points.
In North Jersey Group 2, Section IV, Bayonne is in seventh place, but appears in good position, because there are no teams behind the Bees that could catapult them.
However, in North Jersey Section 1, Group IV section, North Bergen may be in some difficulty, as the Bruins try to keep Hudson County's longest consecutive streak of playoff berths active.
After the Bruins' tough loss to St. Peter's, they sit in seventh place in the bracket, but there are three teams, Vernon, Paterson Kennedy and East Orange, that are all within a point or two of the Bruins. Right now, the Bruins have 41 points, East Orange has 40, Vernon has 39 and Paterson Kennedy 35. It's a close race.
The Bruins have one advantage - the proverbial game in-hand. So while they usually have their playoff fate determined by now, there still is a waiting game. A win this weekend against a good Bayonne team will clinch the Bruins a berth. A loss throws the entire picture up in the air.
Leads to some interesting moments in this weekend's action... -- Jim Hague