I ran into Gerry Canty, aka St. Louis Cavalier, Navy veteran, Cranston Printworks receiver, and the "King" of pickup basketball in Webster for over five decades dating back to the 1950s. Gerry still looks like he could throw that "lefty baby hook" that took forever to launch and hit nothing but net. He admits he is 73, but looks 43. I asked him his secret to such longevity and his answer was " a cold glass of milk after each workout."
The conversation between us immediately went to instant memory lane and the glory days as we laughed out loud about the countless games and places where anyone who was looking for a hoop challenge would show up. I am talking about all out blood and guts pick-up basketball at its best. If you were lucky enough to get in on the action, which meant knowing where to go on any given night, you were in for two hours of organized chaos.
First timers who played Gerry’s game always had that "deer-in-the-headlight gaze." Especially if the night started out with Ace’s famous two-hand set shot from half court. You could hear Gerry telling the newcomer, "get on him, you can’t give him that one." By the end of the night, the newcomer knew the PAV was the only place that could make sense of the past two hours. Age always trumped youth. Young hotshots were always put in their place quickly. It started with Gerry Canty, Don Coyle, Jack Kelley, Mike Guskey, Dennis Cregg, and Bob Hackenson. They ran the weave like the Globetrotters. All were products and graduates of St. Louis High School. They loved pick-up basketball.
They started a cult that relied on perfect attendance on countless of nights through any kind of weather throughout the year. Remember the schedule when this was at its peak in the 70s. Monday through Thursday nights from 6:30- 8:30 at the Webster Intermediate School gym. Saturday from 1-3 at the Dudley Junior High gym. Sundays after the Super Bowl at the old Webster-Dudley Boys’ Club. In the summertime, you could go to the upper athletic field, Monday-Thursday and on Saturday afternoon at the Sacred Heart outdoor court. The swimming pool at the old Bartlett High School served as a substitute when the "coathanger" to get in the Intermediate gym did not work.
Remember, this was the 70s when there were no Powerhouse Gyms available to get a workout in. Pick-up basketball was the only way to get a competitive workout back in the 70s. You could count on 30 guys from the area showing up on any given day to play on 2 courts. The only requirement was you had to be at the gym for 6:25 so Gerry Canty could pick 4-5 captains and organize the teams for the nights. The games went to seven and you had to win by 2. Winners played on the court closest to the entrance. The offense called fouls and the defense called travels and out of bounds. This went on for two hours. By the way, the only guarantee on any one night was a push or a shove that led to a loud exchange of words. It was the best of times. Eventually, long standing Chairman of the Webster School Committee, Paul Kujawski, finally gave Canty a real key to the Ray Street gym and the famous coathanger was no longer needed.
Gerry Canty had that famous burlap bag of balls and he had all the rules at the tip of his tongue. Nobody ever questioned Gerry. Gerry was in charge and everyone knew they had to go through Gerry to be accepted. Everyone knew the rules even though there weren’t any and respected being part of this organized chaos. Here are a few invited guests who showed up and made things very interesting and a lot of fun:
Bob Daigle, John Delaney, Paul Strezlecki, John Lefebvre, Roberto Alvarez, Bob Gould, Bob David, Billy Herrion, Paul and Jan Kujawski, Mike Hackenson, Jim Krol, Gerry and Ed Kunkel, Rene Langevin, John and Ted Lewandowski, Kenny Moran, Ron Donais, Ted Geotis, Red Heller, Bill Susienka, Jim Grochowski, Danny Biron, Rich Druzbicki, Don Obuchowski, Dave Szynal, Jim Pizzetti, Gino Manzi, Don Krol, Mark Negip, Gary Fitzgibbons, Harry Pappas, George Bauer, Jim Mason, Lefty Lonergan, John Dow, John Chlapowsi, Ron Springer Sr., Larry Quigley, Tom Bolio, Milt Teguis, Leon Sielawa, Marty Paglione, Eddie Jarosz, The Ouellette brothers, Ray Zemsky, Red and Rusty Oleszeswski, the Bartolomei brothers, Joe Doherty, the Lenky and Siekerski brothers from Tourtellotte, Brad Smith, Greg Fiddes, Brian Scariglia, Mark Begreen, Jim Piette, Paul Morin, Al Reich, Noel Moynihan, Dave Hackenson, Kevin Wells, Don Bernier, Babe Stefanik, Paul Burke, Dave Burke, Paul Fitzback, Bob Paranto, Larry Morin, Gerry Nadeau, Milton Cherrier, Donald Deary, Jay Kunkel, Vito Tarantito, Al Ruszak, Bill and Noel Lefebvre, Steve Brennan, Mike Szamocki, Ron Magnant, Paul Dube, Chick Tetrault, Tim Bazinet, Buddy Magnant, Bruce Smith, Larry Norton, Jim Hackenson, and many, many, more.
There were no dues or fees, no uniforms, shirts or skins, take your pick. You settled your They They settled their differences at the bubbler. Does it get any better than that?