Championship Dunkirk team made memories

1972-73 Dunkirk High basketball team
Members of the 1972-73 Dunkirk High School team included: Dave Swejbka, Jack VandeVelde, Jesse Thomas, Lewis Mack, Don Reilly, Dan Tramuta, Jerry Moreland, Mike Dimmer, Mike Tuczynski, Felix Rosario, George Corsoro, Michael Balzer, Fred Kane, Jerry Dziduch and Frank Bartela.

As many of my readers know, Rational emotive behavior therapy over the years has always been based upon rational thinking based on evidence and facts.

On March 17, 1973, the Dunkirk High School Varsity Basketball Team walked into Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium to play Cleveland Hill High School for the Section VI Class A championship. When the smoke had cleared, Dunkirk was the winner with a 90-60 victory. That year, Cheektowaga High School, JFK High School and Cleveland Hill High all tied for the championship in their league. JFK was ranked No. 2 in New York State small schools, with two outstanding players, Stucycinski, and Babcock making All-State First Team for small schools.

Along the way, the Marauders dismantled Cheektowaga 89-49. They then took on JFK at Erie Community College, 79-49, and finally beat Cleveland Hill 90-60 for the championship. Anything I say about my 1972-73 team will be prejudicial, because not only did I coach them, I loved them as better people. When the ’72-73 season started, Dunkirk High School was ranked 100 in the standing for small schools in New York State. We had been 9-9 as Juniors and had missed the sectional playoffs with a loss to Cleveland Hill the year before.

During the past, Dunkirk has had three Section VI Class A championships. When Al Stuhlmiller came to Dunkirk in 1955, they beat Trott Vocational High School in Memorial Auditorium with the great Andre Indelicato, Dave Derider and Billy Clifford for the Class A sectional championship. Then in 1960, under Coach Bill McPhee, with the outstanding Dick Harvey and Kenny Welka won another one, and finally , the Marauders in 1973. That was the last Section VI Championship that a Dunkirk High School boys varsity basketball team won. The shame of that year with a team like mine was, there were no state playoffs, no dunking, no 30-second shot clock, and no three-point shooting line.

The Dunkirk Marauders averaged 89.0 points per game. They gave up 49.0 points per game. They went over the 100-point mark four times after a loss to Erie Tech Memorial in Erie, they rolled off 17 victories in a row. The community, school board and the boosters were totally supportive.

The night we beat Cleveland Hill and took Route 5 home as we entered the city, there was a road block. It was the police department and Mayor Clem Lutz, coming into the bus and stating, “Welcome to Dunkirk, Section VI champions. The community honors your achievement and are proud of what you’ve accomplished for the CIty of Dunkirk.” Further support came from the Dunkirk school board, giving the teachers of the City of Dunkirk two days off in honor of the Marauders.

Further support came from Tony Pietro, owner of the Vineyard Motel and Restaurant by closing the restaurant down and honoring the team with anything they wanted to eat and as much as they wanted. As a basketball coach, I was flabbergasted at how my kids were thought of. It was a golden time for Dunkirk High.

So to Jesse Thomas (deceased), Lewis Mack, Don Reilly, Jack VandeVelde (deceased), Dave Szwejbka, Dan Tramuta, Jerry Moreland, George Corsoro, Mike Dimmer, Felix Rosario, Mike Tucynski, thank you for being champions with the best team in school history (20-1). But you were even better people for helping this coach get through a grief-stricken season with your great compassion.

The Marauders ended up No. 2 in New York State small schools and we always felt we could have beat Cleveland Hill if there was a state tournament. This team sent six players to the

Collegiate ranks. Thomas and Mack went to Jamestown Community College and helped take the Jayhawks to the Elite 8 at Hutchinson, Kan. Mack later was recruited to Middle Tennessee University and made All American his senior year. He later played for the Virginia Squires of the ABA (American Basketball Association) and Harlem Diplomats. In 2022, he was inducted into the Chautauqua County Sports Hall of Fame for basketball. Jesse went to Roanoke University in Virginia and was a standout on the basketball team and an All-American in the NCAA Track and Field finals in the 400 meters, running a world class time of 45.6 at that time.

Jack VandeVelde and Dan Tramuta went to Fredonia State, where Jack played baseball and basketball and Dan, basketball for Coach Bill Hughes. Don Reilly attended Brockport College and had a successful career as point guard. Dave Szweka attended Rochester and played four years for them. Jerry Moreland, who was probably the greatest shot blocker I’ve ever seen in high school, chose not to play college basketball even though he had offers from various coaches.

Finally, and if I’m wrong, I will apologize to the administration of Dunkirk schools.

A few years ago, while I was in attendance at a Dunkirk-Fredonia basketball game, I looked at the banner of sectional champions and we were not on it, the 1972-73 Section VI champions, 20-1. When I talked to someone in the Boosters, they simply said, “That’s what they gave me for the banner,” and she hung up. That was the last I heard about the banner. If my kids are not on that banner, not for my ego, but for 11 kids that brought great honor to a community and school district, they should be. As a former player and coach, believe me, it’s easy to be overlooked.

Mike Tramuta is a Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy counselor.

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