Athletes, coaches reflect on undefeated Oceanside H.S. teams
By Joseph Kellard
Statistically speaking, the 1973 Oceanside High School boys’ soccer team was more dominant than the New England Patriots, who head into Super Bowl XLII on Sunday with a perfect record. That’s the opinion of Ron Atanasio, the star player on that OHS squad, which posted an 18-0 record and outscored its opponents 100 goals to 4.
“That was, and to this day is, the best high school team that was ever fielded,” said Atanasio, who was a junior in ’73. “We would have beaten a lot of college teams with that high school team — that’s how good we were.”
Consider also that the squad’s stats could have been even better. Atanasio, who shattered all of the school’s scoring records and went on to play profession soccer with Pelé and the New York Cosmos in the late 1970s, recalled that in games in which the Sailors took a 5-, 6- or 7-goal lead by halftime, his coach, the late Artie Wright, would yank him from the lineup.
“Wright used to take me out and never let me play the second half because I used to score the goals, and he didn’t want to win 15-0 and rub it anyone’s face,” Atanasio recalled. In the playoffs that year, Oceanside downed Calhoun 6-0, Lynbrook 7-0, Mepham 4-1 and, in the county championships, Farmingdale 7-0.
The ’73 soccer team was one of just six OHS teams in the school’s history that have posted undefeated seasons. The 1938 football team finished 7-0, the 1955 football team was 8-0, the 1958 boys’ soccer team went 15-0, the 1969 boys’ soccer team was 17-0-1 and, for the decade between 1965 and 1975, the boys’ track team was in another category entirely, winning 82 consecutive meets.
The soccer program is arguably the school’s most successful. Wright, who started the program in 1953 and coached the team until he retired in 1978, compiled a 315-80-40 record and led his squads to 19 championships, including nine county and four Long Island titles.
“It was something very special,” said Warren Cadiz, who was Wright’s assistant coach from 1968 to 1973. “With the 1973 team, Artie just pulled all the right strings. He seemed to know when to make the right moves.”
For Atanasio, the question was never whether the team would manage to go undefeated, but rather how badly the Sailors would defeat their opponents. “There really wasn’t any pressure, because we were so much better,” said Atanasio, 51, who retired to Hampton Bays after co-owning a Manhattan-based woman’s handbag company. “You know how the Patriots almost lost a couple of close games this year? We weren’t even close to that. Our average scores were like a football team winning 42 to nothing all the time.”
The coaches’ biggest fear, Cadiz said, was that the players’ confidence, which grew as the season went on, might work against them. And the unthinkable almost happened in the team’s final game of the year, the Long Island Championship, in which the Sailors defeated West Islip 1-0.
“I think everybody might have been uptight in that game,” Cadiz remembered, noting that West Islip played a defensive game and managed only a few fast breaks. “But our defense was so dominant, we always seemed to clear the ball, and even the goaltenders, when they had to make a play, they would,” Cadiz said.
Wright’s players attribute the success of his program to the youth soccer leagues that he started at Oceanside schools when the sport was still alien to most Americans. Paul Fardy, a midfielder on the 15-0 team in 1958, said Wright got kids interest in soccer when they were still in elementary school.
“Mr. Wright had a wonderful and very captivating personality,” said Fardy, 66, who became a cardiologist and now lives in Point Lookout, “and so he got a lot of kids who were good athletes to play soccer that might just as well have played football. He introduced them to this new game.
Fardy played in what he believes was the first-ever night game on Long Island at OHS, before a couple of thousand spectators, when the ’58 Sailors defeated South Side 2-0. “The place was packed,” Fardy recounted. “It was standing room only and was really quite something. It was very exciting.”
In the county championship, the Sailors blanked Garden City 2-0, and they played South Side again in the South Shore Championship at Adelphi, winning 4-1.
A track record of winning
In 1965, in a meet against Uniondale, coach Roy Chernock’s boys’ track team was the last Oceanside squad to lose a meet until April 28, 1975, 82 meets later, when the Sailors fell to Uniondale again.
From the time he took over the track team in 1957 to the day he passed the coaching baton to Ken Hendler in 1967, Chernock’s teams posted a 105-3 record, capturing the Eastern State championship in 1963 and indoor state titles in 1961 and 1964. Hendler, who continues to coach the high school track and cross-country teams, recalled that there was a lot of pressure to win when following such a successful coach. “Roy Chernock passed the tradition to me,” Hendler said, “and you knew what was expected and what those goals were, and we tried to continue those goals.” Hendler continued Chernock’s notoriously difficult workouts, all the while reminding his athletes of the stars of teams past and the undefeated streak.
Brian Batzer, who ran the 440 and the 880 in 1972, called Hendler an excellent motivator who always worked the athletes into peak condition for the biggest meets. While he never let them forget the streak, Batzer said that he and his teammates felt no extra pressure.
“We just expected to win,” said Batzer, an assistant principal at Holy Cross High in Flushing who lives in West Hempstead. “It wasn’t conceit or anything like that. There were just great athletes on that team.”
Batzer remembered meets against schools that the Sailors were almost sure to beat, when Hendler would enter his athletes in events that weren’t their specialties. “And we’d still beat those teams by a lot,” Batzer said, recalling one event in which his coach made him run the two-mile, and then immediately follow it up with the 200-yard sprint.
The loss to Uniondale in 1975, as Hendler remembers it, was a thrilling meet that could have gone either way, and came down to the final relay. In the three seasons that followed, Hendler’s team again never lost a meet. The Sailors lost once in 1979 — again, to Uniondale — before going undefeated again in 1980.
Gridiron greatness: from worst to first
Oceanside’s football team had lost all eight of its games in 1954, the year before Joe Scannella took over the program and earned Coach of the Year in 1955, when the Sailors finished 8-0.
Scannella later coached at Cornell, Baldwin High School and C.W. Post before he became a special teams coach for the Oakland Raiders team that won the Super Bowl in 1977. In 1984, he became offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns.
His four-year OHS career couldn’t have started on a better note, when the Sailors returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in an 18-0 victory over LaSalle Military Academy. The Sailors shut out their next two opponents — Levittown, 26-0, and Garden City, 6-0 — and blanked Wantagh 26-0 in the sixth game of the season.
John Maxwell, a tight end and defensive end, said that there were no outstanding players on that team — although they had a good quarterback and running back in Frank Santoli and Bobby Renner, respectively — and that their success was due, in part, to the fact that they played together for a number of years. “We were lucky in that everyone seemed to come together at that time,” said Maxwell, 69, a retired New York City Police Department sergeant, from his home in Florida.
The big difference, Maxwell said, was coach Scannella, who simplified the playbook. “The blocking scheme really just came down to four different blocks,” Maxwell recalled. While there was no football playoff system in those years, the eighth and final game of Oceanside’s season was against its longtime rival, South Side, and the Sailors prevailed 21-7.
Before there was a Scannella or a Maxwell, there were Charles Mosback and Steve Poleshuk, the coach and caption of OHS’s first perfect team, the 1938 football squad. Mosback, who became the principal at Oceanside High School (then on Merle Avenue), and Poleshuk, who became an All-American at Colgate and returned to coach the OHS team, lead the Sailors to a 7-0 season.
In those pre-playoff days, the team was awarded the Rutgers Cup, recognizing the most outstanding football team in the county, and defeated Valley Stream Central in its final game. “In a driving rain, before 10,000 people in bleachers that were installed around the field at Merle Avenue,” said Frank Januszewski, a basketball coach who built the Hall of Fame at OHS in 1960, “Oceanside beat Valley Stream 6-0.”
Photo by Joel Scott