Cudmore: Sports for the fun of it in Amsterdam



In the summer of 1961 Amsterdam’s attention was focused on a three game series between the Hawaiian Klub and Burza’s Highland House for the coveted city men’s softball league title.

Sports teams based at the Hawaiian Klub, a tavern on Church Street in the Reid Hill section, had been covered on the sports pages for years.

Earlier in 1961, athletic Stanley Burza and his wife Irene had purchased the Highland House tavern on upper Locust Avenue. The Hawaiian Klub won the first softball game in the series 2-1.

Burza’s Highlanders took the second contest 6-1 before a large crowd at one of the fields behind the Lynch High School on Brandt Place. The deciding game was 6 p.m. sharp on a Monday.

Recorder sports writer Bob Wischmeyer wondered, “Will it be a Highland Fling or a Hawaiian Hula that is danced tonight?” A crowd of 500 attended.

 Wischmeyer reported the next day it was a Highland Fling, “Defense told the story last night. Burza’s Highland House played without an error and turned in two double plays to defeat the Hawaiian Klub 5-1.”

Burza played third base, was team manager and part of one of the double plays. Stan Burza died in 2010 at age 92.

David Gomula of Amsterdam provided an account of Lorenzo’s Athletic Club, started in 1959 by the late Larry Lanzi at Lorenzo’s, his popular Union Street restaurant. Gomula recalled his glory days as a pitcher when Lorenzo’s softball team won the city championship in 1974 and 1975.

During that time, Lorenzo’s won 40 out of 43 games.

The club played at the Lynch school athletic fields and sometimes on the South Side at Barkley school or at the athletic fields at Curie school off Church Street. Lorenzo’s A.C. was one of the first organizations to have a Super bowl party when that sports tradition began in 1968.

Lanzi and his father Luigi had fostered sports, notably boxing, when the family operated Lanzi’s Grill on Amsterdam’s South Side. Lanzi opened Lorenzo’s in 1956 and that restaurant was a fixture until 1998. Lorenzo’s Athletic Club disbanded in 2005.

Lanzi descendants are still in the restaurant business today.

Young men in the predominately Polish neighborhood on Amsterdam’s Park Hill formed the Bengals Club in 1937. The Bengals fixed up a small abandoned shop on Grand Street as the location for their club house. Dues were one dollar a month.

Twenty young men signed up at first and eventually the club had 60 members. “There was an old pot-bellied stove in the place which was a Bengal stove,” club founder George Spakoski wrote in 2009. “That was the name that was picked—the tiger.” Spakoski died in 2017.

The Bengals had a baseball team in the city’s Knothole League in 1940. Most of the club members joined the armed forces in World War II.

The Bengals started up again in 1946. The Bengals won a series of softball games played against the Lake George village team. Pete Marie was the Bengals pitcher.

Other players included George and Joe Spakoski, Tom Kryszak, Frank Kwiatkowski and Walt Suda. A Bengals softball team won championships from 1948 through 1951 in the “AA” Amsterdam league and then upgraded to city “A” ball.

The club disbanded in 1966 but held yearly reunions for a number of years.

Amsterdam has a history of athletic clubs going back to the 1920s. Late local history columnist Tony Pacelli wrote about the Lightnings, the Avengers and the Sagamores which existed in the 1920s and 1930s. Pacelli ranked the Lightnings as the best. The teams competed in basketball and baseball.

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