Guys like Jack Boyajian, Lou Gwinner, Howie Hubbard and Joe Guerra weren’t yet teenagers when the U.S. entered World War II in December of 1941. So, instead of heading off to Europe or the Pacific, they picked up tennis racquets and went to Central Park.
Sporting a relatively new tennis facility with 16 courts built in the mid 1930s by FDR’s Works Progress Administration, Central Park was a great place for anyone on the homefront looking to learn how to play tennis. Boyajian, Gwinner, Hubbard and Guerra all grew up nearby and spent long days there as young boys. By the time they graduated from Nott Terrace High School in 1951 they were all fabulous players. They were four very big reasons why in June of that year the Nott Terrace boys team had posted its 39th straight win over three years and concluded their third consecutive unbeaten season. The Nott Terrace team, coached by Sam Thompson, went on to post perfect records for another three years, extending its unbeaten string to 77 straight matches, including the Section II Tournament. The Terraciers or the Downtowners, as they were sometimes called, won their first two matches of the following season before the streak came to an end on May, 10, 1955, against arch-rival Mont Pleasant. Don Flynn and John Renwick, two familiar names to Schenectady County tennis fans, were on that Pleasant team.
But for those six years, 1949-1954, Nott Terrace’s boys tennis team reigned supreme, producing one of the greatest runs of success in the city’s rich high school sports history. And with apologies to Stu Stearns, who played in the No. 1 singles spot in 1949 and 1950 to get the ball rolling, it was the 1951 team that stands out ever so slightly above the others.
“We had five or six players that were almost equal, and Louie, Howie, Joe and I would rotate playing No. 1 singles,” said Boyajian, now 88 years old and a Glenville resident. “It didn’t matter where he [coach Thompson] put us. He could put us anywhere and we’d still win, usually by a 7-0 score. The matches weren’t even close.”
A check of the Gazette’s electronic archives verifies Boyajian’s memory. All I could find was 7-0 victories, with the exception of an Albany High match when the Falcons’ top player Jayson Millman earned a victory at No. 1, edging past Gwinner in three sets, 7-5, 2-6, 6-4. Nott Terrace, however, lost just 10 games in the other six matches that day. Hubbard and Guerra lost just one game apiece at No. 2 and 3 singles, respectively, while Boyajian was a 6-0, 6-0 winner at No. 4.
The other members of that team, players that would keep Nott Terrace’s streak alive the following two years, included Ettore Mancuso, Gerardus Jameson, Ed Letteron, Charles Dumond, Justus Kusserow and Stan Majerowski.
As for the reason behind Nott Terrace’s winning ways, it wasn’t due to any exceptional coaching technique on the part of Thompson. Boyajian remembers that Thompson “wasn’t a great coach by any means,” and the coach himself, a physics teacher and night principal at Nott Terrace, told the Gazette in an article from June of 1951 that the team’s success was mostly due to having a wonderful facility at Central Park to attract the city’s best athletes.
While Boyajian, Gwinner and Guerra all stayed close to home in their adult lives, I couldn’t track down Hubbard, who according to Boyajian went off to play tennis at the University of Michigan. He never saw or heard anything about him again, and I’ve been unsuccessful in trying to learn more about the man. I became friends with Gwinner and Boyajian, who remained involved in Capital Region tennis circles, and while I never met Guerra, he was a dentist for a long time in Schenectady before passing away in 2019. Gwinner died just last year.
Those four guys, all No. 1 singles players from time to time during that 1951 season when all were seniors, will always be linked together in Nott Terrace tennis history, a success story that is unrivaled in area sports history. Seventy-nine consecutive wins and 77-0 over a six-year stretch is probably a record that will remain unequaled.
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