Editor’s note: The 23rd Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame & Reunion Dinner takes place Monday at Glen Sanders Mansion. Inductees are Ed Alger, Al Burnham and Joe Zelezniak, while the undefeated 1969-70 Linton boys’ basketball team earned the legacy tribute. Today’s story is the first in a four-part series recognizing this year’s induction class.
The Linton High School boys’ basketball team had nowhere else to go after beating Philip Schuyler in the 1970 Section II Class A-B title game and extending its record to 22-0.
There was no state tournament back then, no opportunity for the Blue Devils to test themselves against fellow champions from other parts of New York.
“I would have loved to see how far we could have gone,” said Chuck Abba, a starting forward on that team coached by the late Walt Przybylo. “The guys we had, they were all very good players. We had the pieces to be sure.”
Those pieces, from an elite coaching staff to a large cast of senior players anchored by 6-foot-9 Sidney Edwards, to team managers Jim Nagle and Larry Gordon, bonded to create what is often mentioned among the best teams Section II has ever produced. Even without a state tournament test that winter, the Blue Devils were tabbed No. 1 by the New York State Scholastic Writers’ Association.
“They had a great team,” said Gary DiNola, who at Mont Pleasant and then Bishop Gibbons played against Linton in his high school days, and later coached another powerhouse basketball squad at Schenectady to a state championship in 1998. “They had every part covered. Przybylo was a great motivator. They were well-coached. They had a senior-laden lineup and senior-laden depth.”
They’ll be honored Monday with a Legacy Tribute as part of the Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame & Reunion Dinner at Glen Sanders Mansion. Four of the six deceased members of the team — Przybylo, assistants Bill Rapavy and Ed Catino, and Edwards — were previously inducted into the SCSD Athletic Hall of Fame.
“We played the game very fast. Typical of Linton basketball,” said Abba, who will speak for the team at Monday’s ceremony. “We ran at every opportunity. We put up shots quickly. We were aggressive on the offensive boards. We pressed and we were able to take chances on defense because we had a 6-9 guy at the back of our defense.”
That would be Edwards, the future Harlem Globetrotter who scored 50 points when Linton beat Mont Pleasant in the 1970 Section II Class A title tilt, and led the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.
“Sid would always be getting double- and triple-teamed,” Abba said of the first-team all-state pick who would go on to play at the University of Houston. “The rest of us got a lot of wide open looks.”
Edwards was joined in the starting lineup by Abba and fellow forward Charlie Mark, and guards Dave Modest and Bill Suprunowicz, the latter two who are also deceased. Abba and Suprunowicz both earned all-state second-team recognition that magical season.
“Chuck Abba was the silent glue to that team,” DiNola said of the current school principal at CBA who had coaching stints at Bishop Gibbons, Voorheesville, Bethlehem and Schenectady. “He was a grinder. He made tough baskets in big games. He rose up in big games. He guarded bigger people. He carried the mail.”
Paul Comley, Sam Croce, Paul DeLuca, Dave Denofio, Dan Lombardi, Jim Phillips and Henry Vitallo completed the roster, while Bruce Carrieri, Gary Leva and Barry Williams joined them for Linton’s playoff run. Abba said some Linton practices were more physical than games.
“You need everybody for it to work,” Abba said. “We had guys on the team whose role may not have been recognized on the court, but were so significant. We needed guys to push other guys. We had an outstanding group of individuals who put aside individual goals to make the team successful.”
Modest was the only non-senior on the 22-0 edition, contributing to that team as a talented sophomore who could do so many things well. Modest would go on to become Linton’s all-time scoring leader.
“They brought him up [to the varsity] as a ninth-grader and he helped turn it around,” said SCSD Athletic Hall of Fame chairman Bob Pezzano, who played basketball at Linton and graduated in 1968. “He was a super-talented ball-handler who could stop and pull up. He was part of a very fast backcourt.”
Linton averaged over 85 points a game in an era with no shot clock or 3-point shot, and only one victory was by less than 10 points, that coming against No. 2 state-ranked Newburgh Free Academy.
“What I remember about that team is ‘Shoot, rebound, outlet, layup,’” DiNola, a SCSD Athletic Hall of Fame member, said of Linton’s renowned transition game.
Linton finished the 1968-69 season with a 19-3 record, and Section II Class A and Class A-B championships, and brought a 12-game win streak into what would be that undefeated season.
“We won the last 12 games and that established a foundation for 69-70,” Abba said. “We expected to do well and talked about winning it all again.”
Linton would extend its win streak to 38 games with four more victories to begin the 1970-71 campaign.
“Dominance is the word I think of,” Pezzano said of the 22-0 team. “There are a lot of words I could use to describe them, but they were an exceptional team. They dominated high school basketball that year.”