Short, but ever so sweet.
That best describes Dick Lalla’s career as the Linton High School head football coach. But he guided some of that school’s best teams — and greatest athletes — from 1960 through 1963. He also soon discovered that he was part of one of the area’s fiercest rivalries.
Lalla received a special tribute at Monday’s 17th annual Schenectady City School District Hall of Fame and Reunion Dinner at Proctors. The inductees included Nott Terrace basketball standout Murray Melton, Mont Pleasant star running back Ron Page and the late Ed Rimkus, a multi-sport star at Schenectady High School and Mont Pleasant who won a gold medal in the four-man bobsled at the 1948 Olympics.
Lalla, now 82, remembers the Linton-Mont Pleasant football rivalry like it was yesterday.
“I heard that the Linton High School football job was open in 1959 from Walt Przybylo,” Lalla said Monday before the induction ceremonies. “I knew that Linton was a great basketball school, with people like Barry Kramer, but I had no idea they had such great football players.”
The problem was that soon after Lalla sent in his resumé, school officials sent it back and said they had already hired another coach. But they asked Lalla if he would consider being the JV coach.
“They were going to give me $300 more than I was making as an assistant coach in the Corning area, so I took it,” he said.
“Then, it all worked out in the end, because they fired the head coach after a year, and I got the job.
“I couldn’t believe what we had going here, in terms of the rivalry with Mont Pleasant. Sure, there are great rivalries everywhere you go as a coach, but they played this one on Election Day. I knew these people were serious.”
Lalla compiled a record of 27-5 from 1960 through 1963, and his teams won two Class A League titles. No Section II team scored on his 1961 squad. He coached future SCSD Hall of Famers Roy Oyer, Pat Riley and Mike Meola.
The 1962 game, viewed by more than 5,000 people in the freezing cold on Nov. 7, is considered one of the greatest in the history of the rivalry. Heavily favored Linton was looking at an undefeated season, but Mont Pleasant pulled a 14-13 upset. Riley, who compiled a brilliant career as an NBA player, coach and executive, ran for more than 100 yards in the game and threw a TD pass to Lew DeFilippo, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Larry Mulvaney-coached Red Raiders.
“I had five great years, including the JV season, here in Schenectady,” Lalla said. “I do remember that upset game, but I don’t carry any grudges. These were 16- to 17-year-old kids having fun. It wasn’t an angry rivalry, but it was a great one. You’ve also got to remember that we were playing against another great coach in Larry Mulvaney. Both teams had plenty of talent.”
Lalla, who also worked as a sporting good salesman, went on to coach at North Syracuse and at Binghamton High School, but he never enjoyed the game as much as he did when he was part of the Linton-Mont Pleasant rivalry.
“I only played in that rivalry game one time,” remembered Oyer. “But what a rivalry it was. The bleachers were completely filled. That was all everyone talked about days before the game and days after it. I think that rivalry bonded all Schenectady players together. Years later, if you said you were from Linton or from Mont Pleasant, you got a big handshake. It was great for the community.”
Page, who began his varsity career by coming off the bench in the Linton-Mont Pleasant game, said playing football for Mont Pleasant was one of the best times of his life. And returning home to be inducted into the SCSD Hall of Fame has equal billing.
“I am overwhelmed by all the support I’ve received all weekend,” said Page, who is now a pastor at a church in Indianapolis, Ind.
“I was baptized right here, and this is where I got my start,” he said. “Everything my life has become, all started back here in Schenectady. I’m a preacher now, and people tell me that I preach hard. That’s the only way I know how to preach, because I played football hard.”
Page, who also was a standout at Syracuse University, where he scored a touchdown the first time he touched the ball, said the Linton-Mont Pleasant football rivalry was the greatest he ever saw.
“I started my career in the rivalry game as a third-string fullback who got a chance to play,” he said. “I still look back over my shoulder and wonder if I’m in the right part of town.”
Like Page, Melton couldn’t believe the reaction from friends upon his return to Schenectady for the Hall of Fame festivities.
“I’m seeing all these guys that I knew from the past, like Barry Kramer. These were the best memories of my life,” he said.
“So far, I haven’t missed a shot yet in these guys’ eyes. I think I must have missed a shot sometimes, but as far as these guys are concerned, I’m one of the greatest shooters who ever lived.”
Melton, who also excelled in baseball, was the all-time leading scorer at Nott Terrace, and he eventually played both basketball and baseball at Columbia University. He was known as a deft shooter.
“I would have loved the three-point shot back then. Half of my shots were from that range,” he said.
Melton eventually moved to Las Vegas and lived there for 32 years.
“I haven’t been back here to Schenectady since 1994, when I played in a bridge tournament. I have no family here anymore, so there wasn’t any reason to come back,” he said. “But the time I spent here was the greatest time of my life. I’m so glad I came back for all the festivities.”
Rimkus was a football, basketball and track standout for Mont Pleasant, but he became much more famous for winning a gold medal as part of the U.S. bobsledding team in the St. Moritz, Switzerland Olympics.
He was a captain for both the undefeated 1931 Mont Pleasant football team and later the St. Lawrence University football team.