More Kudos for Cwiklinski

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost Boathouse Row author Dotty Brown’s news that 1964 Olympic Gold medal winner/rower Stan Cwiklinski will be inducted into the La Salle University Hall of Athletes.

Stan Cwiklinksi was just 20 years old when he took a year-long leave from what was then La Salle College to train for the 1964 Olympics. He then went on to win a gold medal in Tokyo with one of the most unlikely eight-oared crews ever to take that prize. This week, Cwiklinski [(Quick-lin-ski), 77, learned that he is being named to the La Salle University Hall of Athletes.

“I think he’s the only living member of La Salle who has an Olympic gold medal,” said New Jersey businessman Bucky Durney, who was coxswain with Cwiklinski in 1962 when the crew won the Dad Vail Championship.  “But there’s more to Stan than just the rowing.” Which is why Durney in 2018 started lobbying for Cwiklinski to be honored.

“Someone who goes into the hall of fame should be someone who not only did something remarkable at La Salle but someone who did something remarkable afterward,” Durney said.

Stan’s lifelong success, he said, demonstrates to current La Salle rowers “what a person who rowed at La Salle can do with their life.” 

Cwiklinski went from LaSalle to Navy officer training school, and over a 23-year career in the service “did a lot of things I can’t discuss,” he told me this week. “I went to Vietnam. I was skipper on a patrol torpedo boat…. It was dangerous, yes, but exciting. I saw a lot of combat operations.” He rose to become a commander, and won numerous medals including a Meritorius Service Medal for the work of his career – “the whole shebang,” he said.

Along the way, he became a salvage diving officer and as such did a clean up job in Antarctica after an Argentine vessel dumped oil, spent 3 ½ years with the British Royal Navy, and went down to 1,800 feet in a submersible capsule, marking the deepest anyone in the Navy had ever gone, he said. Cwiklinski ended his career as the “Atlantic Fleet oil spill guru” –experience that led him to be called upon to help direct the clean up of the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

In retrospect, he said, his experience training for the Olympics proved a foundation for his life’s work. “When you are in a warfare situation, you learn by experience. You’ve had the training but you have to apply leadership training with personnel, leading them into battle. I think that rowing is a natural building block of character.  In the type of activity I was doing in the Vesper Eight, it was high performance, where you have to really approach other people in the boat. You have to interface with these guys and do so with absolute perfection at a very high level.”

That’s just how Durney saw Cwiklinski way back in college. “Always humble, a terrific oarsman…extremely serious when in the boat, and worked as hard as anyone. A fantastic teammate. You can’t have any heroes outstanding on a crew.”

Cwiklinski, at 6-foot-two and a half, started rowing out of the Fairmount Rowing Association during his time at Central High School. “I got pretty good at it and kept at it,” he told me when I interviewed him for my book, Boathouse Row.  While rowing crew for La Salle, he was encouraged to switch over to Vesper to train for the Olympics by Hugh Foley, who had transferred to La Salle from California specifically to train at the world class club.  Foley “encouraged me to drop everything else I was doing, including LaSalle rowing. It all came together.”

The two became the youngest members of a boat that was variously called a “motley crew” or “old men” because of the unlikely span of their ages and their mostly disheveled comportment.  The crew included a 46-year-old coxswain (Hungarian refugee Robert Zimonyi), a 34-year-old businessman and father of six (Bill Knecht) and several rowers in their late 20s whom the military had transferred to Philadelphia specifically to train for the Olympics. There was a lot of drama in the boat, particularly between the two Yale crewmen (Emory Clark and Boyce Budd) who sparred with brothers Tom and Joe Amlong, who had grown up as Army brats and were known for their tough talk salted with more than spicy language.

Nonetheless Cwiklinski found a way to survive and thrive. Tom Amlong, he said, “had a way of instigating. He was always trying to make me be better than I could be. He would turn around and shout words – do or die kinds of things. He was a real disciplinarian.” Cwiklinski said that on the one hand, “I had to stand up to him. He was a lot older,” but, he added, “at my age at that time and level of experience, I fell into place and didn’t ask a lot of questions.”

The award, according to LaSalle spokesman Dan Lobacz, will be formally announced in the next few weeks. It will not be Stan Cwiklinski’s first for rowing. In 1965, the Vesper Eight was inducted into the National Rowing Hall of Fame.  But he will stand out in La Salle’s Hall of Athletes, where only two individual rowers were previously honored: Thomas Conville of the Class of 1953, for stroking his crew to 13 victories out of 15 races (Conville has a cup named for him at the Dad Vail.),  and Bob Morro (class of 1958) for his multiple successes at the Dad Vail. Lobacz said he believes the late Joe Verdeur (200 m Breast Stroke, 1948), is the only other Olympic gold medal winner in the Hall

Said Durney, “Stan was the ultimate team player in the ultimate team sport.”

For more of the story of the surprising Vesper run to the 1964 Olympics, read Boathouse Row.

Celebrating March Madness

This week in North Philly Notes, David Grzybowski, author of Mr. All-Around connects Tom Gola to March Madness.

What an opening weekend for March Madness. As you wait for your bracket to play out for your office bracket pool in the upcoming weeks remember this: March Madness wouldn’t exist without Philadelphia’s own, Tom Gola.

In the 1950’s the NCAA tournament took a backseat to the National Invitational Tournament tournament of today’s game. The roles were reversed, the NIT was bigger and the games attracted more fans to the court when the tournament games were played at Madison Square Garden in New York City. MSG was the mecca of college basketball in the 1950’s.

In 1951, a huge point-shaving scandal hit college basketball, with a total of seven schools and thirty-two players admitted to taking bribes from gamblers to control the outcomes of games. The scandal started with the City College of New York, Long Island University, and NYU and grew to a plethora of other teams throughout the early 1950’s. Teams were getting banned from post-season play and some players even got jail time. The point-shaving scandal was a slap in the face to college basketball fans at the time and the way the league was functioning. The NCAA had an image conflict; it needed a new face and a fresh start.

Mr All-Around_smEnter Tom Gola at La Salle University in 1952.

During his first season at 20th and Olney in 1952, Gola led the La Salle Explorers to the NIT tournament, a then 12 team tournament. In 1952, there was no play in game in Dayton, Ohio, there was no Selection Sunday show on television, and there was not a field of 68 teams vowing for the championship. Those 12 teams in the early 1950’s were at the center the college basketball landscape at Madison Square Garden.

When I interviewed La Salle men’s basketball alum, Ed Altieri for Mr. All-Around: The Life of Tom Gola, he remarked, “The NIT was the big draw. [You were] lucky to get something written in the paper about being in the NCAA’s [tournament].”

The NCAA was in dire need of a star caliber player to watch on the court. A multitude of NCAA teams lost their players to suspensions, jail time, and teams were sanctioned by the NCAA for postseason play. The league was in dire need of a new star player to follow. Gola’s rise to fame in the NCAA was due to his 6’6 frame being an all-around player on the court. He could be your teams point guard, shooting guard and snag 20 rebounds a game for your team. He was the perfect storm of a new superstar with an entirely new audience of college basketball fans watching. He was a breathe of fresh air to the basketball world.

In 1954, Gola led the La Salle Explorers to win the NCAA championship game against Bradley. He continued to rack up season accolades such as the NCAA Tournament Final MVP, Sports Magazine College Basketball Player of the Year and the Associated Press All-State First Team. Whenever Tom Gola was playing the country was watching. Whether it was the NIT, a Big 5 game at the Palestra or a NCAA tournament game, Gola was the star bringing college basketball back to its strong routes.

A year later in 1955 during his senior year, Gola and La Salle were back playing in the NCAA tournament championship game, this time facing Bill Russell, K.C Jones and San Francisco Dons. The Explorers lost thanks to Bill Russell’s MVP tournament play, making him the first African American player to be honored with that award in 1955. Once again Gola was at the epicenter of college basketball’s biggest dance, three out of the four years at La Salle Gola was the star of the final game of the season. The tarnished image of the NCAA was begging to pick back up with large thanks to Gola and his superstar play.

Gola’s dominance in the NCAA was the first of its kind in the college basketball in the 1950’s. Before his time there was never a player that was worth the price of admission to see Gola play on a daily basis. He packed Madison Square Garden on a regular basis. The firmly believe that the NCAA superstardom began with Tom Gola and continued to todays game in 2019 from Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Akeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant to LeBron James.

Tom Gola is the bridge between college basketball almost being destroyed by gamblers and corruption to the field of 68 teams and the March Madness hoopla we are used to today in 2019. While you’re are enjoying the madness, be sure to remember the college basketball legends that paved the way before us.

As the late great, Philadelphia Warriors PA announcer Dave Zinkoff would say, “Gola goal.”

 

All about Mr. All-Around, Tom Gola

This week in North Philly Notes, David Grzybowski, author of Mr. All-Around, writes about why he wrote about Tom Gola.

“History stands on the legacies of others.”

That’s what La Salle University archivist, Brother Joe Grabenstein told me during my senior year at La Salle University in 2013. With the help of Brother Joe, I had the opportunity to exclusively interview Tom Gola in February of 2013, a month before the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn, New York. I didn’t know it at the time, but meeting Tom Gola changed my life. If you were to tell me from that meeting I was going to end up writing a book about Gola I would’ve said you’re crazy!

Well, here we are.

Almost 68 months later, I wrote book about Philadelphia’s most beloved college basketball player, Tom Gola.

When I first started this book I knew exactly what I wanted to cover and had a game plan on what stories I really wanted to tell. It was all about execution.

Mr All-Around_smI wanted to show people the behind the scenes aspect of Gola’s life that maybe fans do not know about prior. I wanted to showcase what Gola was like as a player off the court as a father, friend, businessman, mentor and neighbor. One of the more interesting parts of Gola’s life was his time working in the political field in the state of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. After his time in the NBA, Gola traded in his jersey and shorts for his suit and tie, a opportunity in politics working as a member of Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 170th district in Philadelphia. Gola would go on to become the Philadelphia City Controller from 1970 to 1974, joining politician Arlen Specter on a joint campaign that revolutionized political marketing within Philadelphia. Its not everyday you see a Philadelphia sports figure succeed in basketball, politics and coaching in the same city he grew up in.

To this day, there is no one that is more “Philly” than Tom Gola. He loved Philadelphia so much that while he played for the New York Knicks in the early 1960’s he decided to live in his Philadelphia home with his family and traveled to and from practices and games. You can’t get more Philadelphia than that.

I firmly believe that Gola’s story is so much more than just Philadelphia based. Tom Gola saved college basketball in the 1950’s after a huge point shaving scandal that involved a lot of basketball programs that tarnished basketball for some time. Gola was the first major college basketball star to come out of that debacle and he took the league by storm, winning the NIT in 1952 and the NCAA championship in 1954, both with the La Salle Explorers.

Tom Gola’s legacy will forever be talked about as one of the best college basketball players in history. Gola will forever be the all-time leading rebounder in NCAA history with 2,201 rebounds. Gola is one of two players in NCAA history to score more than 2,000 points and grab 2,000 rebounds during his collegiate career. To this day, Tom Gola’s name is always brought up in the NCAA and NBA game of today. Thats a sign that his legacy still remains.

Tom Gola’s story needs to be told and I’m happy to be the one to tell his story.

 

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