CYO games once envisioned as a national classic

Story and Photos By Ron Brocato | CLARION HERALD

When The Times-Picayune’s prep guru N. Charles Wicker announced in his first column of January 1951 that the Archdiocese of New Orleans would stage its first all-Catholic school basketball tournament, he wasn’t shy about exaggerating its potential.

Wicker proclaimed that “the CYO tournament will give the local Catholic schools a chance to take part in a tournament that may develop into a national affair.”

He cited a one-time national Catholic school tournament in  Chicago in which St. Aloysius participated a year earlier that blossomed into a major event from its humble beginnings.

At the time, New Orleans had just four Catholic high schools – Jesuit, Holy Cross, Redemptorist and St. Aloysius, all of which were part of the city’s prep league with Warren Easton, Fortier, Nicholls and S.J. Peters public schools.

The eight played for the right to represent the city in the state playoffs in four sports. But only the champion advanced to play in the South Louisiana playoff.

What the CYO tournament provided was a vehicle to proclaim a true Catholic school champion of New Orleans.

At that period in history, the U.S. had just entered its second year of fighting in the Korean conflict. The average annual wage was $3,510, the cost of a new home was $9,000 and a gallon of gasoline for your new $1,500 car cost just 19 cents a gallon.

The most popular TV shows (if one could afford a set) were “I Love Lucy” and “What’s My Line?”

Children were entertained in the theaters by Disney’s animated hit “Alice in Wonderland,” and frightened by the sci-fi classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed coined the term Rock and Roll, although the new sound’s anthem, “Rock Around the Clock” had yet to be written.

Stood the test of time

From that four-team basketball tournament came an event that has perpetuated itself over the last 68 years. While the 16-team tournament never reached the potential envisioned by Wicker, it has the distinction of being the longest-running roundball tournament in Louisiana high school history.

This week marks the 65th CYO basketball classic, now sponsored by the Allstate Sugar Bowl. It features 16 local and area teams, nine of which are Catholic schools.

The games are scheduled to be played at Jesuit, Holy Cross, De La Salle and Archbishop Shaw’s gyms, with the semifinals (Dec. 6) and championship game (Dec. 7) scheduled at Jesuit.

The inaugural CYO tournament was played at Tulane’s fieldhouse (today known as Fogleman Arena). Prior to that year, the CYO Classic was a football game played between the top Catholic school in New Orleans and a major Catholic opponent from another state. Jesuit and Holy Cross monopolized the football games. St. Aloysius and Redemptorist always fell short.

But now, they were part of an event that they could possibly win.

Wicker embellished the tournament as a vehicle that would give the CYO “more drawing power and should do well as New Orleans is becoming more and more interested in the cage sport.”

Unique staff of coaches

Coaching staffs at the prep level throughout the city consisted of men who primarily were football coaches. They included Lou Brownson at Holy Cross and Joe Galliano at Redemptorist. Johnny Altobello at St. Aloysius and Ken Tarzetti at Jesuit were not head football coaches.

The starting five for St. Aloysius consisted of Dickie Brennan, Bobby Delpit, Dick Treuting, Eddie Bravo and Arthur Franz.

Jesuit’s starters were Charles Gallman, Milton Retif, Ralph Morse, Jimmy Thomas and Ronald Drez.

After starting five freshmen in Holy Cross’ first-round game against Redemptorist, Brownson sent in his No. 1 unit of Chester Doll, Clarence Zimmerman, Roy Short, Lloyd Short and Vince Gonzales. They faced the Rams’ quintet of “Dookie” Dauphin, U.J. Cunningham, Huey Armond, Billy Piglia and “Frenchy” Figaro.

Wicker’s article following the first day of the tournament merited a banner headline on the main sports page. The eye-catching statistic was the attendance figure –  reported by Wicker as 3,000 spectators.

St. Aloysius’ 38-23 win over Redemptorist in the first game was so demonstrative that Altobello played all 14 players in uniform after his Crusaders outscored the Rams, 14-2, in the third period.

Jesuit had a more difficult time with Holy Cross, trailing the Tigers by four points before an 11-4 run in the fourth period enabled the Blue Jays to prevail, 48-45.

That set up the first CYO championship game the next night, which Wicker reported as having attracted 4,000 spectators.

That must have been a record crowd for Tulane’s arena, which today seats just 4,100.

Holy Cross won the consolation trophy, but not before struggling to defeat Redemptorist in overtime, 41-40, for third place.

In the first championship game, Brennan and Delpit combined for 19 points to lead St. Aloysius to a 41-33 win over Jesuit.

New Orleans Archbishop Joseph F. Rummel presented the three team trophies and awards to the members of the All-Tournament team: Delpit, Brennan, Armand, Short and Gallman.

Delpit was named the tournament’s Outstanding Player based on the four votes cast for that award. Delpit received two.

A banquet was held for all four teams the following Friday at the Loyola University cafeteria. Archbishop Rummel was in attendance.

Altobello’s teams at St. Aloysius won the first two CYO Classics. He then became coach at De La Salle, and his Cavaliers claimed the following three titles (1954-56).

Two schools, which have played in every CYO tournament, are among the 16 in this year’s field: They are 12-time champion Jesuit and twice- champion Holy Cross. And returning to the fold after a two-year absence is 10-time champ St. Augustine.

The three join De La Salle, Archbishop Rummel, Archbishop Shaw, St. Paul’s, St. Thomas Aquinas, Northshore, West Jefferson, Lusher, Central Lafourche, John Curtis, Lee High of Baton Rouge and Mississippi coast schools St. Stanislaus and Long Beach.

The CYO Classic has certainly evolved from a time when Canal Street was a Saturday shopping mecca, a bus ride cost 7 cents and Dixie (Beer) Doodles appeared daily in the T-P.

I wonder what Wicker would have thought.

Ron Brocato can be reached at rbrocato@clarionherald.org.

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