Time to take care of the spring ’76 sports report. First off to the girls, coverage in the Herald of your sports was non-existent.
The baseball team returned pitchers Bob Cotterell (3-3, 1.72 ERA) and John Merchant (5-1, 0.83 ERA) from the ’75 squad that had started 2-4 in Suburban Conference play but then reeled off 8 straight to finish 10-4 and grab a share of the title with New Providence.
Other key returnees for ’76 were Scott Leisher (pitcher/first baseman), catcher Anthony Sereno, Dave Connolly, third baseman Alan Wessel, outfielders Mike Horn and Mike Tarashuk, as well as Rick Gross, Ron Ruppert and Mike Kline. Sophomore Kevin Phelan would end up being a key contributor on the ’76 edition that proceeded to get off to another 2-4 start in conference play, 3-5 overall.
The season started off great with Mike Tarashuk homering in the 9th inning of the opener against Morris Knolls as Bobby Cotterell went all the way, but this was followed by some tough losses, including Ruppert’s first varsity start against Springfield where he threw six strong innings before tiring and Springfield came from six down to win.
Meanwhile, while Summit was going 2-4 in conference, Madison and New Providence were starting out 6-0. For NP, hurler Paul Schmitt was already 6-0, all against SC foes. Schmitt almost no-hit Summit in their first matchup before winning 8-1.
The Hilltoppers began to turn things around a bit, though, as Merchant hit .467 the first 8 games of the season (though injuries limited his pitching), while Cotterell was in the midst of a superb senior campaign. Summit advanced to 6-5, 4-4 in SC play, but New Providence was 8-0. Then Summit was 7-7, 5-5 in conference, including an opening round loss in the Union County tournament to Scotch Plains.
Summit would go on to finish 6-6 in the Suburban Conference race (New Providence, behind the pitching of Schmitt, went 12-0…as Schmitt would end up 15-0 on the season and head to Clemson), and was 9-9 overall but this included a first round state playoff win over Berkeley Heights behind Merchant’s 2-hitter.
And then Summit rattled off state wins against favored Pequannock and Millburn as in the first game Cotterell tossed a 2-hitter, and in the second, Leisher saved it for Merchant.
So suddenly we were in the state section 2 finals against Parsippany but the fun ended there as the Hilltoppers lost 5-1.
What followed though were five non-conference regular season wins and Summit ended the season 16-10 after going 16-8 in ’75. Cotterell (9-1 on the mound), Merchant (.377) and Scott Leisher (.391) were first-team Suburban Conference. Earlier, Bobby C. had accepted an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy.
Meanwhile, in other sports news, Summit would end up winning its 8th straight Suburban Conference Olympic Trophy for boys and girls as in the spring, golf, volleyball, and tennis all won titles.
The golf team was 10-0-1 in conference play (16-0-1 overall as best as I could tell from gleaning the editions of the Herald) and were led by Dave and Steve Corradi, Alan Sarno, Jay Hamilton, John Jameson and Rick Hegwood.
Boys tennis was led by Mark Jeffrey, Lou Zachary, Dick Bottelli, Dave Poole, Alex Colton, Brad Cabibi and Bob Kocis and had a big upset of Millburn in the Group 3 tournament before succumbing.
As for the track team, Summit finished second to Madison in the Suburban Conference meet and it seems our only regular season loss was to Springfield when our esteemed coach ran Rob Steele (some of us know him differently…but all the articles said ‘Rob’) four times, which was in violation of state rules (you could only enter three running events) and so we were disqualified in that one.
Anyway, key performers on the track team were Steele, who kicked ass in the hurdles and just about everything else he entered, Eric Dagradi, Pete Dickson, Harold Thieck, Jeff Hunt in the sprints, Chris Dillingham, Woody Cornog in the half, distance runners Jeff Newell, Paul Reich and Wolfgang Name and Bill Specht when he returned from swimming.
Speaking of which, Mr. Specht performed in a YMCA championship in Ft. Lauderdale and set a national record in the 100-butterfly, as well as taking gold in the 200-butterfly and the 100-backstroke. Pretty damn awesome.
At the same time, Summit’s Kathy Heddy was participating in an Olympic Trials warm-up meet in Long Beach, Calif., where she won six medals. At the end of June, Heddy then made the U.S. Olympic team in the pressure-packed trials. All of Summit was fired up for her as she headed to Montreal.
And while Willie Wilson was making his way up the Kansas City Royals farm system, Summit teammate George Gross was smashing the ball at the Univ. of Delaware, following up his .333 freshman campaign with a .330 average his sophomore year.
A few other assorted items from around town.
At The Strand, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea” were playing; the latter rather racy.
On the weather front, April saw all-time Union County records with a low of 18 on April 12, followed by a record high of 96 just six days later.
For $5.95 at the Hunt Club you could get a tossed salad, chicken cordon bleu, a delicious rice pilaf, layer cake and coffee. Such a deal!
Our Tempest school paper took a poll of grades 10-12 and found 98% said they had had an alcoholic drink. Of course the drinking age was 18 then.
Finally, on June 24 (I think), we graduated 372 in our class. Valedictorian was Greg Roux; class orator Tony Marks. I remember little of that evening….how ’bout you?
[OK, I remember a fair amount, including ending up at the Prestige Diner, but as Pink Floyd sang, “I was pretty (you know) at the time.”]
I’ll finish things on this chapter sometime in September.