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Mar 13, 2018 2:26 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Celebrating The 50th Anniversary Of A Legendary Streak That May Never Be Surpassed

The 1968-69 Southampton boys basketball team. PRESS FILE
Mar 13, 2018 2:26 PM

Many may not realize it, but the East End is a mecca for high school boys basketball.

From East Hampton to Westhampton Beach and in between, each school has a long and successful history in the sport. But there are a set of teams from one particular era who arguably reign supreme.

From March 9, 1967, to March 7, 1970, the Southampton boys basketball teams won 61 consecutive games, a streak no public or private school in Nassau or Suffolk has ever been able to top.

During this time, teams were not divided by classes or small or large schools. There was a Section XI, or Suffolk County, Tournament, and that’s it. There wasn’t a Long Island Championship, let alone a state tournament. Winning a county title was difficult, though, since small schools, such as Southampton, usually had to play larger schools from western Suffolk at some point in the tournament. Southampton’s final loss of the 1960s came in the semifinals of the 1967 county tournament, with the Mariners losing a 10-point first half lead and eventually suffering a defeat at the hands of West Islip. Michael Mackey, who at the time was a West Islip student, and is now a Southampton resident and local historian, doesn’t hesitate to point out that West Islip’s win was aided by making 40 free throws off a record 51 fouls called against Southampton. Two nights later, in a consolation game against Half Hollow Hills, the streak of 61 straights wins began for the Mariners.

The following season, Southampton entered the playoffs 17-0 and consistently put up 100-point games, in 32 minutes of play, with no three-point line. That was due to the team’s tenacious full-court press, said Clarence “Foots” Walker, one of the stars of the team during those days. Walker was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the third round of the 1974 NBA Draft and recorded the franchise’s first ever triple-double.

“We speeded the game up, pressed the whole time, made a lot of steals, made a lot of baskets. We forced the other team into taking shots they didn’t normally take,” Walker explained of Southampton’s ferocious defensive style. “A lot of teams wanted to get into their plays but we never gave them a chance to. During that time no one was doing [the full-court press]. From the time they would take it out, we were on them.”

It was an All-East End county championship in 1968 when Southampton met with Pierson. The Mariners defeated the Whalers, 99-79, handing Pierson just its second loss of the season, both at the hands of Southampton.

The Mariners went on to win the 1969 county championship over Copiague and went into the 1970 county tournament undefeated, but were derailed in the quarterfinals by North Babylon, who not only ended the streak but went on to win the overall county title.

Many of the players who played or coached on those teams say while the streak is something they’re all very proud of, there was more to it than just winning. Many of them talk about the tight-knit Southampton community that supported the team, and all of the players felt like the team was more of a family, during a time when Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about the social injustices and issues surrounding the country.

That family aspect on the team, many players said, came from head coach Joe Romanosky. His son, Joe Romanosky Jr., who played on the team with his final year coming in 1967, took over as head coach for his late father in the 1990s, and later became Southampton Village Mayor from 1999-2006. Romanosky Jr. said his father treated all of his players like they were his own, which led to the family-like atmosphere on the team.

“The one thing the players were going to learn was discipline from my father, and he also taught them how to love each other, how to take care of each other, how to respect yourself, your family, your school. That’s what it was all about,” he explained. “Families were much tighter back then, and we had African-American families, Polish-American families, but it didn’t matter. When we met teams west of us, they didn’t see us coming.”

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Coach Romanosky, after serving the country in the Navy, returned home and got a scholarship to play football at St. Bonaventure. He was drafted by the Baltimore Colts, but with teaching being more lucrative at the time than playing professional football, Romanosky decided to teach and play semi-pro football on the weekends. Eventually Romanosky moved to Long Island and made his way east to Southampton, where he became head coach of the boys basketball team in the late 1950s. It was during that time he started to turn the program around, with the help of his assistant and right-hand man, Stanley Yastrzemski, after a long hiatus of success.

“Some of my fondest memories ... the top thing for me was playing under Coach Joe Romanosky,” Foots said. “He was not only a great coach but he put these teams together. We didn’t have any plays that I knew of, well we had some in-bounds plays, but the rest of it was just freestyle, just playing. He would give us a ball in practice and say, ‘do what you do.’

“Me and Ron Baxter were the so-called stars on those teams, but there were guys like Steve Fanning, Terry McNamara. We had several guys on those teams that at other schools they could have been stars,” he continued. “But we had great chemistry, everybody got along, there was no issues with color, we were always one, and part of that was because of Coach Romanosky.”

Terry McNamara, who just retired as an assistant coach on the current boys basketball team after 27 years, said one of the most important factors that led to the streak was the abundance of quality athletes during that time. There were nine players during that three-year span, he pointed out, who earned athletic scholarships to play sports in college. That included Tom Tarazevits, starting center on the 1969 team, who was a Carl A. Hansen Award winner as the top football player in Suffolk County and went to play at Harvard; Steve McMahon, a starter on the 1968 team, who earned a four-year football scholarship to New Mexico State; Steve Fanning and Terry McNamara, both key players on multiple teams during the streak, who each played basketball for four years at Quinnipiac; Jim McNamara, Terry’s brother who graduated in 1968, and was signed by the Atlanta Braves; Jim Romanosky, another of Coach Romanosky’s sons who also graduated in 1968, and went on to become the starting quarterback at Columbia University; Tim Rumph, starting center on the 1970 team,who earned a four-year football scholarship to Rutgers; Ron Baxter, one of the “stars” who graduated in 1968 and earned a four-year basketball scholarship to NYU; and, finally, Foots Walker, who went on to have a successful 10-year NBA career.

Ask many of the players if the streak will ever be broken and many of them will say not a chance.

“It’s a great record that I don’t think it’ll ever be dominated, but it wasn’t all about the record,” Romanosky Jr. said. “My father turned boys to men, and when they left Southampton High School they were capable of being successful going into the world.”

Look for a video of former players who met up on Friday, March 9, the anniversary of when the streak began, on 27east.com this week.

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I always heard about Foots Walker, never knew they won the 61 in a row. Who did they finally lose too? Was it a playoff game?
By icecreamman (415), Southampton on Mar 14, 18 8:52 AM
um read the article?
By Y2KBUG (11), Southampton on Mar 14, 18 4:20 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By icecreamman (415), Southampton on Mar 15, 18 12:10 PM
Somebody forgot Thomas Choo choo Woodby.
By zeke (28), southampton on Mar 14, 18 4:14 PM
Watching Foot,Terry,Steve and the rest of the crew dominate the local courts I also watched Foots at West Georgia college win the national championship.
All you guys were awesome. Thanks for the memories
By fish sticks (50), hampton bays on Mar 14, 18 6:22 PM
I logged in and was able to see the rest of the article and answer my question. What’s with the red ink? I found this article to be very interesting. I am a huge St. John’s fan and they are always beating up Mullin for not being an x’s and o’s Coach. I think it’s amazing that he just let them play without over coaching. My only question is that if Coach Romo wasn’t an x’s and o’s Coach, how did he learn and implement the press style of defense? ...more
By icecreamman (415), Southampton on Mar 15, 18 8:11 PM
I was born and raised in the Southampton area and lived there until 1971 when we left the area. I spent my first three years of high school at SHS. It was a thrill to read the article and see the photos and video. After a lapse of so many years, I had almost forgotten how awesome Mr. Romanosky and the SHS team were. Thanks for reporting the article.
By Ron Babula (2), Washington DC on Mar 15, 18 9:15 PM
I knew about this team including "Foots" since I became teammates with Steve "Beaver" Fanning at Quinnipiac in '69, Congrat's to the team and their beloved great Coach Romanoski, Got to be friends with many on the team during my yearly trips to Southampton, Terry Mc, Shaun Harrington and the great "Rab" (Fanning) who used to drive me around in his green truck bypassing the tourist roads and getting my fav sub (grinder) called "too much too soon". Is Katrinka's still there? Get down to Fellingham's, ...more
By Cas Grygorcewicz (1), Norwich on Mar 17, 18 3:30 PM
Tourism, local  shopping, dining, Hamptons