St. Alphonsus an unlikely CHSL champion 40 years ago

Don Horkey

Don Horkey

DETROIT — You couldn’t blame nine spectators at U-D Mercy’s Calihan Hall a month ago who weren’t paying much attention to what was going on in the CHSL boys basketball championship games.

With every basket, with every referee’s whistle, with every roar of the crowd, their minds traveled back 40 years ago — to Feb. 22, 1976 — when they wore the royal blue and gold uniforms of the Dearborn St. Alphonsus Arrows for a 52-47 victory over Detroit St. Hedwig for the Second Division crown.

“We were really young,” said coach John Verdura, who came in from Texas for the reunion. “But they were hard working. I didn’t realize until one of the guys told me that the day off after we beat St. Hedwig was our first day off since Christmas.”

It was a season-long uphill struggle for the Arrows. They started out 0-6, regrouped to finish 4-6 in the league (7-10 overall) and relied on their new-found confidence to qualify for the CHSL title by pulling off a 44-43 upset of Royal Oak St. Mary and a 58-46 decision over Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes.

Senior co-captain Tom Hurley, of Livonia, remembers: “Some say we got lucky with the St. Mary center missing that last-second shot. To that I say: we were due a break!”

Besides Hurley, the team roster included seniors Lance Gilmore, Jeff Rowinski, Bob Bochnek and Tim Butler; juniors Karl Riley, Joe Lopez, Todd Jeffrey, Gerry Burke, Rich Balogh, Terry Butler and Paul Ponik; and sophomores Onofre Gonzales and Mike Kneffel. Pat Sieszputowski and Vic Michaels were assistant coaches, and Tom Rashid, the trainer.

Noteworthy: Verdura coached 28 years in the CHSL, the last 18 at Riverview Gabriel Richard, before retiring to the southwest. Rashid directed the CHSL from 1988 to 2003 and was succeeded by Michaels, who currently holds the position.

CHSL winter champions

Here is the honor roll of CHSL champions for 2015-16 winter sports:

COMPETITIVE CHEERLEADING: Dearborn Divine Child won the Bishop Division for the 14th year in a row, while Wixom St. Catherine was a first-time winner in the Cardinal Division.

POM PON: Divine Child successfully defended its Bishop Division title. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep won the Cardinal Division for the first time since 2007 and 2008.

WRESTLING: Novi Detroit Catholic Central won its 21st consecutive CHSL championship.

BOYS SKIING: Detroit Catholic Central nipped Notre Dame Prep by a point to win the title, its first in five years.

GIRLS SKIING: Bloomfield Hills Marian easily captured their seventh consecutive CHSL title.

BOYS BOWLING: Detroit Catholic Central won the East Division title, while Allen Park Cabrini took the West crown, the first CHSL bowling championship in its history.

GIRLS BOWLING: Warren Regina and Cabrini successfully defended their 2015 championships: the Saddlelites the East Division and Cabrini, the West title.

BOYS HOCKEY: Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice won the Division I title, and Ann Arbor Fr. Gabriel Richard the Division II title.

GIRLS HOCKEY: Farmington Hills Mercy won its second championship in the last three years.

GIRLS BASKETBALL: Bloomfield Hills Marian led Farmington Hills Mercy from start to finish for its second straight A-B title, while Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes defeated Madison Heights Bishop Foley for the C-D crown.

BOYS BASKETBALL: University of Detroit Jesuit breezed past Warren De La Salle for its fourth consecutive CHSL A-B championship. Royal Oak Shrine outhustled Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes for its first C-D title since 1978.

BOYS SWIMMING: Brother Rice won its 25th consecutive CHSL title, winning eight of 12 events. Catholic Central finished runner-up for the 8th year in a row.

Don Horkey may be reached at [email protected].