The Famous Championship 1944 Don Bosco Ironmen Basketball Team
Seated L-R are Joe Ryzner, Ted Lemanski, Paul Mitras, John Dombrowski and Eugene Tylenda.Standing L-R are John Ryzner, Ed Wiezkiewicz, Bro. Henry Gauer, John Kolakowski, Gerald Heid, Walter Gorski, John Wolf, Matt Warlikowski, Martin Silver, Ken Taren and Frank Doyle.
It is because of the Don Bosco Prep Basketball Team of 1944 that our teams have ever since been known as Ironmen. Here is their story.
Don Bosco Ironmen Rode To Fame… in a Hearse
Reprinted from the Ridgewood News, March 25, 1965
By Bob Curley
Pep talk comes in all forms. There was the inspiration–style of Rockne; the mildness of Red Blaik and last Saturday the silence of Joe Lapchick.
Rockne got his teams fired up with fiery talks, but his most notable achievement was in telling his boys “to win one for the Gipper.”
Blaik rarely roared, yet his Army teams got the message. Lapchick didn’t ask his St. John’s team to win the ’65 NIT for him. The Redmen merely went out and did it on their own.
Today a squad of young men from Don Bosco High School, hope to bring a state championship back to their Ramsey campus. It’s doubtful whether Coach Dick O’Brien will issue a pep talk for there’s something about making the state finals that brings most teams “up.”
During the solitude of the three hour bus ride to Atlantic City some of the players will find comfort in reading, fingering a rosary or thinking of the Don Bosco Ironmen of 1944.
Who were these “Ironmen,” who with age, have become Supermen? Who were these boys in whose honor the school named its most valued athletic laurels?
The chances are that most of the team would, in today’s game, be rejected in tryouts for being too small. It’s true that the tallest, center Paul Mitros, was a shade under 6’3.” His mates were four mites who enjoyed running and shooting. But, Oh, how they shot and how they could run.
The Ironmen had many burning desires. There was an espirit de corps that was fostered at the altar rail. They enjoyed winning and wanted to prove that there was a place in basketball for the small man. Being of Polish descent, they wanted to overcome certain barriers with a ball, the way today’s minority groups march.
After playing together for three seasons under Brother Al Sokol’s coaching, "the Dons" had an impressive record. During the fabulous 1943-44 season the team was coached by another Salesian brother, Henry Gauer. They had a 55-game home court winning streak halted by St. Michael’s of Jersey City, but they rebounded to make it into two tournaments: the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic and the New Jersey Catholic Schools Athletic Association.
Once the Ramsey team had to play a late afternoon game in the NJC-SAA tournament in Jersey City. During the fourth period the jayvees were shipped off to Hawthorne to be on the floor at the appointed 7 pm for an NJSIAA game and thus avoid a forfeiture. Meanwhile the varsity, having completed its win, by-passed showers, jumped into sweat suits, and made it to Hawthorne in time to record their second winning start of the day.
It was a war year and bus transportation was a problem. However, the ingenious Salesian superiors managed to find a friendly undertaker and he conveyed the varsity to Hawthorne… in a hearse.
That wasn’t the only doubleheader victory for the Ironmen. They won the NJCSAA and North Jersey NJSIAA crowns the same day and the following night beat Camden Catholic for the state crown.
They were Ironmen all right. Mitros was the center and pivotman. Joe Ryzner and John Dabrowski played up front and Captain Ted Lemanski took care of the playmaking and Gene Tylenda was the shooting guard.
Tylenda went on to star at Niagara; Lemanski made it at Manhattan College and now is a civil engineer. Dabrowski matriculated at Seton Hall; Ryzner also reaped collegiate glory, and is a pharmacist at St. Mary’s Hospital, Passaic. Today folks in Pontiac, Mich., call the ex- Johns Hopkins star, Dr. Mitros.
These were the “Ironmen”… cast together, they rode to glory in a donated hearse.
Today the Don Bosco boys, cosmopolitan and no longer primarily of Polish descent, are riding in style. They have a chartered bus ($175) plus $150 in expense money from the State Association. Their greatest rooters are five guys: the original “Ironmen” and a secular priest in Rockville Center, NY, Father Gauer.