OCEAN CITY MEMORIES with John Cranston

This is the latest in a series of sports memories contributed by the student-athletes of the past – the people who were part of the great high school sports moments.

John Cranston was the captain of Ocean City High School’s last state championship boys basketball team. When he graduated, his 800 career points trailed only Ken Leary and Mike Fadden in OCHS history and, in his senior year he scored the second most points all-time by a Raider at that time and set assist records.

By JOHN CRANSTON

I was honored when Tom Williams asked me to write about my favorite memory related to Ocean City High School sports. The difficulty was coming up with just one. After giving it lots of thought, I had to choose my involvement with Coach Dixie Howell and, in particular, being part of his 1964 state championship boys basketball team.

I was fortunate to play on, and be chosen captain of, Ocean City High School’s second, and most recent, boys basketball state championship team. The championship game was played Saturday March 21, 1964 in the Atlantic City Convention Hall against North Arlington High School and we won, 75-51. Coincidentally OCHS’ first state championship, also coached by Dixie in 1955, was at the expense of North Arlington by two points in overtime.

From 1955 through 1962 OCHS won the Cape-Atlantic League championship eight years in a row. We lost to Pleasantville my junior year in a playoff, which is my least favorite memory, but that is another story. If someone had predicted we would be playing for a state championship the next season I believe they would have been laughed out of town.

We only had two experienced players (Randy Fox and me) coming back. In addition, our early schedule was very difficult. Our first eight games included two with Mainland and one with Wildwood, our toughest league rivals. Both teams were loaded that year. Mainland had Skip Castaldi, maybe the League’s best player, and the Wertley brothers, Richard and Buddy. Wildwood had players like Chuck James, Harry Snyder, and Bruce DeHaven. We lost all three games to those teams. We were competitive, losing the three games by a combined 13 points, but with five wins and three losses we were off to the worst start for a Dixie Howell coached team since the 1952 season, his first and only losing season at OCHS.

The 1963-64 state champions!

So, there we were facing a mediocre season. Then Dixie sat us down and explained how we were going to win the rest of our games. A combination of hard work and personal attention from the coaching staff. The application of positive reinforcement and sheer force of his personality brought us around to reaching our full potential. Dixie told us over and over he was happy to take the blame for losses and give us the credit for wins. He also said that we would have to do the work and, more importantly, put the team first in order to be successful. Everyone bought into that primarily because not one of us wanted to disappoint Dixie.

In those days Ocean City basketball was big-time. All of the young boys wanted to play for Dixie when they got to the high school. He had a program before that was a fashionable term. We started playing Dixie’s system – his offenses and defenses – in after school sports programs in the fourth grade. Elementary school teachers Dave Streaser and Berwyn Hughes coached us up through the sixth grade. The result of all this was that when we got to junior high less time was spent on teaching the system or basketball fundamentals. The concentration was on developing our knowledge of Ocean City Basketball, team focus and refining skills.

In addition, Dixie got the VFW to sponsor a basketball league at the converntion hall for the young kids. The Chatterbox Restaurant sponsored a traveling team, coached by Tom Williams, that gave us experience playing against other cities’ kids and traveling to other gyms. And there was the invaluable support and mentorship provided by Dixie’s alumni players. Former players like Ken Leary, Tommy Adams, Mike and Gerry Fadden, Dave Farina and Brad Wickes were always around providing us with support and showing us that we were part of that program.

Finally, Dixie ran the Ocean City Recreation Department’s Summer Basketball League. He entered the rising OCHS team members in the league as the Ocean City Hawks. Not surprising, we were the only high school team he would allow in the league, much to the disgust of other local high schools. As a result we were constantly playing as a team against older, experienced players, some of whom were very good. I remember playing against Matt Goukas from Saint Joseph’s as well as many other strong players from Atlantic City and Philadelphia.

Dixie Howell was a great coach, a great organizer/manager and a brilliant motivator. All of the aforementioned factors came into play for our team as we proceeded to win 10 games in a row after that 5-3 start before losing to a tough Atlantic City team in their gym. Two of our starters, Randy Fox and Ed McClain, missed that game with injuries or we might have beaten them, too. In our last game of the season we beat a very good Haddonfield team by 15 points. The key to the successful end to our regular season was the development of players like McClain, Bill Haynes, Barry Banks, and John Laudenslager, who is probably the best sixth man in OCHS history. So going into the State Tournament we were on a good track.

The captain

Some highlights of the tournament games we played: Bill Haynes set the OCHS single-game rebounding record of 35 against Sterling in our first game; Barry Banks held Glassboro’s Tim Wright, a 1,300-point career scorer, to eight point in the South Jersey final; in the semifinal game against Dunellen, Barry shut down their 1,000-point score, Craig Robinson, as well. All five starters were averaging in double figures throughout the advance to the state final. Haynes and McClain had control of the boards and Randy Fox was outstanding in all of the games. As the final approached, the town and school went crazy supporting us.

There were banners in all of the stores, the town painted the street in front of OCHS red and white, and super-fan and barber Mike Lombardi was giving us all our lucky haircuts before the game. At Convention Hall, before the state final even started, Dixie was working his coaching magic. He got word that North Arlington was delayed. Our dressing rooms were up a flight of stairs and he had us line up at the top of the stairs in order of height – Big Bill Haynes, Ed McClain, and Jim Wimberg leading the way. As North Arlington arrived at the bottom of the stairs he had us start down the steps. So our height was magnified by their perspective looking up at us from the bottom of the stairs. Berwyn Hughes told me after the game that he heard one of their players remark that we were “huge”. Dixie sought every small advantage.

The game was close in the first half; the score was 26-19 with a few seconds left. We had the ball out of bounds under their basket. But the in-bounds play broke down as their defense batted the ball into the far left corner. I chased it down just before the ball went out of bounds and put up a left handed hook shot which, of course, went in after bouncing around on the rim a few times. I would like to say that it was not just a lucky shot, but most people would not believe that.

Now Dixie really worked his magic by calming us down at half time. We thought we had it won after that shot but he cautioned us that they were a good team and would not go easily. So we were ready when they came out in the third quarter and played us even. At the break between quarters Dixie gave us a pep talk, though, and we proceeded to outscore North Arlington in the fourth quarter, 35-19, to put them away. As I said earlier, no one wanted to disappoint Dixie.

Dixie is carried off the bench by John Cranston and Bill Haynes – along with Butch Gleason, Bud Swan and Barry Banks – as the game ended.

The game, and especially the last quarter, was a real team effort. At the end, all of the starters (except Haynes) had scored at least 14 points. Bill had seven while shutting down their star, Tony Cordileone, in the fourth quarter. Randy Fox had the game of his life with 21 points, I scored 19, McClain had 15 and Banks put in 14. Haynes and McClain controlled the boards and Barry played his usual great defense.

We were greeted back home by chaos, culminating in Dixie being thrown into the OCHS swimming pool followed by nearly everyone else nearby. Apparently, that is exactly what the 1955 Champions did upon their return. Good footsteps to follow.

This experience has served me well throughout my life. I developed life-long friendships that remain to this day. I am still in contact with many of the players from the 1964 team and even some competitors. I speak regularly with Barry Banks and Ed McClain, who became a pastor, officiated at my daughter’s wedding in 2009. Until their deaths I remained close to Dixie, Bill Haynes and Randy Fox. I co-coached my daughter’s youth team with Randy, whose daughter also played. Yes, they ran some of Dixie’s sets. And Mainland’s Skip Castaldi is still my close friend.

I have been so lucky to have had these experiences and these people in my life. I would not trade my memories for anything.

By the way, I just have to say it. That hook shot at the end of the half against North Arlington? Not a heave, throw or Hail Mary. No luck involved. Just skill. Anyway, that’s my story and I am sticking to it.

Years later, John (second from left) was there along with Bud Rinck, Dave Farina and Tom Adams when Dixie Howell was inducted into the South Jersey Basketball Hall of Fame.

You can read previous High School Sports Memories by Skip Castaldi, Joe LaRosa and Ken Weaver HERE.

or basketball fundamentals. The concentration was on developing our knowledge of Ocean City Basketball, team focus, and re fi ning skills. In addition, Dixie got the VFW to sponsor a basketball league for the young kids which played at the convention hall. The Chatterbox Restaurant sponsored a traveling Team, coached by Tom Williams, that gave us experience playing against other cities’ kids and traveling to other gyms. And there was the invaluable support and mentorship provided by Dixie’s alumni players. Former players like Ken Leary, Tommy Adams, Mike and Gerry Fadden, Dave Farina, and Brad Wickes were always around providing us with support and showing us that we were part of that “program”. Finally, Dixie ran the Ocean City Recreation Department’s Summer basketball league. He entered the rising OCHS team members in the league as the Ocean City Hawks. Not surprising, we were the only high school team he would allow in the league much to the disgust of other local high schools. As a result we were constantly playing as a team against older experienced players some of whom were very good. I remember playing against Matt Goukas from Saint Josephs as well as many other strong players from Atlantic City and Philadelphia. Dixie Howell was a great coach, a great organizer/manager, and a brilliant motivator. All of the aforementioned factors came into play for our team and we proceeded to win ten games in a row before losing to a tough Atlantic City team in their gym. Two of our starters, Randy Fox and Ed McClain missed that game with injuries or we might have beaten them too. In our last game of the season we beat a very good Haddon fi eld team by 15 points. The key to our successful season end was the development of players like McClain, Bill Haynes, Barry Banks, and John Laudenslager who is probably the best sixth man in OCHS history. So going into the State Tournament we were on a good track. Some highlights of the tournament games we played: Bill Haynes set the OCHS single game rebounding record of 35 against Sterling in our fi rst game; Barry Banks held Glassboro’s Tim Wright, a 1300 point career scorer, to eight point in the South Jersey fi nals; in the Semi fi nal game against Dunellen, Barry shut down their 1000 point score Craig Robinson as well. All fi ve starters were averaging in double fi gures throughout the advance to the fi nals. Haynes and McClain had control of the boards and Randy Fox was outstanding in all of the games. As the fi nal approached, the town and school went crazy supporting us. There were banners in all of the stores, the town painted the street in front of OCHS red and white, and Super-fan barber Mike Lombardi was giving us all our lucky haircut before the game. Before the State fi nal even started Dixie was working his coaching magic. He got word that North Arlington was delayed. Our dressing rooms were up a fl ight of stairs and he had us line up at the top of the stairs in order of height, Big Bill Haynes, Ed McClain, and Jim Wimberg leading the way. As North Arlington arrived at the bottom of the stairs he had us start down the steps. So our height was magni fi ed by their perspective looking up at us from the bottom of the stairs. Berwyn Hughes told me ​after the game that he heard one of their players remark that we were “huge”. Dixie sought every small advantage. The game was very close in the fi rst half; the score was 26-19 with a few seconds left. We had the ball out of bounds under their basket. But the in-bounds play broke down as the defense batted the ball into the far left corner. I chased it down just before the ball went out of bounds and put up a left handed hook shot which of course went in after bouncing around on the rim a few times. I would like to say that it was not just a lucky shot, but most people would not believe that. Now Dixie really worked his magic by calming us down at half time. We thought we had it won after that shot ,but he cautioned us that they were a good team and would not go easily. So we were ready when they came out in the third quarter and played us even. At the break between quarters Dixie gave us a “pep” talk though, and we proceeded to outscore North Arlington in the fourth quarter 35-19 to put them away. As I said earlier, no one wanted to disappoint Dixie. The game, and especially the last quarter, was a real team e ff ort. At the end all of the starters except Haynes had scored at least fourteen points and Bill had seven while shutting down their star, Tony Cordileone, in the fourth quarter. Randy Fox had the game of his life with 21 points, I scored 19, McClain had 15, and Banks put in 14. Haynes and McClain controlled the boards and Barry played his usual great defense. We were greeted back home by chaos, culminating in Dixie being thrown into the OCHS swimming pool followed by nearly everyone else nearby. Apparently that is exactly what the 1955 Champions did upon their return. Good footsteps to follow. This experience has served me well throughout my life. I developed life-long friendships that remain to this day. I am still in contact with many of the players from the 1964 team and even some competitors. I speak regularly with Barry Banks. Ed McClain, who became a pastor, o ffi ciated at my daughter’s wedding in 2009. Until their deaths I remained close to Dixie, Bill Haynes and Randy Fox. I co-coached my daughter’s youth team with Randy whose daughter also played. Yes they ran some of Dixie’s sets. And Mainland’s Skip Castaldi is still my close friend. I have been so lucky to have had these experiences and these people in my life. I would not trade my memories for anything. By the way, I just have to say it. That hook shot at the end of the half against North Arlington? Not a heave, throw, or Hail Mary. No luck involved. Just skill. Anyway, that’s my story and I am sticking to it.

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