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Cal's Column: DelRossi's lifetime of memories started at "the courts"

05/23/2017, 10:45pm EDT
By Kevin Callahan, SJSD

DelRossi looks back at the good times and friendships he's made over the years

        Like the old firehouse horn that blared every night at 5 o’clock in his Pennsauken neighborhood, Frank DelRossi reliably recites names from the past with the precision of a grandfather clock and the passion of its chime.

         He seemingly knows everyone in South Jersey sports. You name someone and DelRossi either coached them, officiated one of their games or matches, administered a contest they participated or simply recalls a cool story from them like making a game-winning shot in his youth at “the courts.”

         Truly, Bishop Eustace Prep School’s affable assistant athletic director doesn’t just enjoy sports and the games, but he embraces the people who play the games, coaches the sports and officiates the action.

         DelRossi traces his affinity for all sports to a patch of asphalt in Pennsauken. There on “the courts” at 49th and River Road, DelRossi made lifelong friends playing pickup basketball games in the 1970’s.

         There were two courts across the street from each other – next to the firehouse, behind the gas station on the outskirt of right field of the little league diamond and the other closer to the river in an open patch of field. Whatever court had nets up at the time was used. The cotton nets didn’t last long at River Road. The games rolled past sun down in the summer and, man, the River Road Rats could shoot.

         At “the courts,” DelRossi played regularly against local legends who went on to play Division I basketball like Pennsauken High School’s wicked-dribbling Dan Gallagher at St. John’s University, Camden Catholic’s smooth-shooting Mike Hurley at Saint Joseph’s and Woodrow Wilson’s mad-bombing Dave “Goosh” Gousha, who led the nation in shooting percentage while in junior college. There was also Pennsauken’s rugged Dave Mebs, who played football at Wake Forest. And there was the slashing Mike McCracken, who played professional basketball overseas after being a reserve at Camden Catholic, and Irish guard Ricky Hurley, the brother of Mike.

         Sadly, McCracken and Ricky Hurley have passed away, but - uniquely like DelRossi - many of these River Road pickup players have gone onto become fixtures in South Jersey sports.

        Guys like Will and Rowland “Gus” George, who both played in the Baltimore Orioles minor league system and are long-time major league scouts. Like Joe and Robert Murtin, who starred in basketball at Camden Catholic and have been Irish assistant coaches for over 30 years now. And Louie Hays, who has coached Catholic Youth Organization basketball at Queen of Heaven school and now Resurrection parish for over three decades. And there is the ubiquitous Jeff “Dr. Z” Cohen, the assignor for Board 34 basketball refs and a football official, and Bobby “Boo” Brutschea, a veteran Board 34 ref.

        And, of course, there is DelRossi, who was recently inducted into the South Jersey Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

        “I just loved going there, waiting for school to end, or summer time and stay down there all day playing with all those guys,” said DelRossi, a long-time tennis coach, about the games at River Road. “The old fire horn would go off an it was, ‘ok, time for dinner’ and then we would run home and come back.”

        There is more than just a basketball bond between the River Road Rats even today. Tommy “T” Troncone still keeps the River Roaders on an email list for the latest beef-n-beer fundraiser.

        “People went different directions, like I went into tennis and the George’s went into baseball, but it was like one big family playing down there with all those guys,” added DelRossi, a 1977 graduate of Pennsauken High.

        “Even before we even played basketball, I would have to catch Will and Rowland,” said DelRossi. “I was on the blacktop trying to catch 95 mile per hour fastballs in a squat position.”

        The pickup games at River Road were backyard battles between brothers and neighbors. The games were fierce. Just shooting for “first ball” was intense because everyone wanted the lower rim (from guys trying to dunk in between games), the one across from the baseball field and closest to River Road, in the second half when the defense was tighter and the shots were line drives.

        All you had to do was make your team better to make a name for yourself and gain the respect of your Pennsauken peers at River Road. Guys like Perry Gambino, Pete Mussa, Jeff Hurley – another of the “Hurls” brothers - Steve Lineman, Keith and Kyle “Bone” Mitchell, as well as the late Dominic “Duke” Murtin –the third of the Murts - and Joe “Butch” Dionne were all fierce competitors and coveted teammates since “winners” stayed on the courts.

        And River Road had its own “commissioner” as Guy Chalmers rated the players, making up odds on the game when players from Farnham Park or Dudley Grange would arrive for a run.

        “Cars would pull up to play us and we would send them home,” DelRossi said with Pennsauken pride of the out-of-towners from nearby East Camden, Cramer Hill and Delair and sharpshooters like Jimmy “Rob” Robinson from The Pit on the “rich” side of Pennsauken, who dared to challenge the River Road Rats.

        DelRossi, who was a nationally ranked tennis player at Pennsauken, started coaching men’s tennis as the head coach of Richard Stockton when he was 18-years-old back in the late 1970’s when he was going to school at Rowan University.

        “I went to California to get certified to teach tennis and I just fell in love with the teaching part of it is that is all I wanted to do, to teach and coach tennis,” said DelRossi. “I never thought I would coach high school, my goal was to be a teaching pro at a club.”

        DelRossi started the Paul VI tennis program in the early 1980’s before he took a break from coaching and umpired baseball and officiated basketball and soccer before returning to coaching tennis again at Bishop Eustace.

        In addition to coaching tennis and serving as an assistant athletic director at Bishop Eustace, DelRossi also assisted Sam Tropiano in baseball.

        “He coached baseball for 10 years with me,” Tropiano said. “He is tremendous, they don’t come any better. He is so virtuous. Frank and his family are just virtuous people.”

         DelRossi was the head coach of the girls’ tennis team at Eustace from its inception in 1995 to 2008 when he became the assistant AD at Eustace.

         The Crusaders reached the state tennis finals in 2001 and 2002 under DelRossi. Eustace won state baseball titles in baseball in 2002, 2004 and 2006 with DelRossi on the bench.

         DelRossi and his wife, Kathy, live in Medford and have raised three athletic and academically excellent children who have graduated from Bishop Eustace - Andrew (2006), Allegra (2009) and Amanda (2015).

         Besides his ties to sports from River Road, his uncle, Frank, was a longtime high school umpire and coached St, Joseph’s Camden in basketball. His father, Angelo, was a well-known Pennsauken Youth Athletic Association umpire.

         “My father used to take me to the old Camden Convention Hall to watch the games,” DelRossi said about the old City Series games between St. Joe’s, Camden, Woodrow Wilson and Camden Catholic.

          DelRossi also found time to coach on the Pennsauken American Legion team, coach the Delaware Valley National Travel Team, serve as the baseball commissioner for the Medford Youth Athletic Association and serve as Assistant Director of the Scholastic Baseball Camp.

          “No one out works Frank,” Tropiano said. “He is just a fantastic guy.”

          It’s his family work ethic DelRossi refined at River Road where he battled his neighborhood pals - lifelong friends and iconic South Jersey sports figures, too - just to stay “winners” and play in one-more game before the fire horn sounded for dinner.

           Both courts at River Road are long gone. But the friendships and the involvement in sports of so many River Road Rats beat on like ancestral drums in the distance. And “the courts” spirit is being passed onto so many young athletes all over South Jersey who weren’t even born yet when the last ball passed through the netless bent rim on the other side of River Road.

            And, when he thinks of River Road, DelRossi can still hear the firehouse horn signaling grand days growing up and playing pickup ball in Pennsauken, with memories that will never miss to stir emotions, when every day was good like a game-point jumper by Goosh or Gus, by Boo or Bone, by Duke or Butch, by the Murts or the Hurls. 

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