To give you an idea of the times, in 1961, John F. Kennedy was President. The East Germans put up the Berlin Wall, cutting off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany. United States-backed forces had failed in their bid to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, presaging the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962, and Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had made the first orbit of Earth by a human.
In Sayville, it was Ken Weinbel’s last year as head coach of the football team. The Suffolk County Coaches Association named him coach of the year for 1961. He left his job as one of the high school’s physical education teachers to become a coach at the NCAA Division III Colby College in Waterville, Me. The team may have presented this football to Coach Weinbel in appreciation of all he had done to make Sayville football a true winner.
Beating Harborfields by a score of 36-13 brought Sayville to share the league championship with Babylon and Harborfields. Harborfields had been undefeated until Sayville beat them in the big game. Babylon had just squeaked by Sayville in the second game of the season, 13-7. Despite having to share the crown, at the close of the season many coaches believed Sayville to be the top team in Suffolk County. From the team’s inception in 1928, the 1961 season produced the best won-lost record Sayville ever had. At the time, there were no playoffs.
People stopped to congratulate team members on the street. Frances Munsell, owner of Frances’s Sweet Shoppe on the corner of Main Street and Candee Avenue (now Rumpelstiltskins Yarns), gave all the players free ice cream sodas after the game. On Dec. 20, 1961, the parents sponsored a victory dinner attended by many in the community. Lou Howard, the legendary coach from Amityville High School, was the guest speaker who lauded the Sayville team’s spirit and dedication. Sayville businessman and town personality Cy Bebee served as emcee. On Thursday, Jan. 18, the Sayville Rotary Club entertained the entire team for a victory lunch at Land’s End.
Star player Bernie Kolar was a good example of someone who thrived under Weinbel’s coaching. Kolar was named to the All-Suffolk team and the Prep-High School All-American team for his performance both as an interior lineman and especially as a defensive end. His certificate of remarkable accomplishment hung in the gym’s office window, serving to encourage others.
Co-captains, guard Wayne Locurto and halfback Richie Cestaro, were the team’s heart and soul. Both boys were tough as nails, but complimented Weinbel and Carpenter in drawing the most possible from their teammates. Locurto won All-Suffolk honors for his play at guard and defensive end. Cestaro and tackle Gary Conklin received all-league honors. Others, like fullback Ralph Ranghelli, end Steve Zegel and halfback Jimmy Heyman, were outstanding performers, but there could only be so many all-league players from one team. As a 14-year-old starting right end and defensive halfback, I felt honored just to be on the same field with these guys.
I recall late one Saturday morning, before a home game, the team arrived together in the parking lot near the gym. We proceeded as a group around the back corner of the gym and literally bumped into three Sayville High School “tough guys” tearing down and ripping up “Go Team” signs put up by the pep club. The three, all of whom had a well-known reputation as troublemakers, immediately stopped what they were doing. The entire team moved purposely toward the miscreants. The three immediately dropped their “tough guy” personas and begged forgiveness, insisting they didn’t mean to insult anyone. As I recall it, before the situation could get out of hand, Wayne and Richie stepped up and took charge. They told the three they could go, but they were to never again act the way they had or there would be a price to pay. The three literally ran off without saying another word. The confrontation was peacefully resolved and proved a good lesson for everyone.
Assistant coach Charlie Carpenter took over from Weinbel as head coach and continued to field league championship teams. When not coaching, Carpenter was the chemistry and earth science teacher. He would later become principal of the high school. George Zeller, the high school algebra and trigonometry teacher, also helped coach during games. Zeller was the freshman football coach and a Vince Lombardi-style motivator. At one point, he had a string of more than 35-straight victories.
Sayville High School principal, Tillman “Tilly” Wenk, had been the football coach from 1934 through 1936. He was overjoyed with the team’s success. The “Wenkmen” had been 2-16-2 in his three seasons.
The Harborfields victory and the shared league championship, combined with the overwhelming community support, put Sayville football on the path to 60 more years of great high school football.