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A few days before the big football game against Chittenango, the star of the Norwich basketball team, Bob Lazor, announced that he was going to attend Syracuse the next year, unaware that he might be tempting Ed Ackley's fate. But Lazor, by all accounts, is the real deal. The 6'9" son of a P&G executive, Lazor has a nice touch from the outside and is often compared to Christian Laettner. In the Class B championship game last March, he scored 19 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter to help Norwich erase a 15-point deficit against St. Joseph's. But the victory wasn't Lazor's alone. He was part of an extraordinary junior class of athletes that the townspeople had been following for quite some time—Wightman, James, Maynard, Burton et al. "We've known for years how special these kids are," says basketball coach Mark Abbott. Consequently, as time went on, and more and more jobs were lost, the town put a larger emotional investment in the kids.
"In our last few games," says Abbott, "we'd get 4,000 people traveling 3½ hours to West Point and three hours to Glens Falls. When we finally went ahead in that last game, our fans gave us so much energy that I knew we had the game won. And they stayed with us all the way home. It was eerie, just like that scene in the movie Hoosiers."
Will the '93 football team go down in Norwich history, as well? If it does, it will have to survive the loss of 250-pound senior lineman Matt Ryan, who went down with an ankle injury early in the second quarter. The offense can't put the ball in the end zone, despite several fine catches by Wightman, and the defense finally breaks down with 1:57 left in the half. Chittenango's extra point is good, and the Bears (how about the Scarecrows or the Munchkins?) lead 7-6 at halftime.
"You show up, and they start losing again."
It's my old skipper, Tom Rowe. When I played for Rowe's O's, Tom was selling men's clothing at Winan's on Broad Street. After I left Norwich, The Evening Sun went through sports editors as if they were, well, old newspapers, until 1980 when it hired Tom Rowe. He has been there ever since, Good manager, good man. Good sports editor, too, even though he did spend the first half in the press box.
We compare notes on those marathon Sunday and Tuesday nights. Because of Title IX, he has many more game stories to write than I did. He tells me that Charlie Wightman is the son of Charlie Wightman who used to play with us in the People's Softball League. I ask him about several of our Softball contemporaries, including first baseman Chuck Bessett, who is a Norwich policeman. "This is going to make you feel old," says Tom, "but Chuck is retiring next month as the Sidney police chief."
The PSL was a lighter, counterculture version of the more conservative Chenango Valley Softball League. The CVSL had teams sponsored by many of the major industries in town, and the quality of play was far superior to the PSL's. Norwich Shoe, in particular, had a great team because of its fireballing fireplug of a pitcher, Rocky Nuzzolese. Nobody knocked the Rock. I can still see him flicking the ball against his thigh, sending another unseen strike past the batter.
Norwich softball was big, all right. And good. One day in the late 70s, the King—Eddie Feigner—and his Court came to town, and Willie Brunton of Norwich Shoe shut them out for five innings. The final score was 3-2, Norwich Shoe. The King never came back.
I knew that the PSL had died some time ago, but Tom informs me that the CVSL is also no more. Say it ain't so, Rowe. "It's like a metaphor for the town," he says. "No more industry. No more softball. The diehards play down in Sidney now, but it's just not the same. And neither is Norwich. The corporations and holding companies came in and gutted the businesses that started here. Gone are the days when the president of a company and the janitor were friends because they played on the football team together.
"But at least we've got these teams. You haven't jinxed us, have you?"