Skip to main content

George Cafiso, Two-Time Hall of Fame Inductee

Thu, 09/21/2023 - 06:11
George Cafiso is to be inducted for the second time into East Hampton High School’s Hall of Fame on Dec. 9.
Jack Graves

George Cafiso, 88, who is about to be inducted into East Hampton High School’s Hall of Fame for the second time, as a member of its 1953-54 boys basketball team that went 16-2 during the course of a league championship season, stopped by The Star the other day to talk about that team and about the Hall of Fame 1952 football team on which he also played.

As for the football team, “Fran Kiernan and Dick Morrisey were great coaches, really good coaches. Oh yes, they respected the players, but when they told you to do something you’d do it. . . . There were two brothers, Stevie and Charlie Kaiser, from Montauk. They were terrific. One was a guard, one was an end. Dave Kierstein, whose father owned a plumbing store on North Main Street, was fantastic. He was on the line with Dick Cooper, John Tilley, Bobby Lynch, the father of Steve, the highway superintendent, Jim Clark, Don Bovie. . . . You didn’t fool with those big guys. If you ever wanted to have guys in front of you, they were the ones.”

“Fred Yardley was the right halfback, I was the left halfback, Fred’s brother, Bob, was the quarterback, and my brother, Frank, was the fullback, until he ran into Jim Clark’s raised elbow in the South Huntington game, which broke his nose. We didn’t have face guards then.”

From a photo of the 1952 team that had been handed to him, he picked out others. “Frank Dragotta, Dick Sage, Russell Peele, Joe Brubaker, Dave Cheney, Billy DeBoard, Fritz Schenck, Charlie Gould, Bob Taylor, Ernie Green. . . .”

At a reunion at the South Fork Country Club in Amagansett in October 2002 that honored Kiernan, he was uniformly praised by the men who had played football, basketball, and baseball for him in his long career here, which began in 1945.

“I don’t know what I would have done were it not for Coach Kiernan and sports,” Clark, the leading extra-point kicker in the county in his playing days, said at that party. “He saved me, and that goes for a lot of the others here.”

When asked before the speeches began why the 1952 team had been so good, Bob Yardley said, “We had a great coach, we loved to play the game, and we had a burning desire to win.”

To which Fred Yardley added, “We all happened to arrive at the same time, but it didn’t just happen: He had been opening the gym for us at 7 every morning before school began since the time we were in the fifth grade.”

Cafiso, whose handshake this writer can attest remains firm, said, “We didn’t call him Coach Kiernan, we called him Coach. He was the only one to win a championship at Herrick Park. I think there should be a plaque for him there. I’ve mentioned it to people. . . .”

“Steve Marley was our number-one fan club . . . in anything we did, football, basketball, and baseball. He was a good baseball player, by the way. In football he was always pushing me.”

Games at the park, said the interviewee, would draw several hundred fans, including “Tony Cangiolosi, Carl Schaefer, Mrs. Bovie, Mrs. Tilley. . . . They were right there on the sidelines, we had a good following. . . . No, we didn’t give up many points. Not with that line. Those two years I played on the varsity went by too fast.”

In his senior year, 1953, Cafiso, who weighed all of 132 pounds, led the county in scoring with 84 points in six games, and Clark finished as the county’s leading extra-point kicker for the second year in a row. That team’s sole loss came at Greenport owing to “a forward lateral that everybody saw. Everybody, even guys on their team, stopped in their tracks. But there were no cameras — you couldn’t complain. What could you do?”

As for the 1953-54 basketball team, which was coached by Carl Johanson, Cafiso, after looking at a roster that Hugh King of the Hall of Fame committee had supplied, naming him, Tilley, Clark, Bovie, Bob Yardley, Webb, Jim McMullan, Bob Collins, Kierstein, Richard Sage, and Richard LeVesconte, said, “Yes, that’s right on. Jim McMullan had a terrific hook shot. Dave Webb was great on defense. Don Bovie was a forward — you couldn’t beat him in basketball. I was a guard, with Bob Yardley, who was the playmaker. Jim Clark was a forward, John Tilley was the center. . . . It was a good team, we were league champs. We lost to Huntington in the county championship game in our division, in Patchogue. It was tied at the half, but two or three of our big players fouled out and we finally lost 70-50. The fans were right behind us. . . .

Again, just like football, we started out as kids. In fifth grade we used to practice at the school, and we played at Bob and Fred’s house on McGuirk Street, in the driveway. Their father put a light out there. We had fun, nobody got hurt, we had a good time, and we got to know each other.”

When the subject of the Town of East Hampton’s 375th anniversary came up, Cafiso, a shortstop and third baseman on Bonac’s baseball team who had tryouts with the New York Yankees, the Detroit Tigers, and the St. Louis Browns, said, with a smile, “I was at the 300th. Fanny Gardiner wore a beautiful white gown. . . . It was 1948. I was 12. We used to come out here on vacation from Staten Island in the ‘40s, and then we moved out here when I was in the fifth grade. My dad ran the cleaners on North Main Street.”

It was only recently, two years ago, in fact, at the age of 86, that he really retired. In February of 1991, he retired from a 30-and-a-half-year career in the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, and then, following a brief hiatus at home where he found he “couldn’t sit still,” he came out of retirement to work as a security guard for London Jewelers here, a job that he intended to last from two to three years, but which, in the end, lasted 21. “I still go back three or four times a week to say hello to people.”

He would try to make Saturday’s homecoming game, Cafiso said, perhaps with Clark and Webb, and maybe the 100th anniversary of Bonac football party afterward at the Clubhouse in Wainscott.

“Those were good days,” he said of growing up in East Hampton. “We concentrated on sports — we had good teams, good coaches. . . .”

As he got up to go, he said with a smile, “They can’t take our memories from us.”

He stopped to add that he and his wife, Elizabeth, are to celebrate their 64th anniversary on Tuesday. “They’ve been 64 wonderful, wonderful years.”

Your support for The East Hampton Star helps us deliver the news, arts, and community information you need. Whether you are an online subscriber, get the paper in the mail, delivered to your door in Manhattan, or are just passing through, every reader counts. We value you for being part of The Star family.

Your subscription to The Star does more than get you great arts, news, sports, and outdoors stories. It makes everything we do possible.