Castle left a legacy at Saint Francis

Commentary

By Robert Moore

John “Harry” Castle never played a minute of college basketball for Saint Francis, nor do most fans who have followed the sport at the school likely have any memory of him.

For the most part, he operated just behind the scenes, acting in the role as team manager.

Castle, 75, a 1964 graduate of Saint Francis, passed away last month after a lengthly illness, his work on behalf of his alma mater long and honorable if largely unknown.

But as former Frankie head coach John Clark said upon hearing the news of his death: “Anyone associated with Saint Francis College during its glory days of basketball will be sad to hear about the passing of Harry Castle.”

Castle had been the college’s basketball manager years before Clark arrived, but anyone at Saint Francis who was in any way involved in its basketball program was familiar with Harry.

In many ways, his time at St. Francis was a defining moment in his life.

He stayed attached to the school up until the time of his death, communicating with current coach Rob Krimmel, offering words of encouragement after a defeat or congratulations following a victory.

Castle’s relationship with his alma mater was one of intense caring. He had been more than the manager, more than just responsible for laundering uniforms, rounding up the basketballs and towels, or distributing practice schedules.

Although Skip Hughes was the head coach and had a well established reputation as the man who had built the college into something of an eastern basketball power, the person who had the closest contact with the team and was often the coach’s go-between to his players was Castle.

Hughes was a full-time dentist in nearby Hollidaysburg and had few if any assistants.

In their place, Castle filled a number of roles usually associated with what we know today are duties assigned to the director of basketball operations, or to any of the growing number of assistant coaches that we see tightly stacked side-by-side next to the head coach during games.

In time, he accreted himself around the program like ivy to an oak, his services becoming indispensable both to its functioning and to the needs of the head coach.

“Harry had a unique relationship with coach Hughes,” remembered Gene DeBerardinis, who served as a co-captain on Saint Francis teams during the 1960s and is a member of the university’s athletic hall of fame. “Coach knew Harry understood the game and often sought his opinion.”

Castle moved easily between the worlds of coach and student.

On inclement weather days when the coach couldn’t make it up the mountain to Loretto for practice, Castle often had to fill in alerting the players the coach would be absent, and then act in some stand-in role for him.

He was the money-man on basketball road trips, remembers former player John McKendry.

These were the days before wholesale use of credit cards and Castle would carry around what McKendry called, “a wad of cash with him” to handle the team’s bills.

“You would always see Harry handling the payment for the hotels,” McKendry said, “handing out per diem to the players, taking care of the bus, whatever needed to be done.”

Like most boys growing up in Philadelphia in the 1950s, he had deep basketball roots. Later, as a high school teacher and coach there, he came to know the players from the area — lots of players — and he carried that knowledge with him.

When Castle coached at West Catholic, he helped coach Michael Brooks, who went on to become National Collegiate Player of the Year at LaSalle.

In a sense, he never left Loretto and could be found decades later advising young high schoolers on why Saint Francis might be a good choice for them.

Art Hu nter, Joe Hazinsky and Steve Cloran, who played for the school, were just three of the many basketball recruits he coaxed to come to Saint Francis.

In the case of Hazinsky, a recent inductee to the Saint Francis Athletic Hall of Fame, Castle went so far as to take courses with him at summer school in Loretto to help him adjust to college life.

Castle’s connection to the players who were his fellow classmates when he served as manager continued well after graduation, and any one of them can recount endless stories of Castle to this day.

He was inseparable from Red Flash greats DeBerardinis and Sandy Williams throughout his days in Loretto, so it was no surprise that even as his medical condition worsened to the point that he was wheelchair-bound, he still found a way years later to attend the ceremonies of induction for the two men when they were enshrined.

“Harry’s ability to impact generations of St. Francis basketball players was unmatched,” Krimmel said, “and his love for SFU hoops will be missed.”

Managers of college basketball teams are largely forgotten people, if they’re known at all.

Harry Castle wasn’t. Anybody who knew him or his love for St. Francis could never forget him.

Robert Moore is a 1970 graduate of Saint Francis who started the founded the SFU Golden Era, a recognition vehicle for the school’s men’s basketball program from the 1940s through ’70s. Moore is also a retired historian of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs.

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