Memories from the Mat
By Pascal Perri '47
Fifty years! Half a century! Is it possible? Where has the time gone? I can remember as if it were only a few years ago, roaming the halls and playing on the fields of Mepham High School. And the faces of all my friends and classmates are still so young and clear in my mind's eye. I remember them all. Following graduation, we set out on our own paths. Some classmates we never saw again. Some we met occasionally. A few became lifelong friends and comrades.
I was lucky that two such people — Ken Hunte '47 and Joe Settani '47 — have shared a large part of the past fifty years with me and my family. Joe and I became pals from the time we first met at P.S. 29 in North Merrick. We both went to Mepham, wrestled on the same team and ran track for Coach Nick Sabetto Although Joe was a good wrestler, he was a great runner. He was twice L.I. cross-country champ as well as the anchorman on our championship L.I. four-mile relay team.
Ken and I first met when we were on the Mepham wrestling team. He was the tallest and skinniest kid on the team. He was about my height and wrestled 105 to 112; I wrestled 155 to 165. He later became the strongest man I ever met.
At that time, World War II was in progress. Before graduation, Ken and Joe joined the Navy. I was drafted into the Army, along with friend Joe Gunn. While in the Army, I went to school and earned a commission as a Second Lieutenant. The war ended and Joe was the first of the trio to return home. Coach Sprig Gardner had also returned to Mepham after spending several years in the Navy. College coaches were out recruiting and Mepham wrestlers were in big demand. Sprig sent Joe and our good friend Aldo Caperna '45 off to Syracuse University.
Ken and I were discharged later, fulfilled high school graduation requirements and chose Syracuse also from the wide selection of colleges that were bidding for Mepham wrestlers. It was a choice that we never regretted.
While at Syracuse, Joe won four varsity letters in wrestling, which was an unusual accomplishment for any sport at that time. Both Ken and I won two individual EIWA championships and co-captained the championship wrestling team. A true phenomenon occurred in one Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) championship. Four wrestlers from the same Mepham High School — Ken Hunte '47 (Syracuse), Eric Erickson '46 (Lehigh), Frank Mansell '46 (Yale) and Rusty Randall '45 (Princeton) — were the four championship semi-finalists in the same 155 lb. weight class. That was a feat that had never happened before or since.
At college wrestling events, we constantly met former Mepham teammates. In my first EIWA championship finals, I wrestled against my old pal Ed (Stooge) Erickson '43, who was the defending 165 lb. champion from Lehigh. At another event, I squared off against Reggie Tickner '40. I still see both Ed and Reg from time to time at college wrestling events; it is always a joy to renew our friendship.
While at Syracuse, Joe, Ken and I lived in the same dorm. In fact, Ken and I roomed together and shared everything we owned, including food, clothes and money. It was there that we both met the ladies we would later marry (Jane and Florence.)
After graduation, Ken continued in wrestling as a teacher and coach at Jerusalem Ave. Jr. High School. He later moved into Sprig's slot as wrestling coach at Mepham, continuing the tradition of producing championship teams and individual champions, as well as placing many of his "kids" in college. Ken stayed on the Island, married his college sweetheart Jane and raised a family of three children.
Joe went into industrial engineering and management, married a Mepham grad, Elsie Lerner and raised a family of nine children. He remained on Long Island for a number of years before moving to the Midwest. Now living the Chicago area, Joe and Elsie come "home" from time to time to visit. Since retiring a few years ago, they spend winters in Florida to escape the snow. Following graduation (I did it in three years), I went to work in the publishing industry. My first job was with Simon and Schuster. A few years after I was promoted to vice-president, I left S & S to start a new company with two associates. Harver Educational Services flourished for a number of years before we formed another publishing company — Natales Press. In June 1995, I retired from business, and ever since, do not have enough time to do all the things I would like to do.
In between graduation and retirement, I continued my association with wrestling. When Ken went into coaching, I went into officiating. Together with Lonnie Kittle and Chip Sparks from Amityville High fame, we formed the Long Island Wrestling Officials Association. After a number of years of high school officiating, I moved up to the college level, and officiated over the years at 19 Division I NCAA national championships, 27 EIWA championships as well as numerous all-star and international events. In 1970,1 officiated at the most famous bout in college history — Dan Gable vs. Larry Owens. It was the only bout that Gable lost in his illustrious career, which included the Olympic gold and several world championships.
During my college officiating years, I founded the National Wrestling Officials Association, the first wrestling referees national organization. After thirty five years of officiating I retired from the mats. However, today I'm still involved in college wrestling as Supervisor of Wrestling Officials for ECAC.
Over the years, a number of honors have come my way in both business and wrestling. In 1984 I was inducted into the NY State College Coaches Wrestling Hall of Fame. A year later, I was inducted into the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Officials Hall of Fame. In March of 1995 I was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
There have been other awards (if you hang around long enough, they come), but none that I cherish more than the citation received for "distinguished service in the field of business and significant contribution to the welfare of mankind," when inducted into Mepham's Who's Who Hall of Fame in 1966. It was signed by Herman Tenant. (How many times did he grab me by the back of the neck when I did something wrong?)
During my officiating days, Ken would often travel with me for company and to see some of the Mepham "kids" wrestle. Several times when the national collegiate championships were in the Midwest, pal Joe would join Ken and me for a mini-reunion. Ken and I also played softball and basketball together with lots of Mepham pals, including George Duffy, Dave Andersen, Joe Ryan, Bob Porter, Ricky Shane and Tom Hannon.
This year, Florence and I celebrated our 45th anniversary. Besides sharing a lot of good years together, we love to travel and play golf. We have raised two great children — Michael, our oldest, is an architect and all-around athlete (hockey, lacrosse, soccer), and Kathleen is a riding instructor and trainer with a bucketful of blue ribbons. Florence and I have managed to win a number of mixed golf championships, as well as individual club championships. From time to time, our golf brings us into contact with former Mephamites. Last year we saw Bill Yander at Rockville Links. That's the first time I've seen Bill since we played football together for Coach Tuttle back in 1945. At the U.S. Open in Shinnecock, we had a chance to say hello to two old friends, Carl Paladino '46 and Bob Mahoney '46. It is always a happy event to see and talk with old classmates. They bring back such great memories of our youth and such happy days.
Ken Hunte passed away several years ago but is still remembered as a true friend and comrade. I still see Joe from time to time, and when we meet the months vanish. What do we talk about? We do a lot of reminiscing now about our days at Mepham — old friends and classmates — and there's always a few good stories about our pal Ken.
I enjoyed high school. I loved my years at Mepham. It was where I made life-long friends and honed the many skills needed to make my way in the "real world." Achievement never comes easy. Whatever modest success I have enjoyed in business, sports and family has been greatly influenced by the people and the environment at Mepham. The rules were strict and the teachers demanding, but how much do I owe to Sprig Gardner, Herman Tennant, Nick Sabetto and so many other Mepham people?
Reprinted from Scuttlebutt, Summer 1996.