Here’s a challenge for high school boys basketball followers: Go to a game in Erie County and try to find someone on the court whose basketball life hasn’t been forged by the Depew Boys & Girls Club.
It likely will be tougher than a fadeaway three under heavy defensive pressure, tougher than trying to figure out when to bench a star who is in foul trouble, tougher than making the block/charge call. That’s because the club has produced a litany of outstanding players, coaches and officials whose impact is felt on Western New York basketball pretty much any day there are games being played.
It is a club that is now in need of some payback for all the lives it has affected after a devastating New Year’s Day fire. The Depew club on Preston Street was gutted and will need extensive repairs. Management at the club, which has relocated temporarily to Terrace Elementary, intends to rebuild on the original site.
The club is holding a fundraiser Saturday evening at St. Mary’s High School’s fieldhouse. A $25 ticket includes food, beer, soda and music; doors open at 5:30 with the event running from 6 to 11 p.m.
There are sure to be many familiar faces on hand – the same ones seen in local gyms every night. The club helped players and coaches hone their games, or gave coaches a place to keep playing the game they love. The officiating in the club has its own special family tree, with two of its prominent members now leading the club: Executive Director David A. Hoch and Program Director Jeff Kupka.
“I doubt I have ref’d a game in 17 years that at least one person in the gym didn’t have a connection to our club,” Kupka said. “I was at Will North last week and a fan approached me that I played against at the club years ago.”
And the connections. Where to start? How about with the plaque that denotes the “Youth of the Year” at the club. Those winners include Frank Payne (former football and current girls basketball coach at Iroquois) and his brother Chris (football coach at Panama), Dan Gill (former St. Mary’s athletic director and coach who is now at University School in Florida), Jeremy Konst (Williamsville East standout and current Williamsville North JV coach and an official) and twin brother Justin Konst (Will East All-WNY backcourt mate of his brother and current official).
The club’s most famous alum is Depew native Don Majkowski, who went on to play quarterback for the Green Bay Packers (and who donated the club’s glass backboards).
Pete Jerebko, who grew up at the club, starred at Le Moyne and is currently the athletic director at Erie Community College and also an official.
Hoch started the club’s men’s leagues in 1978 and its high school summer leagues in 1989.
The amount of area coaches who have played in the men’s leagues borders on ridiculous: Mark Kensy (Maryvale) and sons Chris (Amherst) and Garrett (Maryvale assistant who played with the club since the age of 11), Mike Haskell (former Pioneer, current D’Youville) and son Jeff Haskell, Jay Robbins (Kenmore East), Chuck Swierski (Williamsville North and a playing standout at Buffalo State), Ryan Mountain (Maryvale grad coaching North Tonawanda), Kyle Husband (Canisius), Paul Rath (St. Mary’s), Luke Vogel (North Tonawanda girls), Gary Schutrum (former East Aurora boys and current girls coach), Mark Rydza (Roy-Hart), Tim Schulz (Holland), Sean Lauber (Iroquois), Dave Rappl (Hutch-Tech), who grew up coming to the club with brother Mike Rappl (Canisius College softball), Justin Gerstung (Akron coach played during his high school days), Jack Herlan (St. Joe’s assistant), Modie Cox (former UB standout who currently works with youth).
And those are just the names I know from my 14 years covering high school sports. The list is unbelievable and way too long for this space — go to the Prep Talk blog for even more alums.
Hoch – one of the area’s very best officials – takes tremendous pride in those who have taken to the court as officials later in life.
“There has been a large number of club ‘kids’ who have followed me into officiating in Board 53” of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials “and the collegiate ranks,” Hoch said.
That list includes current Division I official Kevin Ferguson and highlyrated current officials, in addition to Hoch, like Kupka, Steve Allen, Mark Clifford and Mike Nagorski. All got their start officiating men’s or youth games at the club.
To make a donation to the rebuilding fund, to purchase tickets or for more information, contact the club at 683-6755 or 683-1485, email Hoch at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the club’s website at depewlancasterbgc.org.
The only local high school player to commit to a major Division I program on national signing day was, as expected, Canisius lineman Ryan Hunter signing with Bowling Green. Other local seniors to commit to Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) programs are Canisius wide receiver Denzel Benton (Rhode Island), West Seneca East quarterback Andy Smigiera (Robert Morris) and Orchard Park lineman Michael Senn, who has already begun taking classes at the University at Albany.