Today, I went to my first basketball game as a reporter. The reason why I volunteered to go to this game was because Benjamin Cardozo High School was playing Springfield Gardens, my alma-mater.
It meant that Cardozo coach Ron Naclerio was going after his 755th win which would have put him one ahead of Ed Petrie of East Hampton High School. That would make Naclerio New York State’s all-time winningest coach.
Even though I love my history at Springfield Gardens, I had to root for Coach Naclerio. I have known him since our days as high school baseball players. He was a great center fielder, who flat out flew. If there was a race between Brett Gardner of the Yankees and Ronnie, I would have bet on Naclerio.
I was a damn good player and drafted in the second round by the Pirates. Maybe, I would have been drafted higher if Naclario didn’t rob me of so many hits. Ron was also a great guard at Cardozo, averaging 18 points per game. This guy was just a great athlete. Ron was drafted by the Chicago White Sox, played three seasons and was invited to Major League Camp in 1981. A terrible tear of his ligaments in his ankle, finally ended his dream of playing in the Major Leagues. It was the third time he would suffer the same injury to the same ankle.
As a high school coach, the numbers speak for themselves. However it is his personalized make-up, intensity and his love of players that made him the greatest of all time. On the court, nobody but nobody works the floor like Naclerio. He is up and down, back and forth walking, running, waving, screaming cheering and I’m sure almost fainting because he is probably more exhausted than his players.
The game itself was very entertaining to say the least. Cardozo led all throughout until three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. At that point Springfield took the lead on the heroics of super guard Hogual Augustine, probably the best player on the floor and one of the most recruited kids by Division 1 schools.
However, it was a three-point bomb by guard D. Utley that would lock up the game for Cardozo. Utley scored 31 points, which made Naclerio the king of high school basketball and a true New York legend.
Another legend in the Naclerio family was Dr. Emil Naclerio, who was the man who would operate on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and saved his life after Dr. King was stabbed in a murder attempt.
Several years ago, before a game, Martin Luther King III – the son of the great Noble Peace Prize winner and one of this country’s greatest heroes – walked on the court to honor Ronnie and his accomplishments. This was truly a classy act by one great son to another.
In my life, I have been so blessed to know so many incredible people, who always had a dream and have never given up on those dreams. Ron Naclerio is one of them.