THIS & THAT: Springfield Athletics Hall of Fame inductees

The Springfield Cosmos. They were not just the archrivals when I was young, they were the guys you would never think of inviting to even play in the sand box. To this day, purple is my favorite color and green is not so much near one of my favorites. Young sports enthusiasts in my circle were taught to not like those in green uniforms. When did that stage of acceptance go away? I was surprised to hear a next generation Springfield kid tell me a few years back, “Athletes from Springfield are not suppose to like those who wear purple uniforms.”

That next generation coach at the time, Springfield hoop coach Peter Peck, was serious about his words. The same principles appear to have been taught in the Machine town from a young age.

What Peck was referring to in our conversation a few years ago was that it bothered him that social media had played a major part in taking the heart out of the ancient rivalry. Kids were friends on Facebook, etc. Why were you communicating in any way with the enemy? And Bellows Falls or Springfield had always been the enemy.

 

Hall of Fame
Springfield defeated Leland & Gray in girls’ basketball Monday evening. Springfield’s Hannah Crosby tries to stop Leland & Gray’s Maris Linder from scoring. Photo by Denise Hunter.

Like most of Peck’s players back in that day, I have grown to respect and even salute the dreaded teams in the wrong colors. Part of that is my professional etiquette, but they really have a lot to love. In fact, until recently, I had no idea about how many lovable treasures had made their way through Springfield. And incredibly, all these gems had probably grown up not liking the color purple.

All this was brought to mind when I received an impressive press release concerning the creation of a Springfield High School Hall of Fame. The inaugural class will be inducted this March 9 in their first annual banquet in the high school cafeteria. Twelve members of Springfield High athletic history will be saluted for their accomplishments. These 12 great green individuals certainly speak volumes about Cosmo athletics. They’ve all achieved greatness.

Athletic Director Rich Saypack is in the middle of making sure no one forgets the glamour days in Springfield and those who stood out along the way. Although in the world of old-timers like me, Saypack was a latecomer, having arrived in Springfield in 1981; he is bleeding green. He has been associated with Cosmo athletics since 1992, and all four of his children graduated from SHS. He has more than earned his stripes. I wonder if he hates purple?

Saypack has added the duties of driving the charge of maintaining the Hall of Fame to his athletic director duties. There are 12 members of this initial class. Eight more will be inducted next year and then six each year after. Shockingly, Springfield is the only area school presently looking for members for their hall. Bellows Falls and Fall Mountain were the first two area schools to open a Hall of Fame local chapter, but both presently have no one to lead the charge. Black River, Green Mountain, and Leland & Gray do not have a hall.

Kelly Sales and Service stepped up and is the major sponsor for the brand new Cosmo Hall. Patrick Kelley has always bled incredibly green and was a perfect partner to be in on the ground floor. Gurney Bros Construction and State Farm Insurance have each jumped in to lend their strong support.

Speaking to Saypack, he has verbalized this idea a few times in recent years, before he became the AD. However, a chance meeting with Ed Wilkins became a springboard for the thoughts becoming a reality, and the two, along with Jerry Jasinski and Jessica Martin, spent a good deal of time researching and brainstorming who would be inducted with the first class, serving as the Hall of Fame Committee.

Twelve inductees aren’t many in the hundred-plus years of athletic history, but they are a comfortable starting point. Every one of them more than belongs. Each of them had to be dusted off to bring back the echoes with only one inductee not pushing the 60-year-old mark.

Moving on to the inductees themselves – oh what an awesome group! The actual class was released in alphabetical order, but I am naming them in my own order, including some words from the original press release.

My look into the inaugural class begins with a family direction. Three Birskys are making their way into the Hall of Fame, and I was lucky enough to have known each one, starting with Papa “Bo” Birsky.

I knew Bo Birsky and knew he made waves during his time, but his accomplishments went way beyond my wildest beliefs. I repeat, way beyond. Bo graduated as a Cosmo, but it was his coaching days that dazzle. Remember he was coaching in little Springfield and competing in Class L, meaning large schools. The largest schools. Birsky’s record in basketball was 215-100. Most impressively, his Cosmos won state titles in 1946, 1956, 1957, and 1970. Vermont Class L state titles. His teams were also led to a runner-up finish in 1951 and 1955. Thus, the Cosmos were in the Vermont Class L title game six times under Birsky’s tutelage, including an incredible five times in a ten-year period. Bo also coached baseball at the school for 29 years.

Bo’s first son, Greg Birsky, played all three major sports in Springfield for all four of his years. His record point total of 1,468 stood for about 30 years and wasn’t broken until the advent of the three-point shot. Greg was the valedictorian of the Springfield graduating class in 1975. He went on to compete in both baseball and basketball at Middlebury College for all three years, where he was named a hoop captain.

Bo’s daughter, Mary Beth Birsky, makes it a crowd of Birskys heading through the now cherished halls. The 1978 graduate competed in field hockey, basketball, and softball each of her four years in Cosmo-land. She led her team to a Vermont State Division I softball title. She was recognized as a second team All-American as a second baseman/shortstop competing for Wyoming.

 

Hall of Fame
Springfield’s Hailey Perham heads to the hoop with Julia Gleason defending her. Photo by Denise Hunter.

There are two more members of this induction class connected with Bo Birsky. Curt Dressel, a 1928 graduate was Birsky’s Cosmo basketball coach. Birsky’s team also won the Vermont Class L title when he was a senior. Springfield’s gym is named after Dressel, who was also a legendary coach. Dressel was also a basketball star in his own right back in 1928 when the Cosmos won yet another Vermont State basketball title. When Dressel Gym opened, it was the mecca of basketball in the Green Mountain state and was packed regularly. Dressel coached football, basketball, and baseball and won state titles in each. His football titles came in 1933 and 1937, and his baseball title came in 1939.

Richie Wyman, Springfield Class of 1952, played for Bo Birsky. What a coaching tree! The Cosmo basketball-coaching tree is far and wide and still operating. Wyman was a part of Birsky’s strong 1951 team and would go on to be a Cosmo coach of either or both basketball and baseball for 38 years. He was a baseball player at Springfield College and his teams advanced to the Vermont Class L basketball title game four times, when the discrepancy between the numbers between Springfield and of some of the bigger schools were getting further and further apart. Wyman piloted a Cosmos team to a Vermont Division I baseball title in 1980.

A couple of 1968 classmates are headed to the hall, and they were teammates on the gridiron. Jimmy Schwartz competed all four years in four sports in the Cosmo uniform. In addition to football, basketball, and baseball, Schwartz was a track and field standout. He co-captain in football, and he led the state of Vermont in football scoring as a senior with 84 points and continued his football career in the final years the University of Vermont had a football team playing in the Yankee Conference.

Schwartz’ teammate, Bill Bibens, played four years of football and proved to be an ultimate leader. He was a two-time All-Stater, co-captained the 1968 Vermont Shrine team, and then went on to play football at Washburn University, where he was also given the honor of being selected as a co-captain.

Two more Lady Cosmos are honored by being a part of this inaugural induction class. A 1977 graduate, Mary Rose Jasinski, a teammate of Mary Beth Birsky, was the first Lady Cosmos basketball player to score 1,000 points. She was also the person in the circle when Springfield captured Class L softball titles in 1974 and 1976. Jasinski put together an incredible won-lost mark of 60-5 on the mound, including an equally lofty 31-game winning streak during her tenure.

The other inductee is the only somewhat-young kid headed into this first induction class. Tracy Guilford, a 1991 graduate, was a three-sport star in the sports of soccer, basketball, and track and field. She left her legacy with a record 113 goals in her career and continued on to the University of Connecticut, where she was part of a Division I NCAA Final Four team in the sport and was their leading scorer one season.

Three members of the group remain, and two of them were coaches although the coaching has nothing to do with one of their Hall of Fame credentials.

Bob Schweitzer coached at Springfield High School for almost 30 years. He was a longtime football line coach and brought wrestling to the Green and White vocabulary and excelled in his coaching to the extent he was named Vermont State Wrestling Coach of the Year. Schweitzer was the only member of the induction class not to graduate from Springfield High School. He also broke down the Murphy-Peck barrier, encouraging athletes from both Springfield and Bellows Falls to wrestle together as teammates, forming a combined unit at one point.

The other inductee who coached was 1957 graduate Brad Dunbar. He captained some Springfield teams and was a major part of Birsky’s back-to-back state title hoop teams in 1956 and 1957. He also stood out in football and track and went on to perform at a high level in basketball and track and field at Middlebury College. He served some area schools as a junior varsity basketball coach and put together many successful teams. I didn’t know the extent of his background back when he impressed me coaching those teams. The time commitment of being a successful businessman probably stopped him short of becoming a very successful varsity coach.

I think I have saved the best for last, and boy I can’t believe I never knew this one.

In one of my jobs, I cover the successful University of Vermont Men’s Basketball team. Each time I go to Burlington, I see the Gutterson Field House. Albert Gutterson is that Gutterson, and he may have been the greatest Cosmo of all time.

He graduated from Springfield in 1907 and few records were kept in those days. But five years after graduation on July 12, 1912, he competed in the Stockholm Olympics and defeated THE Jim Thorpe in the Long Jump. He became the first and only Vermonter ever to win the Gold Medal. Springfield’s Albert Gutterson is the father of the Gut at UVM. How many of you readers have ever walked by or entered Gutterson Field House to see a hockey game and didn’t know that?

What I have found out is that Vermont and New Hampshire had a combined track meet in those days, and he took first in that competition in some events while in high school.

The March 9 event will be historical and will likely in the end prove to be more selective than the class itself. The 6 p.m. banquet will be hosted by the Culinary Arts Department of the River Valley Technical Center. Only 125 tickets will be sold.

The tickets are available by contacting Rich Saypack at rsaypack@ssdvt.org or by calling 802-885-7905.

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