Robin Hood Park
I graduated from Pope Pius HS in June of 1965 and would be attending Seton Hall University that Fall. The Clifton Rec Dept (New Jersey) had a wonderful program at the time that provided summer employment opportunities for a number of college students. Clifton had a large number of parks and playgrounds. Two students, male and female, would be assigned to a specific park to supervise activities. I believe Joe Sidor was in charge of the program. Two brothers, Ed and Emil Bednarcik were supervisors. I believe Ed was discourteously called Blinky for some reason. I remember him as a very kind man and I believe he coached the Clifton HS basketball team. When I was hired along with a friend named Jon Baldovin, I was assigned to be the Playground Director at Robin Hood Park. It was said to be one of the best parks in the city. The fact that Jon’s sister Barbara was in charge of the selections to the parks was a great bit of luck for me. We were paid $1.25 per hour. We started the day at 10 AM and worked till 8 PM. We had an hour for lunch but had to remain on sight. We had an hour for dinner in which we were permitted to go home. We alternated with our co- workers so someone would still be at the park.
Robin Hood ended up being a terrific experience. Working primarily with ten to eighteen year olds is probably why I became a teacher. There were arts and craft activities. The kids learned to make lanyards. I never mastered the skill. We were all given whistles and the lanyards were what we attached them to. I remember a young girl named Marilyn Moore who made one for me. It was orange and white. It was constructed so perfectly that I still have it and the original whistle which I use in my gym classes. It’s 53 years old.
The Rec Dept divided the summer into 2 seasons. There was a softball tournament in July and a basketball tournament in August. There was a vast schedule of two divisions with a one game elimination like the NCAA Basketball Tournament. I can’t remember how we faired in the softball tournament but we won the basketball tournament led by Al Yuhas and Ron Gremelspacher. We also had some very good coaching by Dennis Cesar who was attending Georgetown University on a basketball scholarship. The climax to the summer was the Junior Olympics held at Clifton Stadium the last day of the program. All the parks constructed flags depicting their pride and glory. It was quite a magnificent event and I marvel at the organization that the Bednarcik brothers put into it. Now as an adult I can more fully appreciate what a wonderful town Clifton was to grow up in. I can remember the Clifton Midget League which fostered baseball, football, basketball and bowling leagues. The many men who really influenced my life. Hooks Brower, Ollie Henry, Barney O’ Connell, Mr. Mc Tiernan who coached me in football and baseball, Mr. Robinson, my baseball coach also. These were wonderful role models for us. How many hours did they spend with us? They really loved kids.
I remember many of the kids that attended the park. I recently spoke to Dennis Cesar on the phone. He remembered Robin Hood vividly recalling what a wonderful time we lived in. We were always safe. When the park closed at eight everyone would walk home together. The kids were always close and looked out for each. Sometimes, if it was still light, we would play a pickup game of basketball. Howie Steer, another excellent athlete would play. I made a lot of friends there. I can remember Joe Zurak going to Henry’s every morning for the NY Daily News. Bobby Moore, who’s sister made me the lanyard, played Biddy League baseball with me. He was quite a hitter. I loaned him my personal bat because he liked the feel of it and proceeded to crack it with a homer he hit at Albion Park. There were so many terrific athletes there who led Clifton HS to the state football championship in 1962. There was Dennis Toth who played halfback and the quarterback Tom Brady. Dennis Cesar didn’t play football but he certainly would have starred in that sport as well.
There are always characters you remember. There was an animated fellow I can only remember as Wild Bill. He drove a convertible. There were also the little kids. I remember one in particular named Howie Stein who loved the Mets. His favorite player was Ed Kranepool because he was Jewish. A young boy whose last name was Thorton taught me to play chess. He was very good. I remember another youngster named Ozzie Preiss who later played on the high school football team.
There was also a block dance held at the basketball court. I suscinctly remember a photographer showing up and taking silhouettes. Everyone wondered who he was and what was he doing. A policeman inquired and everything was fine.
I also have a very special and personal memory of Robin Hood. I saw a young girl about the third week talking to a fellow driving a chevy convertible. Joe Zurak informed me he was her boyfriend, a student at Villanova and a star hurdler at De Paul HS named Jeffrey Hasselberger. When I first saw her I was stricken with the “lightning bolt” but upon hearing Joe’s scuttlebut I figured I should forget about her. How could a former halfback from Pope Pius on a two and seven team compete with a state hurdle champion? For some reason he began showing up less and less and I finally got the nerve to ask this very quiet girl for a date. Her name was Nancy Schmidt. I was surprised when she accepted. We went to a Concert at Forest Hills to hear Johnny Mathis. That concert, I’m convinced, was one of those things that happen in your life that form a lasting memory and is a catalyst for all the wonderful things that transpire. We continued to date and married in 1969. We celebrated 49 years of marriage this past June. Thank you Mr. Mathis and thank you Robin Hood Park for all the lasting memories of people and events and a time when life was a little simpler and probably a lot happier.
By Dan Kocsis