It was the Palestra and Boston Garden rolled into one
Eric Snyder refers to it as Catasauqua’s “Palestra.” Dave Troxell likes to call it the town’s “Boston Garden.”
Snyder, the current boys’ basketball coach, and Troxell, the former girls’ basketball coach, both played and coached at the Lincoln Street Middle School Gymnasium, once a Lehigh Valley basketball mecca from 1954 to 2005.
In the boys’ basketball heyday decade from late 1950s through late 1960s, the Roughies won the old Lehigh Valley League seven-consecutive years behind a cavalcade of star players paced by former University of North Carolina and ABA legendary player Larry Miller, whose playing career drew overflowing crowds of a few hundred over its 900-person capacity, and created an indescribable electric atmosphere where fans truly sat courtside.
From its opening in 1954, Lincoln Gym housed a treasure trove of memories for fans, coaches, players alike until the new gymnasium was built in 2005.
There even was an on-court entry (Catty-version) of the song, “When the Saints Come Marching In” that was accordingly changed to “When the Roughs Go Marching In,” in the 1950s and 60s.
“Lincoln was like the Palestra and Duke’s Cameroon Indoor,” remembered Snyder. “The fans were right on top of you, and the locker rooms were right there. When you were cramped in, you were on top of each other.
“And the fans sat right behind you and next to the kids at the end of the bench. It has nooks and crannies. You could hang out and hide there.”
Troxell taught and coached at Lincoln at the same time. He noted that girls’ game were scheduled at 4 p.m. when he began coaching. For him, there were 1,000-point scorers Sarah Onkotz, Tara Gemmel, Brittany Lacey, Steph Remington and Ashley Young. Lacey, Remington, and Young were part of his deepest run during a season in 2003 that ended in the Eastern finals.
“As a coach, you knew you had an advantage,” mulled Troxell. “When my class day was over during the season, I would pack up and head for the gym because I was in the same building. I didn’t have to leave.
“The locker room really has the feel of an old locker room, and there was something nostalgic about it.”
Yes, both coaches saw some home-court advantages and unique spots.
“The unique part of the gym was the northeast corner of the gym where the students sat,” said Troxell. “The court was somewhat small, and the crowd felt like they were right on the court. The students were really into cheering for our teams.
“The rims were so soft, good for a shooter’s touch.”
“The back corner with the supply age, the PE (physical education) teachers’ office, which was our office, were unique spots,” added Snyder. “Also, the little kids’ pit, where my two sons and our assistant varsity coach Ron Madouse and his two sons would play at practice and Saturday rec.
“There was the ‘bench’ that we took the new high school. It was right outside the locker room in front of the window. That was the bench to sit on and talk, rest, think. I was told it was the social bench from the 1950s.”
Longtime coach and later athletic director Ray Laubach recalled how a ticket to a game at Lincoln was one of the toughest to get in the Lehigh Valley in the late 1950s and 60s. He was a senior on the 1960 team that won a district title and 26 consecutive games before their season ended against Radnor at the Palestra in the first game of then inter-district play.
“During my senior year, we probably had 1,100 or 1,200 people or even more in there when it held 900,” said Laubach. “The referees had to move people when you would take the ball out on the backline and sidelines.
“We had an advantage when the place was packed, but that also was true for Smith Hall in Slatington and the little Palestra in Allentown. All of the small places had advantages. We had alternate captains back then, and I remember once when I led the team onto the floor.
“When you heard the song, ‘When the Roughs Go Marching In,’ your heart would pound. There just isn’t that type of atmosphere around anymore.”
In Miller’s time, there was a typical line outside on the streets surrounding the gym to see him play. During the mid-60s, it was accustomed to have as many as 1,000 people turned away to see Miller. In Miller’s final year, he led the program to its fifth LVL crown and third-straight District 11 title on his way to becoming the district’s all-time boys leading scorer with 2,722 points.
“The town fully supported the team,” added Laubach. “There were some guys who really cherished the moment of the big crowd supporting them, and there were others who could play in front of them.”
Laubach also noted that Whitehall actually played the first game in Lincoln Gym in December of 1954 against Bethlehem Catholic. The Zephyrs used the gym while the current athletic complex was in the process of being built.
In later years as a coach, Laubach and Snyder both shared a favorite memory when former Roughies’ head football coach Tom Falzone shut down Stroudsburg’s 6-foot-9 Ken Lacey, who would lead his team to a district title that same year in 1996.
Laubach also highlighted a game during the 1973-74 season when Ron Hassler and John Gemmel led an upset win over previously undefeated Salisbury.
“Stroudsburg didn’t renew the contact after that game,” said Laubach. “That was big game. Hassler and Gemmel were exciting players to watch, and that was another big win.”
Catty Athletic Director Tom Moll recalled his senior night in 1990 when his team beat Nazareth, as well as a surge of memories.
“I remember hitting the winning shot,” said Moll. “My cousin played on a team that won the league in 1983.
“It was a special place to play, and there was so much history there. There were the overflow and famous crowds of the 1960s, and each era had something unique about it. You don’t see places like that anymore.”
In the late 1990s, Tim Superka, a four-year starter and the program’s second leading all-time scorer (1,410) still cherishes his days at Lincoln.
“It (Lincoln) was just unbelievably loud,” he stressed. “I just couldn’t believe how loud the student and fan section were. It was an incredible feeling to run out on the court as a freshman, and it never stopped.
“Everybody was screaming from the start, and they were right there. There seemed like there wasn’t an empty seat. It was a crazy place and it was really cool.”
Superka emphasized how Lincoln and some other iconic gyms will keep their place in time, as today’s gymnasiums don’t provide the same atmosphere.
“The new gyms, like Catty’s, don’t have the same atmosphere,” said Superka, who currently lives in Bucks County. “A lot of gyms are half empty and the atmosphere isn’t there.
“I haven’t seen or felt the same feeling. There won’t be anything like games at Lincoln Gym.”