Remembering George Kelleher and Trinity’s ‘dream backfield’ of the ’50s

In the 1950s, Trinity of Hartford had what The Springfield Sunday Republican described as “a dream small-college backfield.” That fabulous foursome had Bobby Alexander at quarterback, Dick Nissi and George Kelleher at halfback and two-time Little All-America Charlie Sticka at fullback.

In their final game together, they rumbled to a 46-6 victory over Wesleyan on Nov. 13, 1955, thereby clinching another “Little Three” title. The one TD allowed was scored by Denny Denault, a former Springfield Cathedral star.

Kelleher, a bruising junior from Westfield, gained 80 yards, scored one touchdown and booted four extra points as Trinity completed its second straight undefeated season under coaching icon Dan Jessee.

As the only returning backfield starter in 1956, Kelleher carried the ground-gaining load, rushing for 14 touchdowns – still a Trinity record for one season. He finished his college career with 1,265 yards gained.

Kelleher learned it all at Westfield High, where he played under three coaches – Bill Moge in 1949, Dutch Connors in 1950, Bill Jenkins in 1951. As a sophomore, he had a reserve role on a 10-0-0 team that gave Westfield its second straight title in the Peanut Bowl, played in Columbus, Georgia.

Through high school, a prep year at Deerfield Academy and then college, he was watched lovingly by his dad, George B. Kelleher, a long-time sportswriter for The Springfield Daily News and Sunday Republican. The man known to his colleagues as “Bardo” never bragged about his son the three-sport athlete. Nor did he push him. He just let him do what he loved best – playing and being a good teammate.

After college, George the younger served two years in the Army, then devoted his life to education as a teacher and coach in his hometown, where he was a popular figure, always ready to talk sports.

On May 12, George J. Kelleher passed away at the age of 82. In Westfield, they will remember him as one of their leading three-sport athletes. At Trinity, they will not forget his role in that “dream backfield” of long ago. 

SWEET SELECTION: Brooks Sweet, a 1979 University of Massachusetts grad from Ithaca, New York, has been elected to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. His induction with the class of 2017 will take place Sept. 23 at the Grand Lodge in Hunt Valley, Maryland. He’s also a member of the UMass Hall of Fame (2007) and the National Junior College Hall of Fame (2008).

Prior to his arrival at UMass, Sweet had an all-star career at Ithaca High School, then at SUNY Farmingdale, where he made the junior college All-America team in 1976 and 1977. The ’77 Farmingdale team won the national JUCO championship.

At UMass, Sweet starred for coach Dick Garber in 1978 and 1979, scoring 172 points on 106 goals and 66 assists. As a senior, he made first-team All-America.

He played for Team USA in 1982 and 1986, then four professional seasons in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League.

The National Lacrosse Hall of Fame stands alongside the National Lacrosse Museum at the U.S. Lacrosse Headquarters in Sparks, Maryland.

BACKLINE BRIGADES: Bill White, a rock-solid defensman from Toronto, played five full seasons with the Springfield Indians of the American Hockey League without getting a chance to make the NHL.

Then came expansion. The Los Angeles Kings brought White to the NHL in 1967-68, then traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks.

After playing 349 games with the Indians, White went on to play 695 in the NHL, including 91 in the playoffs. As a “stay at home” kind of defenseman, he made an ideal fit with partner Pat Stapleton, who liked to generate offense.

In addition to playing for the Kings and Blackhawks, White skated for Canada’s 1972 Summit Series team, which defeated the Soviet Union in an epic eight-game grind known as “the cold war on ice.”

White and Stapleton played as part of a Team Canada backline that also featured Brad Park, Gary Bergman, Serge Savard, Guy LaPointe and Rod Seiling.

In his Springfield years, White played with an honor roll of defensemen – Bob McCord, Ted Harris, Larry Hillman, Dave Amadio, Roger Cote, Dale Rolfe, Bill Speer, Barclay Plager, Jim Holdaway and Larry Johnston.

Bill White passed away last Sunday. He was 77 years old.

REMEMBERING MATT: The Matt Ziemian Award, honoring the Tri-County Baseball League’s college player of the year, has been presented yearly since 2012. Ziemian, a St. Joseph’s of Thorndike player from Palmer, died of acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 24. He was a student at Nichols College at the time.

“Never a day goes by that I don’t think of Matt, and how much he  loved playing ball,” said Karl Oliveira, player/manager for St. Joseph’s.

Matt’s father, Dave Ziemian, presents the Tri-County award each year. He and his wife, Sharon, also honor the memory of their son by running a golf tournament, all proceeds of which go to the Jimmy Fund for cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute of Boston.

The 2017 Matt Ziemian Memorial Golf Tournament will be played Aug. 5 at Cold Spring Country Club in Belchertown. Registration begins at 11 a.m. with a shotgun start at noon.  Lunch, dinner, and prizes will be provided.

Registration forms can be found at various golf courses in the Pioneer Valley. They’re also available at tricountybaseball.com, or by calling 413 283 8070. 

ABOUT MR. CISCO: A recent Hitting to All Fields column item said “There’ll never be another Galen Cisco,” referring to a Red Sox relief pitcher of the 1960s. That prompted a reply from Bill Fitzgerald, a senior citizen from Springfield who now resides in Venice, Florida.

“I played golf with Galen Cisco at Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice last year. Great guy,” Fitz said.

“He plays in our Community Foundation Celebrity Golf Tournament every February, along with a lot of other old-timers, including former Red Sox players Rico Petrocelli, Jim Lonborg, Gary Peters, George Thomas, Don Schwall, Rick Miller, Jerry Moses, and Ike Delock.”

Cisco, 81, lives in Celina, Ohio. At Ohio State in 1957, he played fullback and linebacker as captain of a Buckeyes football team that went 9-1 and won the national championship.

BEST BET for the weekend: Lady Eli, in the Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita.

Garry Brown can be reached at geebrown1918@gmail.com; his book, “Garry Brown’s Greatest Hits,” can be purchased at hittingtoallfields.com

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