ROUNDBALL DAILY

Dom Ferrara, a Connecticut high school basketball all-stater, who played at two colleges, then became an acclaimed scholastic coach, has died of coronavirus at 80

Dom Ferrara when a sophomore was a member of the 1956 Wilber Cross team and is second from the left, first row. The players from left to right, first row: Richard Proto, Dom Ferrara, Ron Carbone, Ken McKenzie, Dom Perno, John Coppola, and Don Sorcinelli
Back row: unidentified, Mauriello, Bill Hulteen, unidentified, Mike Nasti, unidentified

By Joel Alderman

Dominic Ferrara, who died of coronavirus in late summer, was best known athletically as a two-sport star in high school, but he also had a fling at basketball and baseball in two colleges and later became a Connecticut Hall of Fame high school hoop coach.

Ferrara was a key member of the 1958 Wilbur Cross undefeated quintet that won the New England High School Tournament at the old Boston Garden. The championship game ended in a melee that partly led to the demise of the event several years later.

He died in his sleep at the Tucson Medical Center during the early hours of Aug. 27th at the age of 80. He and his wife, the former Maryann Garofano of New Britain, Conn., had moved to Arizona in 2011 to enjoy their retirement years. He became an active member of the Skyline Country Club in Tucson.

Mini-bio

Born in New Haven, Conn., to Elvira “Vera” and John M. Ferrara, March 21, 1940, he was predeceased by his son, John Charles Ferrara on Sept. 30, 2004, and by his youngest sister, Patricia, who ironically also died of coronavirus as this is being written.

In addition to his wife, he left a daughter, Kimberly, daughter-in-law, Noelle, and seven grandchildren, as well four great-grandchildren. Dom is also survived by two sisters, Elizabeth and Camille, and a sister-in-law, Kathy, plus several nephews, nieces, and cousins, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren. A large clan was affected by his passing.

Not just basketball

When he was a youngster, he played baseball in a Babe Ruth League and the New Haven Parochial League and pitched a no-hitter in each. But it was his excellence in basketball under Coach Sal “Red ” Verderame for which he was best known around greater New Haven.

A point guard, he helped Wilbur Cross to the District League and Connecticut large school championships in 1958 and was MVP of the state tournament. He was named to the six-member state Class A first-team along with two others from the same high school. They were Dom Perno, who went on to play in college for Connecticut and become a nine-year coach there, and Bill Hulteen, who died at the age of 62 in 2004.

Others named were Carmen Perrone and Stan (Sonny) Egnat both from Hartford Public and both deceased, and Fred Bredice, of Torrington CT.

The previous season he scored a team-high 14 points as Cross defeated the Yale freshman on the court. The Eli first years led 34-25 going into the last quarter but, as reported in the Yale Daily News “Ferrara stole the ball and drove in under the basket with a flashing underhand layup, (then) broke out with another epidemic of points, scoring two more hoops in succession to slice Yale’s margin to three.”

With the freshman ahead 40-38, Perno made his only two baskets of the game for a 42-40 Wilbur Cross win.

Recollections of a teammate

Richard (Dick) Proto, another member of the 1958 Cross team, became a noted cryptographist (one who transfers sensitive information to coded versions). Before he died in 2008, he was asked by his brother, Neil, a prominent Washington, D.C., attorney, and author, to comment about his teammate. Dick, according to Neil Proto, said he felt Dom was “probably the best playmaker I ever saw. He had a good two-handed set shot and a really nice, real smooth running one-hander, and he could pass.”

Ferrara was known as the “Little General”

The “Little General” and “the heart and brains of the outfit,” (Al Goldstein, Meriden Journal), propelled Cross to an undefeated season (25-0) culminating in a bitterly fought win over Sommerville, Mass., for the championship of the New England Tournament in 1958. That was the famous game that ended in what many considered to have been a riot (box score below).

 

With 33 seconds left and Cross well in front, one of its players, Gennaro Germe, was punched and about four fights immediately developed. Objects including eggs, light bulbs, coins, milk containers, and firecrackers, came down from the Boston Garden balcony. A sportswriter, Fred Foye, of the Boston Traveler, which ceased publishing in 1967, was hit on the head by a piece of a liquor bottle. It was the second time he was struck during the tournament. In the opening quarterfinals two nights earlier, he was in the path of a large piece of a wooden chair (Associated Press).

A week before the New Englands, Cross trounced Hartford Bulkeley, 69-50, to win the Connecticut Class A title. Two future nutmeg hall of fame coaches were on the benches, Red Vederame (Cross) and Lou Bazzano (Bulkeley). Although it was played on a school night (Thursday), there was a turn away “tightly packed crowd of 5,500” at the New Haven Arena (Bob Granger, New Haven Journal Courier).

Dominick was high scorer with 24 points and selected the tourney’s MVP. “The big, rangy Wilbur Cross quintet (was) directed brilliantly by their little field general Dom Ferrara,” (Frank Cline, Hartford Courant) (box score below).

The deep freeze game

Ferrara also was on the team that played in a notable high school contest on Feb. 10, 1956, in Yale’s Payne Whitney Gym before 2,700 bi-partisan fans (mostly students). It became known in the area as the “Deep Freeze” game. The opposing team was from another New Haven high school, Hillhouse, located on the same York Square campus as Cross. Hillhouse had not lost a regular-season high school game in four years, although it did drop a decision to the Yale Freshman to begin the 1955-56 campaign.

Ferrara was a sophomore as was Gennaro Germe, with whom we spoke recently for this article. Verderame went with only six players, while Ferrara, Germe, and a few others were relegated to cheering for their teammates from the sidelines. That game is part of Dom’s legacy, even though he was only on the bench, and we feel its inclusion here is justified.

There was no shot clock then, and Connecticut high school ball still does not use one. Neither was there a time limit for a player holding the ball, though that has since been changed by the five-second rule.

So, the Governors kept possession for minutes at a time, much of which Hillhouse players laid back. Finally, an opening occurred for a drive-in layup. It worked to perfection, except the lay-up attempt missed.

Overtime

In the overtime period, John Woods was fouled but his free throw was unsuccessful and rolled out of bounds. Cross came up the court and again went into a stall for almost three minutes.

There were five seconds to go in the OT, and in the words of Criscuolo, quoted by Bob Casey New Haven Register:

“Everyone was hollering, and I couldn’t hear myself think, and to top it off my back was to the clock. I drove toward the basket, the shot missed but Andy (Esposito) took the rebound away from them and put it in.” It lifted the Governors to a spectacular though controversial 37-35 victory.

 

Hillhouse coach Sam Bender said, “They beat us under the boards and that’s something that doesn’t happen to us very often.”

Verderame felt “the kids won the game with the deep freeze. They played the game the way we planned, and it worked out.”

College career just ordinary

After graduation from high school, Dom attended Allan Hancock College, in Santa Maria, Calif., where he took part in basketball and baseball. He was the seventh man on a hoop team that ended with a 24-4 record. They lost four times to the same school- Long Beach City College, which won the California Community College title that year.

Ferrara said he enjoyed attending Hancock and everyone was wonderful to him there, but he would like to go to a school in the East.

And that’s what he did, transferring to the University of Bridgeport. He sat out sports as a sophomore, then resumed basketball for the Purple Knights, playing two seasons.

In his junior year, when UB had an 18-14 record, he appeared in only eight games, making 45 points. As a senior, Bridgeport went 8-13 and Dominick played in all but one of its games, scoring 69.

He graduated from Bridgeport in 1962 with a BS degree.

A newspaper article about an All-Star Game that pitted Ferrara and fellow collegians against Meadowlark Lemon.

Played against Dave Hicks, another former Wilbur Cross star

Probably his last formal game, if it could be called a game, was on April 25, 1963, when he took part in a charity exhibition against the Meadowlark Lemon All-Stars at Fairfield University. He was among a group of Fairfield and Univ. of Bridgeport former players called the Collegians. He scored six points. Lemon’s team won 90-75.

As coincidence would have it, one of those whom Meadowlark recruited for that event was a fellow Globetrotter, Dave Hicks. He was from the same Wilbur Cross high school that Ferrara attended, but came along right afterward. Hicks put in nine points. He died in 1988.

Became a teacher and coach

Dominic received a master’s degree from Central Connecticut State University and began his teaching career in Ridgefield.

In 1966, he was named Athletic Director and head varsity baseball and basketball coach at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in New Britain, compiling a 99-37 record. During his six-year tenure, he twice led the basketball team to the State Championship Finals. Dom also coached the semi-pro New Britain Nets of the short-lived New England Basketball Association.

After Aquinas, he coached at New Britain’s Pulaski High School for six years and brought the Generals to the state championship game. Dom was the first high school coach in Connecticut to lead two different teams to a state final.

Then he was offered the job at the high school in Windsor, where he coached for 11 years. He succeeded in directing that team to its only conference title in 34 years.

Ferrara continued teaching, took some time off from sports, and then resumed coaching at Wolcott High School, followed by serving as a volunteer assistant/consultant to Stan Glowiak at New Britain High School, and then finally with Herb Kenny at Wesleyan University for four more years. His high school teams won 328 games in 27 seasons.

Hall of Famer and world traveler

He was a member of several Halls of Fame – the New Britain Sports Hall of Fame, and those of the Connecticut High School Coaches Association, Wilbur Cross High School, and New Haven Tap-Off Club.

After retirement, Dom and Maryann traveled extensively, going cross country 11 times, as well as to foreign lands. As a constant sports follower, he attended college basketball Final Fours and the XXI Super Bowl in Pasadena where he saw his beloved Giants win (per obituary).

When conditions permit, Dom Ferrara will be buried in New Britain’s St. Mary’s Cemetery, alongside his son.

The final horn has sounded for the “little general.” He had a fulfilling life.

Named above, with year passed (if available)

Lou Bazzano, 2013
Sam Bender, 1992
Bob Casey, 2003
Andy Esposito, 2015
Stan Egnat, 2013
Dominic Ferrara, 2020
John Ferrarra, 2004
Dave Hicks, 1988
Bill Hulteen, 2004
Meadowlark Lemon, 2015
Bob Melotto, 2009
Carmen Perrone, 1967
Dick Proto, 2008
Anthony Ruotolo, 2016
Don Sorcinelli, 2017
Sal “Red” Verderame, 2008

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