Every Monday evening and Saturday morning, November through March, finds Harry Dickenson courtside, compiling statistics for the Lutheran Basketball Association’s men’s and women’s leagues.
It’s a volunteer position he’s held for the past 40 years.
Dickenson concurrently served as numbers-keeper for the league’s high school boys’ basketball teams for 25 years, and retired just three years ago as statistician for the grade school teams after a 15-year stint. He also kept the numbers for the high school girls’ teams for many years. He tirelessly reported all of this information each week to local newspapers for publication, enjoying the chance to get to know many local sportswriters.
For his service, he was given a special, inscribed basketball last year, an honor he holds dear.
“I was honored last year by the men’s and women’s leagues for 39 years of dedicated service,” he recalled in a recent phone conversation from his Wheatfield apartment, where music played loudly in the background.
But Dickenson is quick to share the spotlight.
“Brian Hapeman spent 26 years with the league and with Niagara-Wheatfield, and Jeff Broecker has been with the league as long as I have,” he said. “Dave O’Neill has been with the men’s league and Lutheran Day School league the longest. I want to give Brian a special thank you because he takes me to most of these games and my nephews are there to help and give me rides home, too.”
O’Neill, who said he has known Dickenson for nearly 50 years, said, “Nobody’s done more for this league than Harry. It’s his life. The guy’s got a heart of gold.”
O’Neill, who only stopped playing in the men’s league consistently in the past few years, recalled that he and Dickenson competed against each other beginning in the Lutheran grade school league.
“Harry grew up in St. Peter’s, Sanborn and I grew up in St. Mark’s, North Tonawanda,” O’Neill said. “He remembers those games we played back then and will say to me, ‘Remember how you had 11 points in the second half of that game?’, for example.
“Harry remembers things I don’t remember,” O’Neill said with a chuckle. “It’s uncanny. I don’t know how he does it. Harry has been instrumental to this league since Day One as a statistician, scorekeeper, and keeper of all records, really.”
A day program through Complete Senior Care keeps Dickenson busy these days, too, as well as participation in the Western New York Challenger Sports League’s bowling division. It was created to allow people with physical or mental conditions that limit their participation in other competitive sports programs a chance to be involved in a variety of sports.
A chat with Dickenson, who turns 60 April 17 and now lives in Wheatfield senior housing, is a trip down memory lane. Conversation is peppered with the names of local athletic standouts dating back 40 years, as well as minute details of games played over that span and titles earned.
Dickenson recalled that Niagara-Wheatfield science teacher Rich Kosut got him started on his lifelong love of keeping stats. Dickenson graduated from Niagara-Wheatfield High School in 1977.
“I took over the statistics for him in basketball and football,” he recalled. “I learned it from him.”
Dickenson said he was introduced to basketball as a sixth-grade point guard, playing for St. Peter’s Sanborn in the Lutheran Day School division in 1968-69 under the late coach Daniel Haseley. He played in 9th grade for St. Peter’s Sanborn in the league’s high school division, under the late Eugene Pfohl, “and we won the championship,” he said.
In 10th grade, Dickenson served as place-kicker for the Niagara-Wheatfield junior varsity football team “and I kicked my first extra point.They said it went over the fence and into a garbage can,” he recalled with a laugh. “My coach was Bruce Frazier and we were the Niagara Frontier League JV champs, with a 7-0-1 record.
“Then I became statistician for the Niagara-Wheatfield team, which went to Rich Stadium three of five years and beat top-ranked Depew but lost to Grand Island and Clarence and beat Sweet Home twice,” he said. “The football coaches were Bruce Frazier and Armand ‘Ace’ Cacciatore and the athletic director was Bill Ross. Our basketball coaches were the great Don Miller and Al ‘Doc’ Masotti and Joe Casale.
“After I graduated, I was like a scout for jv and varsity football and I always taped the football games of other teams if Coach Cacciatore couldn’t get to them,” he added. “I was a big help.”
After high school, Dickenson’s uncanny ability to keep orderly numbers and recall key plays kept him busy with the N-W sports and Lutheran leagues.
“Randy Haseley was the coach and our Lutheran men’s team took sixth place one year in a national tournament at the University of Valparaiso in Indiana,” Dickenson said. “We were the Lutheran champs for six years straight, then had a 42-game winning streak snapped.
“The boys and girls teams also won a couple of championships and I was very honored when the boys went to the state championships at Long Island Lutheran and won against Trinity-Hicksville under the late coach Mark Kroening,” he added. “Lee Kroening’s basket won the game and my nephew Gary Walck had a couple of free throws to ice the game. Dale Retzlaff had had 42 points in one game the previous night. Ted Sheehan and David Retzlaff were coaches, too.”
Dickenson especially enjoyed watching his three great-nephews, Tyler, Matthew and Brock Kroening, play basketball in the Lutheran leagues and then at Starpoint High School through the years, he said.
Dickenson recently took some time to chat about local sports and his other love, music.
Q: When did the Lutheran Basketball Association start?
A: The late Edward G. Wallace started it in 1963 and he made me the public relations director in 1978.
Q: What advice did you give young players over the years?
A: I told them to keep their noses clean and don’t use guns or dope or get involved with the wrong people and keep your grades up or you won’t be playing.
Q: Any advice for coaches from your vantage point on the sidelines all of these years?
A: I don’t like to see kids sitting on the benches. Give kids a little more recognition for playing in these leagues, I mean if there’s 13 on a team and only 10 get to play.
Q: Did you grow up in Sanborn?
A: I grew up on a dairy farm. We had one of the cleanest farms around. We always had to get up early and I helped out. We had 54 cows.
My mother, Edna Pfohl, passed away 25 years ago. My father, Wallace “Wally” Pfohl, died in 2000. I miss them. My brother-in-law, Gilbert Walck, and my sister Carol and their son, Randy, continue the family farm, but they don’t have cows anymore. My nephew, Tyler, helps, too. I also had a foster brother for a few years, Johnny. I was a foster child. They brought me home when I was three months old.
Q: How did you get involved with music?
A: I played drums. I started with music because of my Dad. He had a gentleman in his band, Danny Beecher, who helped me and I took lessons at Matt’s Music in North Tonawanda. My first music teacher was Glen Tilyou at St. Peter’s. I played drums for 40 to 45 years. I started when I was six. My dad had rehearsals -- he had a Bergholz wedding band with Mrs. Adelia Eggert and he played a little over 100 weddings. He played trumpet and violin.
And we played in the Bergholz German Band, that was a 35-piece band, and the Wheatfield Community Band, and the Humbergers<cq> Brass Band from Bergholz, that was an 8-piece band.
I performed with the 65-piece American Legion Sikora Post Band of North Tonawanda for 31 years. We traveled all over, to Washington, D.C., Chicago and New Orleans and won the national championship in 1987 in San Antonio. I was bandsman of the year in 1987. I was also very honored to play with the German American Concert Band in Buffalo.
Q: Do you still play music?
A: No. The American Legion band disbanded in 2002. I miss it. But I’m a great promoter of WXRL’s German Hour. I’ve been listening to that since 1974, and the Polka Jamboree since 1977 and Drive Time Polka. I miss my good friend and former neighbor, Ramblin’ Lou (Shriver). His band always played at Sanborn Fire Hall. I don’t play drums anymore, but I have many CDs and tapes to listen to.
Q: What else keeps you busy?
A: I help at my church, St. Peter’s Sanborn, ushering and keeping stats for the church and helping with the Sunday School and lawn-mowing. And I’ve been a member of the Challenger Bowling League for six years now.
I also want to say, too, that it was a great honor to receive the Bobby Weber PAL Award from the coaches at Niagara-Wheatfield in the late 1980s. The late Fred Barone was the prinicipal back then.