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March 29. 2013 8:49PM

John Habib's City Sports: Legendary names link past, present


Manchester Memorial's new softball head coach, Erin Reilly, foreground, is counting on her seniors, from left, Sydney Farley, Aubre Hornor and Michaela Demers. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
When Erin Reilly recently became head coach of the Manchester Memorial High softball team, she thought about two men she wished had lived to see her lead the Crusaders: her grandfather, John "Jumbo" Reilly, and former Memorial assistant coach Tom Croasdale.

Jumbo Reilly spent 36 summers as coach of Manchester's Henry J. Sweeney Post 2 American Legion Baseball teams, leading Sweeney to 14 state titles and three Legion World Series appearances.

Croasdale, an outstanding official, referee and coach, spent his later years volunteering his services to many community activities. It was as a volunteer assistant that he coached Erin Reilly at Memorial from 1999-2001.

"Catching was my first love, and that's because my grandfather was a catcher when he played," said Reilly, who also played first base for the Crusaders. "My grandfather was a great player and coach, and I just wanted to play catcher in his honor - you know, keep it in the family."

Reilly said Croasdale was "one of my favorite coaches. When he stopped coaching, he still came back and watched us play."

Reilly graduated from Roger Williams University in 2006, and, a year later, she began a three-year stint as junior varsity assistant coach at her high school alma mater. In 2010 and '11, she was varsity head coach Jerry Harper's assistant. Last year, she returned to the JV's as head coach and last year and led the Crusaders to a 10-8 season.

"I have Crusader pride," said Reilly, who also played soccer and basketball at Memorial. "I love the school, and I love coaching the girls. I have four seniors coming back this season, and I coached them when they were freshmen."

Reilly, a paraprofessional at Memorial who works in special education, said she has a goal for her team this season: "To make the post-season and host a home playoff game," she said. "I believe this team can accomplish that goal."

_


IN THE nearly 100 years since it opened on Sept. 8, 1913, Gill Stadium has been the site of countless memorable moments. Wayne Sanderson, a teacher and coach at Manchester High Central from 1964 until his retirement in 2001, has witnessed more than his share.

With Gill's centennial approaching, Sanderson recently sent a letter sharing his thoughts on the old brick building he still considers a second home.

"That's 37 unique yearbooks," he said of his long tenure at Central. "Perhaps some of those graduates whose pictures smiled back at me didn't realize the 'hold' Central and Gill Stadium had on them. They do now."

Sanderson did two stints as Central's baseball head coach and also headed the football team for seven seasons, 1970-76, after serving as an assistant to Willie Hall for six years. His teams won three state titles in baseball and one in football.

One of his greatest Gill memories is of the 1995 Class L baseball championship, in which Central's Peter Lopez faced Pinkerton of Derry ace Jay Yennaco. Both pitchers had just been selected in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft - Lopez by the Indians, Yennaco by the Red Sox - and a big crowd turned out to see the duel, which Lopez and the Little Green won, 3-2. Another fond baseball recollection is of facing Trinity of Manchester at Gill when Sanderson's son, Brian, was playing for the Pioneers.

Of course there are great football memories, too.

Sanderson could go on for days about all-state fullback Dick Fuller's four touchdowns against Haverhill, Mass., on Thanksgiving in 1966, the capper on an undefeated, championship season. To this day, many consider that '66 Central squad the best football team in city history.

(Personally, my pick is the 1965 Memorial team, also unbeaten, which included a 9-0 victory over Central among its seven shutouts and allowed just 21 points overall.)

Then, of course, there was Steve Schubert's 92-yard punt return with less than a minute to play in the 1968 Thanksgiving game, the future NFL player stunning Haverhill's players, coaches and fans while lifting Central to a 6-3 victory.

Another cherished moment - also at Gill, also against Haverhill: the late, great Stan Pinkos catching a touchdown pass to lead Central to a 26-19 victory.

"With three minutes left, all the concession stand workers raced to the sidelines to watch the end of that tension-filled game," Sanderson wrote. "Two aproned concession workers stood beside me on the sideline."

When Sanderson thinks about Gill Stadium, this is what he sees: "An imposing structure high on a plateau, which sat at a crossroads in Manchester. With its mammoth light towers aglow on a Friday night, it could be seen for miles. On any night, actually, it was the centerpiece of a city thirsty for sports."

Now living in Goffstown, Sanderson still drives his car past the old ballpark in which he coached so many games.

"As I drive on Maple Street and pass by Gill, I always slow down and take a look," he wrote. "I have to, for there's no place like home."

"City Sports" appears Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at jhabib@unionleader.com.

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