Dr. Jack Ramsay holding great-grandson, TJ McCormack. Photo courtesy of Jake Ramsay.
When the legendary basketball coach, Dr. Jack Ramsay, died on April 29, 2014, he left four great-grandchildren, including TJ, age four, and Cleona McCormack, who is now almost three years old. Their parents are Melissa and Tucker McCormack. They live in New Haven.
Melissa’s grandfather was Jack Ramsay and her mother is Susan Dailey of Wilton, one of Dr. Jack’s daughters. Melissa is a teacher at a New Haven magnet high school, known as the Sound School and whose students study vocational aquaculture.
Tucker’s father was the late Tom McCormack, a popular and talented sports writer for the New Haven Journal Courier and the New Haven Register. Tucker has followed in Tom’s footsteps in the newspaper field, and is the Metro Editor for the Connecticut Post. His mother, Marilyn, divides her time between West Haven and Deerfield Beach, Florida.
Last August, Melissa, Tucker, TJ and Cleona attended what turned out to be the Ramsay family’s final annual gathering at Dr. Jack’s summer home in Ocean City, New Jersey. Although weak and terminally ill, he delivered an address on that occasion urging those there to take their faith seriously.
On that day the beautiful photo shown above was taken. It illustrates the axiom that one picture is worth a thousand words. I am grateful to Tucker and Melissa for allowing SportzEdge to reproduce this photo, which until now had been kept private.
Ramsay’s Connecticut family
Coach Ramsay’s biological and extended family members have many affiliations within our state. They include the educational world of Quinnipiac, Wesleyan and Yale Universities, plus the New Haven School System. Also, ESPN, the Connecticut Post, and the cities of West Haven, Milford, Wilton, Farmington, Bristol, Bridgeport, Hamden and New Haven.
Jack was pre-deceased four years ago by his wife, Jean, whom he met when they were students in Philadelphia at St. Joseph’s College, now a university. They had three daughters and two sons, Susan, Sharon, Carolyn, Christopher and John.
Susan Dailey, who lives in Wilton, is an Associate Professor of Legal Writing at the Quinnipiac University School of Law in Hamden. She has been teaching there, as well as when it was the Bridgeport Law School, for the past 26 years. Until now she has been the director of Quinnipiac’s legal writing program and is retiring effective June 30th. Her husband, Vince Dailey, who was once described by Jack as the “ultimate sports buff,” has his own business selling computer equipment.
Melissa is the daughter of Susan and Vince Dailey. The Daileys also have a son, Geoffrey. He attended and played on the baseball teams at Wilton High School, Choate-Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, and Wesleyan University. He received a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) Degree from Yale in 2007.
Now back to Christopher Ramsay, who resides in Farmington and is a senior director of editorials for Espn.com in Bristol. He frequently worked with his father when Jack was the color commentator on ESPN’s television and radio coverage of National Basketball Association games.
Chris’ daughter, Tesa, played basketball for Farmington High School for three years and was captain in 2008. Two of her teams reached the finals and semi-finals of CIAC Class L tournaments.
Ramsay’s little known boyhood in West Haven
John (Jack) Travilla Ramsay Jr. was born in 1925 in Pennsylvania, when his parents lived in Upper Darby Township, bordering on West Philadelphia. Although most of his biographies state that the family soon moved directly to Milford, Conn., I learned that before Milford they had settled in nearby West Haven. The 1930 U.S. census and the West Haven city directory of 1930 indicate that their address there was at 54 Templeton Street, less than two blocks from the waters of Long Island Sound.
Coach Jack Ramsay’s father established the Guardian Thrift and Loan Co. Inc. and The Connecticut Mortgage Corp., working out of his office at 39 Church Street in New Haven. According to Susan Dailey, Jack’s father would often take along when he went to his office, allowing him to frolic on the New Haven Green. They then would go to the Savin Rock amusement park where they would ride on its famous merry-go-round.
Next came Milford
Around 1930 the family moved from West Haven to Milford, which is where Jack attended grammar school and a year of high school. It is also where he learned to swim and play basketball and baseball.
A handwritten list left by Jack’s mother and headed “Where I have lived” is among the family’s memorabilia. The last location in Milford is Gulf Street (without a number) and this is confirmed in the Milford High School 1938 yearbook, the Wepawaug. It includes a picture of his sister, Virginia, then a senior, along with a notation that her home address was 386 Gulf Street. From there, Jack told his offspring he would walk the distance under a mile to Long Island Sound, which is where he learned to swim. He used that talent in later life as part of his physical fitness regimen.
Virginia took up nursing immediately after graduating from Milford High School and worked for many years at the Hospital of St. Raphael in New Haven. She lived out her years in Branford.
How he spent his time in Milford
As a youngster during the depression, Jack was given an allowance of 60-cents a week. He also picked up and redeemed empty soda bottles, and delivered newspapers. “Our faith sustained us as well,” he recalled, pointing out that the family regularly attended Sunday Mass.
Through his books and interviews, Jack Ramsay said he developed his love for the game of basketball during his growing up years in Milford. He was always active in sports. “My parents, Anne and John, encouraged me to play in grade school and high school” he wrote. Neither of his parents went beyond the eighth grade, and his mother insisted that he go to college.
The father of one of his friends was the headmaster at the Milford (Prep) School, an elite private school on the corner of New Haven Avenue and Gulf Street. On Saturday mornings the headmaster would allow his son’s group, including Jack, to use the gym. There they played a very physical version of basketball in which the ball had to be pried loose from the would be shooter. It wasn’t the game as we know it today, but it was enough to whet Jack’s appetite to go further.
When he was 12 years old, Jack’s father put up a rim on the barn door behind their house. “I shot baskets there for hours on end,” he wrote. When it got too dark, he would go inside and aim rolled-up socks through an open oatmeal box hanging above the kitchen door.
Jack developed his shooting and dribbling skills by playing half court games year round with his friends, aiming at the one hoop hanging against the barn door. He also loved baseball. He and his father spent summer evenings in which dad pitched and Lady, their Irish setter, retrieved batted balls.
His father often took him by train to the Polo Grounds in New York to see National League baseball. That led to Jack becoming a huge fan of the New York Giants. They also used to go back to Savin Rock in West Haven to see amateur and professional boxing matches.
He told his daughter, Susan, that he often got into scraps with boys from other ethnic neighborhoods, to which he attributed his toughness in later life.
Jack attended Central Grammar School on River Street, next to Milford High School. Neither now exists, and the former high school building is now the Parsons Government Center housing most of Milford’s city offices.
Basketball at Milford High School
When he was about 14, Jack played on the 1937-38 Milford High School junior varsity basketball team, shown above. He is in the front row, extreme right, in this historic photo. It includes Roy Lund (holding the ball), who was captain of that team. Lund went on to play at Arnold College, which was also in Milford before being taken over by the University of Bridgeport. Like Ramsay, he also played semi-pro basketball in the Eastern League.
Lund became a basketball and football coach, as well as athletic director at Milford High School. He was also its final principal before it was permanently closed. He is now 90 years old, still lives in Milford, and, according to his daughter, Deni, is doing well. With Dr. Jack’s passing, Lund may now be the last known survivor of that 1938 team.
Back then Milford High played its games in the Central Grammar School auditorium. It wasn’t much of a floor, but in those days it was fairly typical. Ramsay once described it this way: “Canvas padding covered radiators on the baselines, and the court’s width was limited by a stage on one side and on the other by a balcony that extended about three feet over the court.”
In 1939 Jack’s oldest sister, Anne, was married in St, Mary’s Church, which still exists in Milford on Gulf Street. The same year his parents apparently separated and Jack and his mother moved back to Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. According to city directories, his father continued to operate his mortgage businesses and lived in New Haven at least through the early 1940s.
College was interrupted to serve in the Navy
Jack played three years of basketball, baseball and soccer for his high school in Pennsylvania. He went on to receive an athletic scholarship to St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia, now St. Joseph’s University. There he played basketball and baseball for the Hawks, but his college days were interrupted to serve three years in the navy during World War II.
The Navy sent him first to Villanova under the V-12 program before being sent to midshipmen’s school at Columbia. He became a member of the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Team, popularly known as the “frogmen,” and at 21 he was already the captain of a supply ship.
After his discharge he went back to St. Joseph’s and then to the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a master’s and PhD degree in education. From then on he was known affectionately as Dr. Jack.
This undated photo provided by Saint Joseph’s University shows the school’s basketball coach Jack Ramsay, center, when his team won his 200th career game. (AP Photo/Saint Joseph’s University)
He coached high school basketball, played for two teams in the Eastern League, and in 1955 returned to his alma mater as its coach. In 11 years there he brought St. Joseph’s to 10 post seasons, including the Final Four in 1961. His overall college record was 234-72.
In the NBA he coached four teams and registered 864 wins. His first pro stint was with the Philadelphia 76ers. Then he became coach of the expansion Buffalo Braves, which eventually became the Los Angeles Clippers.
The game that Ramsay coached in the New Haven Coliseum
Ramsay coached one St. Joseph’s game at Fairfield in the 1965-66 season. His team easily defeated the Stags, 100-74. He returned to Connecticut as a coach on Sept. 29, 1973, when he brought the NBA Buffalo Braves to the since demolished New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum. This was for a pre-season contest against the star filled New York Knickerbockers, who had won the NBA championship the year before.
I had the opportunity to do a radio broadcast of that game over WELI-New Haven, and recall there was a spirited sellout crowd despite it being just an exhibition game. The attendance of 9,599 was remarkable. More remarkable was that unheralded Buffalo defeated the Knicks, 118-103, but the real story was the many great players who were on the court that Saturday night.
Among the Knicks that were future NBA coaches Phil Jackson and Willis Reed, along with Walt (Clyde) Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, and Jerry Lucas. The coach was the famous Red Holtzman. It was a lineup that Ramsay’s young team should never have beaten, even in a meaningless exhibition.
The Braves came to New Haven with a roster including future star Bob McAdoo, who was in his second pro season. He is now an assistant coach with the Miami Heat and was one of the basketball notables who attended Ramsay’s funeral.
A local favorite on that Buffalo team was Ernie DeGregorio, of Providence College fame. Before Providence he had attended the St. Thomas More School in Oakdale, Connecticut. That season he would become the league’s Rookie of the Year.
McAdoo scored 31 points and had 11 rebounds. Ex-Columbia star Jim McMillan, whom Ramsay obtained from the Los Angeles Lakers, had 24, while Ernie “D” scored 12. DeBusschere led the Knicks with 24, followed by Frazier who had 20 points.
Afterwards Ramsay told Paul Marslano of the New Haven Register “I know that the Knicks are a much stronger team. But I still feel that we played as well as we can play against the world champions. . . This is the type of (run and shoot) game we like to play.”
Ramsay went on to guide Buffalo to the NBA playoffs that season, where they were eliminated by the eventual champion Boston Celtics in six games. Four years later, in 1977, when Dr. Jack was coaching Portland, the Trail Blazers won the NBA championship. That year started the city’s love affair with Ramsay that is still being expressed.
The Buffalo-NY Knicks matchup was the last time NBA teams would ever appear in New Haven, where from 1954 through 1960 there had been 16 regular season and three exhibition games in the old New Haven Arena.
This one, in the year old Coliseum, enabled Jack Ramsay to return in a professional capacity to within ten miles of Milford, where he had first picked up a basketball in the 1930s. It was fitting that he successfully directed a team in a game which, on paper, it seemed to have had no business winning.
Ramsay presented UConn’s Auriemma to the Hall of Fame
Dr. Jack was a physical fitness advocate who worked out and swam well into his 80s. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in 1992, and returned there in 2006 for another induction, this one of special interest to those in our state.
One of the inductees was to be Gino Auriemma, the coach of women’s basketball at the University of Connecticut. When asked to name a person to be his “presenter” he chose his fellow Philadelphian, Jack Ramsay, whom he had long admired.
After learning of his recent death, the UConn coach tweeted, “We lost a giant of a man last night. . . Anyone who has ever touched a basketball should say a prayer.”
Dr. Jack’s son, Chris, is senior director of editorials for Espn.com in Bristol
Ramsay’s son, Christopher, is the senior director of editorials for Espn.com in Bristol. He and his wife, Christina, have lived in Farmington for the past 17 years. Christina is an executive assistant for a computer banking services company in Southington.
Chris delivered the eulogy for his father during the final mass at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Naples, Fla. He said of his father that he was “a basketball genius, a true innovator. He taught a team game, a pure form of basketball, sharing and giving. With the right personnel, it was unbeatable.”
Chris revealed, probably for the first time in public, all the serious medical conditions that Jack valiantly suffered for the last 15 years. All the while he was caring for his wife who had Alzheimer’s disease and died four years ago.
Jack Ramsay was 89 when his life came to an end, and his funeral mass was attended by a who’s who of current and former coaches, players and broadcasters. Included were Pat Riley, Hubie Brown, Billy Cunningham, Erik Spoelstra, Jim O’Brien (also his son-in-law), Bob McAdoo, St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli, and Mike Breen.
Special tributes in Portland
1) Shortly before he died, the Trail Blazers opened a restaurant in the Moda Center, where they play home games, called Dr. Jack’s.
2) Before game six in the first round of the current NBA playoffs, a moment of silence was observed, a video tribute to Ramsay was shown, and a spotlight was focused on a banner bearing his name.
3) For the duration of their run in this year’s NBA playoffs, the players wore plaid patches on their uniforms, in recognition of the colorful jackets and slacks Jack often wore in the style of the day. Printed on the patches is Dr. Jack 77, referring to 1977 when he coached the team to its NBA championship.
4) On May 7th, the Portland City Council unanimously voted to rename a street alongside the Moda Center to Ramsay Way.
5) The Blazers’ current coach, Terry Stotts, has a sign hanging in his office with a Ramsay quote, “Teams that play together beat those teams with superior players who play more as individuals.”
Some memorable thoughts from Ramsay about coaching basketball
“Coaching is a means of self-expression. Successful coaches, like artists, have a characteristic style. No coach lacking first a sense of what he wants to accomplish through his team can succeed.”
“A coach’s personality, and hence the character of his team, is reflected in his philosophy of the game.”
“There are no original ideas left in basketball.”
“Determining his philosophy is . . . a coach’s primary task. He must decide, before anything else, what it is he wants to say of himself through the game.”
Although his successes and contributions are mostly associated with other regions of the country, Ramsay’s Connecticut roots are still very much in evidence through the several members of his extended family referred to in this article.
Two of them, living in New Haven, are not yet old enough to comprehend how much Jack Ramsay meant to others. But one day TJ and Cleona will know all about the life and accomplishments of their great-grandfather and be able to appreciate the positive effect he had on so many of those with whom he came in contact. And TJ and Cleona will be among those who will long perpetuate the heritage of Dr. Jack Ramsay.
“What is this game that runs through my mind? It is a ballet, a graceful sweep and flow of patterned movement, counterpointed by daring and imaginative flights of solitary brilliance. It is a dance which begins with opposition contesting every move. But in the exhilaration of a great performance, the opposition vanishes. The dancer does as he pleases. The game is unified action up and down the floor. . . . It is the solidarity of a single unifying purpose, the will to overcome adversity, the determination never to give in. It is winning; it is winning; it is winning.”
-Jack Ramsay, 1975
Associated Press; (2014, May 3); Blazers honor ex-coach Jack Ramsay, Retrieved from http://espn.go.com/nba/playoffs/2014/story/_/id/10875879/blazers-pay-tribute-former-coach-dr-jack-ramsay
Marslano, Paul. (1973, Sept. 30). Buffalo Beats Knicks. New Haven Register, p. C1.
Morrison, John F. (2014, April 30). Jack Ramsay, 89, legendary basketball coach in college and NBA. Retrieved from http://articles.philly.com/2014-04-30/news/49497049_1_basketball-coach-nba-championship-indiana-pacers
Ramsay, Chris (2014, April 28). Jack Ramsay, father and friend. espn.com. Retrieved from http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/10851183/dr-jack-ramsay-father-friend
Ramsay, Jack. Dr. Jack’s Leadership Lessons. Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley & Sons, 2004
Ramsay, Jack and John Strawn. The Coach’s Art. Portland, Ore: Timber Press, 1975
Jack Ramsay and TG McCormack; by Jacob Ramsay
Junior Varsity basketball team; Milford High School 1938 Yearbook