|All interviews were taped and documented. They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library. The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||Not Indicated|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (11/24/1984)|
(I) Oh, you’re not in the Little League?
(N) No. because we violated all their rules. We violated their rules on tryouts, we violated their rules on major league and minor league, and we violated their biggest rule in tournaments. What happens with the Little League Tournament is that the managers select what they consider the fourteen best players. Then you have these tournaments – every little league has a team – and they play one game and half of them are wiped out. With the one game elimination tournament. They’ll practice for three weeks and after one game, they’re finished. And if they go two games, it is a lot and three games is tremendous. But you can see how it cuts down so it becomes very little meaning after that first game. We saw that and that was one aspect. A second aspect, you weren’t allowed to practice with another tournament team before the tournament. In a town like this, it had a bad meaning because we had three little league and three tournament teams. You think they would be practicing with each other. They didn’t permit it. So when they were ready to throw us out of the Little League especially when the girls question came in.
(I) When did this come up, being thrown out. Do you remember the year of that?
(N) It must have been about 68 or 69. Because in 70 we were into something else. So they were, of course, very upset by our having violated all their rules on tryouts and major leagues and minor leagues, forced playing of three innings, these were all violations and the girls became the top spot. Therefore before they could throw us out, we left.
(I) How is it going nowadays?
(N) I don’t know. It probably slipped back to, no many of the changes we had installed became official like tryouts exist, in the two – southern league and western league – but not in the northern league. But they do have now that every child must play a certain part of the game. That rule is still in. That’s about the biggest rule we put in. But on this question of the tournament team, we saw it as a complete waste also. That’s why we left. Instead of having a tournament team that is going to play one game and finish, we set up what we call a summer team which was the best players also but we had several teams that played with other little league teams all around the country or non little league after their regular season and kept it going all summer long. That was one aspect. Where we got our ideas by the way these are not original ideas of mine, I had heard that Hackensack had changed their whole system. They had a similar system to what we had. The Little League, one white, one black. I think one was Polish. Because of the neighborhood. They had a very successful year and they went to the national tournament, their tournament team. They came in second place. The leader of the thing there was the recreation director of the town itself. Tom De la Torre. And when they come back, the parents berated him for not having won the championship. Second place was not good enough. At that point, he was so thoroughly disgusted with the role of the parents and the organization of the league that he had proposed to his town a change in the whole principle.
To leave little league, to make one organization for the whole town and organize it along the principles we did because I had this with him. No tryouts. Everybody plays. Everybody plays three innings. And what they succeeded in doing, in those days it was easier, to bring al of the baseball fields to one central spot – Foschini Park. So that it couldn’t be organized and had no sense organizing any longer on the basis of where you lived. And most of these ideas came from Tom De La Torre. He also raised an interesting question of that famous tournament team that they had that went to Williamsburg, very few ever made the high school team. Showing that development that takes place from nine to twelve does not necessarily hold through from fourteen to eighteen years old. Some develop slower and some develop faster and it didn’t even have any effect. Now the question came up about how do you overcome this segregation in town and I proposed that we should follow the Hackensack principle of one organization and mix up all the kids. This was, of course, highly resisted on two fronts by the other leagues. One is they weren’t interested in giving up their segregated position. And the second is of course their principle was they put it that we were not interested a competitive program and they were interested in a competitive program. And what we would be doing is diluting. (end of side 1 – begin side 2)
Because if they let everybody play, there is no competition. Of course, that’s not true. There is competition no matter how you organize it. It remains just as great. The kids that have ability will develop; those that don’t have ability will remain in it just to enjoy themselves.
(I) Well that is what it is supposed to be, isn’t it?
(N) No. That’s the whole point. That is not the purpose of the little league. It is to create a tournament team that is going to win. That becomes their purpose. The kids don’t feel that way, except the very good kids. But for the others, that’s the problem. Then we had other problems in this town. You had three little leagues. They each had six major league teams, that’s eighteen teams. When they had finished playing at twelve years old, the next organization was called the Babe Ruth Organization. Those were kids from thirteen to fifteen. However, so concerned were they in producing just a winning team, that they kept it limited to just six teams so that when the kids graduated at twelve, only one out of three would have an opportunity to play in the Babe Ruth Organization. That’s one aspect.
In this town, that took on a very bad character because if you are going to select one of three and leave two out of three off, the two out of three were going to be black kids because they where all white managers and there are a few black;kids involved but that was not the rule, that was the exception. The black kids were accepted first of all not on the basis of ability, on the basis of how well they can be handled. Those that showed any, you know, of what they called undiscipline, they would have nothing to do with. And some of the better ball players, you know, when they reach teen age are not the easiest to handle. So it worked out so that very few of the black kids were getting in. So from the start, I had been, we had an organization of the three little leagues, a loose organization in town, I had started raising the question that they must expand the Babe Ruth Organization to enable all the kids that want to play to play. The fields were there but there again afraid that they would be diluting the skills of their program and after several years of attempting this and not succeeding, we decided that the northern league would organize our own.
What we called our Senior Division of kids from thirteen to fifteen which were the same as the Babe Ruth League. And we didn’t know if it would work or not. And it was very interesting. We just put out a call and hoped the kids would come. We thought maybe we’d have four teams or even if we had four teams in addition to what’s in the Babe Ruth, it would be worth while. We put the call out and the most interesting thing. We had tryouts so we could set the teams up not because we would leave any off. We thought if we’d get sixty kids we’d be very happy and we’d have four teams, enough to have a league going. We had no concept of who would show up but on the day of the tryouts in the high school which was in the wintertime, it was the most amazing sight from this area to see the trouping down there with their baseball gloves and instead of sixty, 105 showed up. And having 105, we organized seven teams. We didn’t care. And that started off the Senior Division. In order to achieve this, you had to have a field to play on. Votee Park was mostly a swamp we used to play a little on it. We petitioned the town council to make it into a field and eventually put lights in there. That was one of the battles we had. That was resisted very strongly by the other two little leagues by the way. Then we had a battle because whereas all the other little leagues had a minor league field and a major league field, in the northern league you had the major league field in Votee Park and the minor league in Argonne Park.
(I) Is there a difference in size between them?
(N) No. They are all the same size. We raised the question of, it made it very difficult to run the organization properly. You had to keep traveling back and forth and it made it more, just more difficult to run. The reason we figured they resisted making it, because there was room for it, of course some people were opposed to having a lot of recreation in the park, they felt it should be quiet recreation although that big field would never be quiet anyway, and we felt, and I think it was proper, that many people felt that the Votee Park was becoming too black and that by bringing our
(I) Did people say this or is it just your impression?
(N) Just our impression. The resistance from the type of people to it gave that impression, not all. I mean when Betty Schechtman resists, it is not because of that because
(I) That’s what I mean because I remember her resisting
(N) Betty Schechtman didn’t want, openly resisted and so we raised the question from the two point of view but Betty Schechtman, of course, she felt that it should be more quiet recreation whereas we felt that we got to keep the kids occupied in a healthy way if possible. So those changes were achieved in that way. We also organized the big league team. Where we set up an organization from six years old to an unlimited age. The big league would be playing in the summertime and those that were finished after fifteen years old would keep it going. And for a while we had quite an organization going but eventually it, that part of it fell apart.
(I) Why do you think it fell apart?
(N) Well I was getting tired of it anyway, that’s one thing. All the managers that had come up with me with same concept had left. New groups had come up in with the typical concept of the athlete that never made it was going to make through these kids. And they are dealing with the kids and I found I couldn’t have the same influence over them and do away from it. I felt it was a waste of time. I couldn’t have that same influence. We happen to have had an unusual bunch of men that were willing to go along with this program.
It was a special time actually, wasn’t it?
(N) It was a special time but in the other leagues, that same time existed. In the southern leagues, I heard stories of fist fights between managers right out on the field. The competition was so fierce and in a desire to enhance themselves at the expense of the kids is just unusual. And the appeal was made for one organization. It had to be done by the town council. And our council, as long as I have been here, has never shown much courage. In any true question and any true question and they certainly didn’t show any on this question. We had brought up what happened in Hackensack. Here was a living example of what could be done by a town similar to ours and therefore it should be done. The council made some move in that direction indicating, and we had raised the question that the council had the power to enforce it. That if they don’t like it, those that don’t like it, leave. It was done in Hackensack, it was done by the recreation department. They didn’t rely upon anybody else and it wasn’t a great expenditure on the part of the town because they still raised money from sponsors and from fees and from thing along that line. So the council made certain moves to unite the
(I) Who was on the council at this time, do you remember?
(N) Yes that was the when they started making those moves, that was the council that was elected by ACT, remember ACT? To defeat the Glenpointe. That was when Kramer, although he didn’t play much of a role, there was the reverend, Kielszek was the mayor, we had the reverend I forget his name, he met with all the leagues, and the question was raised, the council was ready to put some money into it and was ready to make rules and so the leagues started discussing and almost came together but when they realized, the other league, that the council was not going to put the pressure on it, it fell apart and the whole thing fell apart. We were almost on the verge. I have some documents here. I can let you have even. I’ve got minutes and everything else that took place between the leagues. During this period, of course, also there was a couple of other things took place in town that I didn’t play much of a role in. There was a fight for the swimming pool.
(I) Oh yeah, yeah, I’ve heard about that. We weren’t living here then. We didn’t come until 1973.
(N) There is no reason why the town shouldn’t have had a swimming pool and the area selected is the area where they have the pool now. That’s not a town swimming pool. The prime reason in my opinion why it was defeated was because the white parents, some of them, didn’t want their kids swimming with the black kids. There was even a leaflet put out to that effect. That fight was led by Max Haas who lived in this area by the way.
(I) He led the fight against it?
(N) Not the open fight, not that we didn’t want the kids swimming with the black and white kids but the area selected was no good. It was always the area selected was no good.
(I) It is no good.
(N) Why? You got a good swimming pool there.
(I) Well they have trouble with drainage and all sorts of things there.
(N) Well whatever it is. That wasn’t the issue though.
(I) I mean it still is no good even though they have a pool there.
(N) There were leaflets put out that I didn’t see but I’ve heard about showing do you want your kids
(I) And so on, and so forth. Miserable.
(N) Very miserable. That was also the same period of the integration of the schools.
(I) Yeah. I think the schools were already integrated and there was already busing
(N) About the same period.
(I) Do you remember anything? Well your grandson must have been going
(N) Yeah. My grandson went to school then. As a matter of fact, he was bused from the beginning of his school period and I found it a pleasant thing. He was bused down to Longwood School near Oakdene Street. I found it easier for him to be bused than for me to drive him even to Bryant School, he’d have to be driven. So busing itself I don’t find is a problem. When you come out here where all the busing takes place in the morning and you see the kids up on the next block, Van Cortlandt Terrace, each in a different spot, they get friendly and every thing else. It is expensive, that’s the only thing. It costs a fortune.
(I) And then we have to bus kids to private schools too.
(N) And then we are busing kids to private schools which is even worse.
(I) That annoys me.
(N) That annoys me horribly but so the busing part didn’t annoy me and I felt anyway that it should be integrated. Bryant School here was almost all black by this time. But I didn’t take any special part in it since I was involved with the little league and all it’s troubles and all it’s battles except that I just supported it. Plus the swimming pool and the integration of the schools. So I left that. Well I must have been there about ten or twelve years. I never intended to stay there. The only reason I stood there was primarily because of the black question. This was one of the few areas where there was integration in a real sense. With the kids it was always about 50/50%. We had a section in the white area, the northwest part of town that was part of northern little league and it wasn’t only a question of the kids playing together but it was the parents mixing too. Just one of the questions I missed, when we started changing the rules of little league, one of the changes we made is that the pitcher is not allowed to throw a curve ball. This is also against the little league rules. We had definite reports at that time, I had read reports from California, where a survey was conducted of kids who pitched in little league ball and it was found out by the doctors that most of them suffered from chips on their elbow attributed to the curve ball. We abolished the use of the curve ball in our little league program and it was just as effective without the curve ball.
(I) Yeah I’ve heard about that.
(N) The kids at that age… you see there are rules on how long a kid should pitch and the rules, part of it is good and part of it was bad because it also depends on the child. If you have one standard rule, when managers are determined to win a game, in most cases I’ve found, they were not that interested in the kids shoulder or anything else. Well my next field, as I was getting ready to retire, I got interested in gardening and horticulture.
(I) I’d like to hear about that.
(N) I started, although we had been living here for some time, my wife had asked, why don’t we grow tomatoes. I said, I’m from the city and in the city we don’t have tomatoes, we don’t even have grass. I didn’t see grass until I was quite old, until I was a teenager, raised on the lower east side.
(I) Oh you saw grass down on the lower east side.
(N) Very little grass on 104th street. We didn’t see grass. Where I spent most of my youth. Someone gave me six tomato plants which I planted and they actually came up and tomatoes came up and I ate those tomatoes and there is nothing like it. From that point on I became very much interested in horticulture. Once I became interested in the plant, I wanted to know how they operate, how they function. I was getting retire also
(I) Do you know what year this was?
(N) This would be about, I am retired now six years, about ten, eleven years ago and I am getting ready to retire and I thought, well this may be one of the things to retire to. I got interested, attended many classes on horticulture. In the Bronx Botanical Gardens. I went to a number of classes and reached a point I became a guide on weekends, every Saturday and Sunday. And I got interested in the garden club and its greenhouse and my interest in plants developed very much because when I did retire, I took almost all the courses offered in Bergen Community College. And they have an excellent two year horticulture program which went through on an auditing basis, not interested in credit or taking tests. And I’ve developed this interest but I got into the Garden Club. For example, there had never been a Jewish president in the Garden Club. Interesting, isn’t it? I became the first Jewish president of the Garden Club.
(I) When were you president?
(N) Somebody just completed two years now and the one in before him was two years ago and I was two years before that. That means six years ago. I was president for two years. The term is usually a two year term.
(I) Had there ever been a male president before?
(N) Only male presidents. Never a woman president. And when I was offered the position of president, I said I would do it only on the basis that I can select the vice president and then as the vice president, I had offered two women who had been president long before I was president and so I became the first Jewish president which was resented by quite a number
(N) Of course. There were not many Jews then.
(I) But that’s not very long ago.
(N) That’s right. That’s not very long ago you had the most conservative element, groups, in the Garden Club. And it is almost traditional I believe. So I became the first Jewish president and following me, there was a woman president. And the character of the Garden Club has changed. But worst of all, there was one or two blacks in there on a token basis and there had been quite a struggle, I understand, previously, there were a number of blacks that had left it. Found the situation so intolerable they organized their own Garden Club called the Cooper Avenue Club in Teaneck. They have a little spot even, the town lets them grow some plants. I didn’t find out about it from any of the members but when I went up to Milt Robbin, the township engineer, who had relations within the little league and discussed it, he threw it at me as if to say, see what you got down there. So I contacted the woman that had left it and organized the Cooper Avenue Club, Marie De Yampert, and brought her back and most of her people back into the Garden Club. We also have, as I say, a big greenhouse and I acted as assistant director for a number of years of the greenhouse and we expanded during this period. Expanded it quite considerably making use of all the room there it there, put in all kinds of important conveniences that were left out because there was always a fear to spend money and now we have a greenhouse that is really top notch. With automatic fans and automatic heating and automatic everything.
(I) Where did all the money come from?
(N) The money is raised from sales.
(I) From sales of plants?
(N) From sales of plants. The greenhouse has a sale now during the month of May in which many plants are raised and sold and that covered the price of improvements. The town pays, by the way, of course the town supplies the greenhouse. The green house used to be the sewage disposal plant many, many years ago but that was abandoned when the county put in a sewage system. After a number of years, the Garden Club had requested that it be turned into a greenhouse which the town did by putting grass on the roof. And the town pays for the utilities, the heating which is important and the water and the electricity because its one of the important recreational areas of the town. It is a quiet recreational area and serves mostly older people although some young people are there. And it serves an excellent purpose. Besides the greenhouse is used by the school system two ways. Classes come down, unfortunately it is mostly from Hawthorne School where they can walk over and there is claims raised that you can’t drive because of insurance reasons from other schools and you have whole classes come at a time, they receive a lecture there on how to take care of plants.