Numbers never tell you enough about a coach, but the incredible success enjoyed by Professor Ernest Blood's teams of Passaic High School will certainly catch your attention. My father, Pete Carlesimo, happened to attend St. Benedict's Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey, back in the mid 1930's when Prof Blood was on the faculty. As a result, even though we grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a few hours away from Passaic, New Jersey, where the Wonder Teams put up those incredible numbers, my brothers and I were often entertained by stories, most probably true, of a truly amazing teacher. Ernest Blood was much more than a coach, much more than a teacher, much more than any single word could ever hope to capture. To live and work coaching basketball in the metropolitan New York-New Jersey area for almost twenty-five years from the late 60's to early 90's whetted my appetite even more for information and insight into this Jersey legend. Finally, so many years later, Chic Hess provides us a fitting, comprehensive, and long overdue look at this unique individual.
A successful coach in his own right, Chic has brought an uncommon dedication to his task on this meticulously researched work. He took the time to detail many of the obstacles that Prof Blood confronted, not only on the basketball floor, but unfortunately, as can be the case, also off the floor as well.
There will be many parallels evident to anyone who has ever coached, no matter what the level, that reading about Prof Blood's adventures will certainly call to mind.
I've long believed that the purest form of teaching basketball is done at the high school level. The skills of the players are developed enough to be able to perform at a reasonably skilled level, yet the players are not so set in their habits to hinder them from learning the correct fundamentals and new skills. So many of us who have been privileged to coach or play our great game were profoundly influenced by a coach or coaches from our high school years. In addition, so many of the great high school coaches were content to remain at that level, inspiring a tradition of young players growing up, aspiring to play for these active coaching legends. To a degree, their influence has been reduced by the emergence of the non-school basketball programs.
Fortunately, for me, growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to play for a coach of that stature, Jack Gallagher at Scranton Preparatory. Hopefully, there are still many young players who enjoy the opportunity to play for a Prof Blood; a Jack Gallagher; a Morgan Wooten from Dematha High School in Hyattsville, Maryland; a Jack Curran from Archbishop Molloy High School in New York City; a Bob Hurley of St. Anthony's High School in Jersey City, New Jersey; teachers of such excellence that they continue to set a standard for other coaches to aspire to.
Prof Blood was one of the first of this special breed. One of the many interesting revelations in Chic Hess's book is how often the success of his Passaic teams foreshadowed some trends still recurring in the modern-day game. For instance, how many school administrators, athletic directors, owners or general managers have cried for a coach whose fast-paced offensive style could inspire rabid fan support and put "people in the seats"? How many of today's players cry for a fast breaking, pressing style of play that allows them to put constant pressure on their opponents? It's easy to understand how the Passaic Wonder Teams captured the imagination of the entire basketball public. Even all these years later, it is almost impossible to comprehend such an unparalleled level of excellence.
As is often the case with the finest coaches, their teaching was not limited to the gym or basketball floor. You cannot maintain this level of success without an appreciation for hard work and discipline, an understanding of sportsmanship and competitive ethics, and the ability to transmit these traits to your players. I remember my father, who was both a student at St. Benedict's Prep and, subsequently, returned as a football coach, telling of Prof Blood and his cool demeanor, the respect he commanded from his players and students, and that rare knack to be able to teach and motivate and organize and truly communicate with these students. A coach can experience a degree of success, even over a period of time, but when you can repeat this success consistently with different individuals playing for you and when you can duplicate this success at more than one institution, then you are separating yourself from even the most outstanding in your profession. This is exactly what Prof Blood was able to do.
There are always obstacles, or perceived obstacles, that can make a coach's job more challenging. These obstacles existed for Prof Blood and they exist for anyone coaching today. Some of us have enjoyed fantastic support from our administrators, our school boards, our fellow faculty members, and some of us have not. Parents can be our most effective supporters or our most divisive opponents, intentionally or not. The politics of educational institutions on any level are no less ugly than those we read about every day in our local, state, and national governments. Dealing with these obstacles, unfortunately, is a critical element of successful coaching. Prof Blood charted an interesting blueprint for us to learn from and follow.
Yet, somehow, this great teacher has not received suitable recognition for all that he accomplished. It would probably not be a recognition that he would seek, but it is surely one he deserves.
Coaches both young and old at any level will enjoy learning of the exploits of one of our earliest legends. It is sad that it has taken so long for someone to undertake the research and to have the perseverance that Chic Hess has shown in bringing this work to print. So much of the information in Prof Blood's biography was little known until now. The author has not only done Professor Ernest Blood a fine service, he has told a story that basketball people needed to know. Prof Blood and the Wonder Teams: The True Story of Basketball's First Great Coach says it very well.