Bill Higgins remembers the stormy winter night he took his Fonda-Fultonville basketball team to Amsterdam to face Bishop Scully coached by Francis “Dutch” Howlan.
“We were tied for first in the old Tri-Valley League. We got to the gym, and no one was there. Dutch wanted to play, and he goes, ‘I got a couple of officials who can work the game,’ and after a while, in come two of his best friends,” Higgins said with a chuckle. “You can guess who won the game . . . He was something.”
More than a colorful and charismatic character, Howlan was a guy who would go the extra distance to help a kid out, and a superb coach who upon his retirement in 1987, was second among Section II’s all-time basketball win leaders with 468.
Higgins will be on hand when his friend is inducted posthumously into the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame in March. Higgins nominated the St. Mary’s Institute and Bishop Scully coaching legend, who in 34 full varsity seasons had 25 winning teams and accumulated 27 various championships.
Howlan’s 1981 Bishop Scully team claimed the Section II Class B title, while his 1977 and 1983 squads played in sectional finals. Those teams put together records of 22-5, 19-3 and 22-2, respectively.
Howlan accumulated several of those victories against Higgins’ Braves, when the Mohawks were piling up six consecutive T-VL Southern Division championships starting in the mid 1970s.
“Bishop Scully was our biggest rival, and we had some outstanding games with them,” said Higgins. “We remained friends all the way through it. It was a great rivalry, and we had a great friendship.
“I’m happy to be a part of him going in. It’s a little odd for a fellow coach and rival to help someone like this, but it’s well deserved. It’s more than deserved. He was not only one of the top coaches in New York state, he was great for kids.”
Howlan was appointed athletic director and varsity basketball coach at St. Mary’s late in the 1952-53 season, following the untimely death of Alex “Chief” Isabel. Soon after, he founded the Amsterdam Catholic Youth Organization Basketball Program, and as his career progressed, he helped procure college scholarships for many of his students, and for those from other schools, as well.
Since 1992, the Francis “Dutch” Howlan Award has been presented at the Section II Boys’ Basketball Scholar Athlete Award ceremony to a volunteer who displays long and dedicated service to area basketball.
“Wins are wins,” said Higgins. “He did more for kids than a lot of people know.”
Howlan remained at his alma mater until St. Mary’s closed in 1966, and maintained the athletic director and basketball coaching posts at Bishop Scully when it opened the following school year. The Scully gymnasium was officially dubbed “Howlan Hall” in 1982 as he neared the 400-win mark.
“This is a big thing for Amsterdam. I guarantee you at the induction in March you’ll see a lot of his former players, a lot of guys he coached with and a lot of family,” said Higgins, who serves as the state basketball coordinator. “He didn’t have many enemies. People enjoyed being around him.”
Howlan is remembered as a man who enjoyed his victory cigars and a good joke. He would sometimes stroll to the baseline while a game was being played so he could be closer to the referees and give them gentle verbal jabs. Higgins likes to tell the story about the time Howlan charged his mother admission to get into a game.
“He’s famous for that one. He said they needed the money,” Higgins said, chuckling again. “He was a good guy. He was a lot of fun. He was a barrel of laughs.”
Howlan was serious about his basketball, though, and coached to win while emphasizing sportsmanship.
“His teams were always very, very competitive, and never let up,” said Higgins. “They were aggressive and never quit. That’s why they were at the top or near the top every year.”
A World War II Navy veteran and Manhattan College graduate, Howlan began his basketball coaching career in 1951, directing the Ellenville High School junior varsity. His coaching success later included football and baseball stints.
Howlan, who died in 1989 at the age of 64, was one of nine individuals selected for New York State Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement. The induction ceremony will be March 17 at Glens Falls Civic Center.
Emma Willard’s independent tennis team extended its two-season unbeaten streak with recent victories over Ballston Spa and Maple Hill.
The Jesters have nine wins this season, with sweeps against eight Section II opponents to go with a 7-1 triumph over Horace Mann of the Bronx. Coach Judith Curry’s Jesters swept all of their matches but one last season, capped by 9-0 wins against Ballston Spa (quarterfinals), Bethlehem (semifinals) and Shaker (championship) in the Section II Class AA tournament.
This year’s team is led by Claire Schmitz, Chassidy King and captains Keishorea Armstrong, Samantha Blond and Mitali Das. Schmitz placed third in the Section II singles tournament in 2011, while King and Armstrong placed first in the Section II doubles tourney.
Emma Willard has matches scheduled with Queensbury and Albany Academy before the Oct. 15-19 Section II team tournament. Emma Willard was the Section II runner-up in 2010 and 2007. The Section II individual tournament runs Oct. 22-30.
Former Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake football coach Murry O’Neil and his first team from 1955 were honored guests as part of the high school’s homecoming celebration last weekend.
O’Neil guided the Burnt Hills varsity for 30 years, and his teams put together a 131-103-7 record. His 1956 team went undefeated (5-0-2) and shared the Saratoga County League title, and five of his teams won or shared Suburban Council banners. The veteran mentor later assisted football teams at Ballston Spa, Saratoga Springs, South Glens Falls and Saratoga Central Catholic.
The 1955 BH-BL team went 3-2, and the players on hand at Saturday’s homecoming game with Gloversville included captain John Kenney, Jim Sheehan and George Collins.
O’Neil not only started the BH-BL football program, but also its track and wrestling programs. His track teams went 119-29-2, and his wrestling teams went 53-13-3.