Pride of Schenectady: Mont Pleasant great Dick Bennett starred on 1937-40 Makofski squads
Guard led MP powerhouse teams from 1937-40
SCHENECTADY For space purposes, Dick Bennett could have done the headline writers of the Schenectady Gazette and Schenectady Union-Star a big favor by shortening his name before World War II, and not after.
That’s because before the war, when he was in high school, his name was in the headlines all the time.
Bennett, who was known as Dick Bednarkiewicz, was one of the greatest players to ever wear the Mont Pleasant Red Raiders uniform for one of the best coaches ever, Sig Makofski.
That’s saying something, since Makofski’s name is synonymous with the advent of basketball excellence in the city.
Bennett, a 1940 Mont Pleasant graduate who earned a scholarship at Michigan State and transferred to Siena College, will join fellow 2009 inductee Mike Meola as a member of the Schenectady School District Athletic Hall of Fame on Monday.
As an inductee, the wiry guard will also join his former coach, who was a member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1998, and that’s appropriate, since Bennett was one of the players who made Makofski’s early teams great.
“It was wonderful when they told me [of his induction],” Bennett said on Wednesday. “Everything I learned, I learned from a great coach. He taught things, not just about being a basketball player, but about being a person, that other people wouldn’t have taught.”
During Bennett’s three years with the Red Raiders, Mont Pleasant went 56-4, winning league championships his junior and senior years.
By then, Mont Pleasant was playing an abbreviated schedule that included games against college freshman teams, as Makofski looked for ways to get games outside of high school competition.
“We had trouble scheduling teams during my time,” Bennett said. “We played four college freshman teams, RPI, Saint Lawrence, Union and Colgate, and Colgate was the only one that beat us.
“We had to go to New Jersey one time to play Union Hill, N.J. The first year I played, they allowed you to play 29 games. The next year, the good fathers of the city decided that was too many, and limited us to 16.”
Bennett’s 1938-39 team went undefeated.
The Colgate loss stopped a 37-game winning streak for the Red Raiders.
Bennett went to Michigan State but didn’t like it, he said, and came home to play for Siena.
“Back then, Siena was just the main building and a farmhouse in the front where the priests lived,” he said. “We practiced at Cohoes High and played our home games at a junior high. The following year they built Gibbons Hall.”
His second year there was the first in the tenure of head coach Dan Cunha, but also the last year Bennett would play for awhile.
He was there long enough to produce some great memories, though, like a 37-34 win over heavily favored Villanova in which Bennett scored about half of Siena’s points, made the go-ahead basket and had a steal late in the game.
“It was quite a game,” Bennett said. “It was the first time I recall anyone taking movies of a game, and Red Klotz, who [eventually] ran the Washington Generals, played for Villanova.
“They didn’t have the rankings like they have now, but Villanova was supposed to beat us. We played New Mexico State. We’d play anyone we could.”
The war called, though.
Bennett left school to get a job, then enlisted and was stationed in Texas, Oklahoma and then Alabama, where he spent the war working at an army hospital.
While in the service, he got tired of hearing his name mispronounced, so he asked his father for permission to change it and got the OK.
“It was something he had wanted to do,” Bennett said. “I called him and said, ‘What do you think, do I have your blessing?’ and he said, ‘Do what you please.’”
After Bennett was discharged, he resurrected his basketball career by playing professionally for the Schenectady Comets of the New York State League and the Schenectady Packers of the American Basketball League.
He got a job at a friend’s industrial supply company and has been married to his wife, Virginia, for 66 years, and they’ve lived in Rotterdam for 55 years.
Bennett said it’s a high honor to enter the same Hall of Fame as his old coach at Mont Pleasant.
“It was sort of unexpected, but very welcome, to join people like Sig and Pat Riley and Barry Kramer,” he said. “Basketball was different. Remember, back then, basketball was considered a no-contact sport, unlike today. There was no shot clock. It was just great to play for him.”