O'Brien, a tackle who was a co-captain of the championship team, remembers a squad made up of undersized guys with oversized hearts. "The biggest guy on the team weighed 190 pounds," he said. But what the players lacked in size, they made up for in quickness and a desire to win.
"The kids were determined," said Tony Piazza, who was then 24 and an assistant coach. "Everyone knew their job. We never had to say anything twice."
The team's turnaround was largely the work of then new head coach Roy Ilowit, a former City College of New York standout and semi-pro player. At age 36, Ilowit took the reins of a program known for losing and turned it into a team of winners.
"Everybody loved Roy," said Piazza. "He was the key guy with that football team. He should get 99 percent of the credit." Ilowit, who would later start the football program at C.W. Post, brought respect to the team, and players followed him devotedly.
It was a team full of characters, according to O'Brien, the most memorable of whom was quarterback Dicky Goetz. Piazza described him as "a little nutty." O'Brien called him flat out "crazy." O'Brien recalled incidents in which Goetz would go down to the beach in the middle of the night and steal a tractor, driving it up and down the beach and up to the recreation building.
"He was crazy," said O'Brien. "No drinking involved." After high school, O'Brien became a police officer and, regrettably, had to distance himself from Goetz's antics. "I stopped hanging around them because I was a police officer," he laughed. "I was going to get fired or get arrested."
With a football in his hand, however, Goetz was all business, according to Piazza. "On the ballfield he was a real determined kid," said Piazza. Another determined kid was fullback Harold Kraftchick, who led the conference in scoring with 132 points and 21 touchdowns, including six in the final game against East Rockaway. He was described by Piazza as a quiet kid off the field, and a bulldozer on it. "Harold was a quiet kid, but once he got that ball in his hand ...," he said, not needing to finish the point.
While the offense was a juggernaut of speed and unpredictability, Piazza was quick to point out that the team's defense gave up only 58 points during the entire eight-game season. "They were so good," Piazza said of the defense. "I can't really remember anyone who ran over us."
O'Brien said that what kept the team together was a commitment to winning. Most of the players were seniors and had two years of losing fresh in their minds. "We'd run it three times and punt," O'Brien recalled of those first years. "You get tired of losing." But the experiences the team shared brought them together and made them a family. "There was no animosity, there was no superstar," he said.
Being part of that family, Piazza added, meant being able to play no matter what. The word "injury" was not part of their vocabulary, especially on a team where only 14 of the 22 players were regulars. "If you got hurt, you just taped it up and forgot about it," Piazza said. "They had to play; they had no choice. I was impressed with the tenacity."
Now, 50 years after dominating a conference they had previously served as doormat, the '53 Marines are finally getting their due recognition. During Homecoming on Oct. 25, the team will be inducted into the Long Beach High School Wall of Fame. The wall, which features famed alumni like Billy Crystal and basketball Hall of Famer Larry Brown, honors former students who have made an impact on the world and in the community. Also being inducted this year are 1950s Harvard basketball star Edward Condon, lacrosse pro Ken Garcia, 1991 scholastic baseball League MVP D.J. Robertson, "Seabiscuit" actor Ed Lauter and Long Beach historian Roberta Fiore.
Athletic Director Arnold Epstein is hopeful that at least some of the players from 1953 will be able to attend the ceremony, though he said that contacting the members has proven somewhat difficult. "It's easier to contact individuals -- it's harder to contact an entire team," he said. Epstein hopes that the team will make a showing reflective of its '53 triumph. "It's a special event," he said. "It's really nice for the community and the individual honored."
"Every community has reasons to be proud," said Dr. Ronald Friedman, superintendent of schools. "The hard part is making the decisions." Friedman said that more than 30 alumni were nominated for the wall this year during the annual nominating period, from Feb. 1 to March 31. The final decisions on honorees are made by May 15 by a committee comprising the high school's athletic director, principal, two members of the booster club and school board members.
"The Wall of Fame is a wonderful way for such a fine community to be able to recognize and honor citizens from our history who have contributed positively to make this town the great place it is," Friedman said.
The Perfect Season
Long Beach 20 Malverne 0
Long Beach 19 Woodmere 14
Long Beach 19 Lynbrook 0
Long Beach 26 West Hempstead 0
Long Beach 24 South Side 0
Long Beach 40 Oceanside 13
Long Beach 25 Hicksville 13
Long Beach 45 East Rockaway 18
The 1953 Marines
Harold Cohen Stuart Hershon
Victor Reizman Gregory Finnan
Andre Leeds William O'Brien
Richard Dawson Lawrence Kimmelman
William Greenburg Jack Nedlin
Paul Steiner Richard Goetz
Harvey Danis Harold Krafchick
William Bergen Robert Fowler
Martin Shapiro Barry Zweiban
Nick Yankanich Joseph Skapley
Steven Simon Fred Schaler
Miles Schack Meshel
Fred Rosenberg Martin Ralph
Steve Ornstein Sorie Knox
Klein Gary Hyman
Ronald Gumpert George Gold
Ronald Feldman Bernstein
Hardy Crosby Paul Camara
Head Coach Roy Ilowit
Assistant Coach Anthony Piazza
Assistant Coach George Friedman
Assistant Coach Thomas McCabe
Director of Athletics Samuel J. Santay
After two winless seasons, however, the coaching staff changed, the philosophy changed, and the 1953 team did the impossible: It went undefeated.