NovaNation Conversations: Gary L. Brytczuk

My name is Gary A. Brytczuk.  I am originally from Roselle Park, NJ and now live in State College, PA.  While I applied to several colleges I was really hoping to get accepted to Villanova.  That was my number one choice.  I was home with the measles when I got my acceptance letter.  I was ecstatic!  My older sister went to Chestnut Hill and often talked about how great the Villanova guys were.  She actually dated Olympian track athlete, Pat Traynor and I got to meet him and Irish Olympic miler, Noel Carrol when they came to our house.  Back then Villanova was a national power in track & field under the coaching of the great Jumbo Elliott.  He was one of the first coaches to bring in athletes from other countries

I attended Villanova from 1964 to 1968.  Things were very different then.  First of all, aside from the nursing school, it was an all-male college.  Freshmen were not allowed to wear any high school sweaters, jackets, etc.  All students were required to wear a jacket and tie to all classes and exams.  You were expected to go to mass every Sunday. It was a wonderful atmosphere of community. During my freshman year, I lived in Alumni Hall. I lived in Sullivan Hall for my sophomore and junior years, and then I moved to the Devon-Stratford Apartments for my senior year.

On campus, basketball games were played in the what is now known as the Jake Nevin Fieldhouse.  What an incredible atmosphere!  The building literally shook from the crowd noise.  Billy Melchioni and Jim Washington were the stars of the team.  I was hooked as a basketball fan.  I got to see some fantastic basketball players there including Bill Bradley of Princeton, Calvin Murphy of Niagara, Jimmy Walker of Providence and Bob Lanier of St. Bonaventure.

As great as the Fieldhouse was, I will never forget my introduction to Big Five basketball at the Palestra.   Most games were played as part of double-headers.  Everyone always rooted for the other Big Five team in the first game then went crazy for their school in the finale.  During a game against St. Joe’s, the fan sitting in front of me brought a live chicken into the arena.  Early into the game, he beat it to death and swung it around his head while yelling “The hawk is dead, the hawk is dead.” He then launched it into the court. An indelible memory, to say the least.

During my sophomore year, I joined the spirit committee and became a cheerleader, which led to even greater enthusiasm.  We didn’t do anything athletic, but we yelled and led cheers.  There was no financial support for this, but we did get a sweater with the “V,” a megaphone and free admission to the games.  This completed my dedication to Villanova sports. We also had a decent football team that we cheered for.  I particularly remember Al Atkinson who went on to play for the NY Jets.

Back then, not many games were televised, but there was a nationally televised game against St. John’s that was broadcast from the Fieldhouse. There was a questionable call against the Wildcats which ignited the crowd. They started throwing things onto the court and shouting “the refs eat [explicit]”.  We cheerleaders tried, to no avail, to quell the crowd, and we lost the game and more. The next day the administration announced that our next game, against Providence, would be moved from Villanova’s campus to Providence and that no tickets would be available. Our cheerleading squad went to the administration and asked if we could go to the game as a squad. They agreed, and we made the trip at our own expense.  When we walked into the locker room, the team was shocked and so excited to see us. Our small group of fans out-cheered the Providence crowd, and the Wildcats held Jimmie Walker to his lowest point total of the season as we won the game!

In the mid-1960s, The NIT was more prestigious then the NCAA tournament.  In 1968, ‘Nova got invited to both tournaments, but opted to play at Madison Square Garden in the NIT.  My roommate, who was the Wildcat, and I came up with the idea of several of us getting together and dribbling a basketball from campus to MSG. We took turns with the ball. When we got to the George Washington Bridge, photographers from the New York Daily News were there and took our picture crossing the bridge: Bob as the Wildcat and me in my cheerleader sweater.  We appeared on the back page of the paper the next day. I wish I still had a copy but it disintegrated due to age a number of years ago. Unfortunately, we lost to a Southern Illinois team that was led by the great Walt “Clyde” Frazier.

I moved to State College, PA 42 years ago and was happy that on a clear night I could actually listen to VU Hoops on the radio. Now that the Big East has the TV deal with FS1, I almost never miss watching a game live. The one exception was the first Butler game last season that aired at the same time as Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. I recorded the game and successfully avoided seeing the score until I watched it. I guess my cheering was missed.