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A coaching tree grows in Brooklyn

June 21, 2021 Andy Furman
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A tree really does grow in Brooklyn.

It’s a basketball tree nurtured and cared for by Gil Fershtman.

Fershtman coached basketball at Lafayette High School from 1961 through 1976 and besides winning 204 games in 279 tries for a cool .731 winning percentage he’s a bigger winner off the basketball court.

“I’m so very proud of the young men that I coached, and how so many of them became leaders in their own right,” said the 86-year-old coach from his Florida home.

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The list is like a who’s who in coaching, and more than that a true testament to the man who not only taught them basketball – taught them the lessons of life.

“Having been on his first team,” said Harold (Heshie) Becker, “I was truly privileged to also coach under him. But he is much more than an athletic maestro. His lessons on life experience have been influential to all his players for all these many years.”

Becker says Fershtman is “one-of-a-kind” and adds: “having him still as a friend means so much to me.”

Becker coached the Lafayette jayvee teams for several years, and served as Fershtman’s varsity assistant.

But there’s more.

You can list his eight divisional championship titles, one Brooklyn title and a Final Four appearance in his rookie season, 1961-62.

And he was Coach of the Year in 1975-76 when he led the Frenchies to a 19-1 mark.

But those are just numbers – words speak much louder.

“I learned everything from him,” said Mel Goldstein, a member of the 1965 playoff team, who went on to coach basketball at Wingate High and later served as the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) Basketball Commissioner.

“He molded me to what he wanted me to be,” Goldstein told the Eagle. “He inspired me to coach.”

Goldstein wasn’t the only one to be inspired.

Ike Pollack was a co-captain of the 1966 Lafayette squad. He soaked-up the Fershtman Way.
Pollack coached girls’ varsity basketball at Andrew Jackson High School in Queens (1982-1990).

He moved to Nassau Community College (2000-2010) where he served as men’s basketball coach and still found time to coach boys’ track at Grover Cleveland High School (2004-2005).

“I’ve been spending my retirement teaching private hitting lessons in the Phoenix-area, which I now call home,” Pollack said via e-mail. “The gaps in my coaching,” he explains, “are due to the fact that I was coaching my own kid’s teams while they were developing.”

He adds: “I imagine coach Gil’s coaching tree is very extensive. God Bless him.”

Steve Maletz played on the 1965 team – with Goldstein– and said, “No, I never coached, but I was the Chair of the PE Department at St. Francis College. I was also going to be the women’s basketball coach, but The President of the college wouldn’t allow it. He felt it would require too much of my time and would detract from my academic position.”

Oh, there’s more branches to this tree.

“I always said he was a role model and motivated many of us to strive for a quality role in the transformation of students into respected adults,” said Alan (Oogie) Eganthal, another former Lafayette hoopster, who went on to coach basketball at Richmond Hill High School.

And how can you forget Bobby Castagna who coached at Cal-State, Santa Barbara and now is an NBA scout; Freddie Grasso, coached  at Jericho High, served as an assistant coach at Adelphi University and later Video Coordinator for the New York Knicks and now son Jared Grasso, who serves as head coach at Bryant College in Rhode Island; Ken Gershon coached at Hillside High; Mike Pollack, Valley Stream High School; Mitch Frankel, now a very successful sports agent; Mel Finkenberg who served as PE Chair at Stephen F. Austin University – and won Educator of the Year Awards; and Howard Wizenberg, who coached at Solomon Schechter High.

Jeff Schrier went on to a very successful coaching career at CCNY, Jefferson High and Tilden High School.

What about the star —  TV writer and producer, Gary Goldberg?

And if you’re still not impressed, try this.

Fershtman coached baseball at Lafayette from 1972 through 1976 – won 140 games and lost just 15.

The 1972 team went 28-2 and won the city championship. Two years later, they went 32-1 with another city title. The ’73 and ’75 teams were Brooklyn champs and the ’76 team won a divisional title.

As for Fershtman’s baseball alumni – try Pete Falcone and Bob Turzilli.

Falcone pitched for the San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets and Atlanta Braves. He’s scouting in major league baseball these days.

As for Turzilli, he caught for the Atlanta Braves and was a professional for six seasons.

The coaching tree that grows in Brooklyn is a great place to be in the summer heat because it provides much shade.

Thanks to the man who planted it – Gil Fershtman,

Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected]

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