Brooklyn Boro

Gil Fershtman’s well-kept secret

July 1, 2024 Andy Furman
Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax, on hand for the Dodgers' Old Timers Game festivities, smiles as he talks to current members of the team in the dugout before the baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies, Saturday, May 16, 2015, in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Danny Moloshok, File
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When you have won two Public School Athletic League City Championships as a baseball coach and eight divisional championships — one Brooklyn title and a Final Four appearance in your rookie season coaching basketball — picking a career highlight just might be a bit difficult.

Not for Gil Fershtman — not at all.

In fact, he even calls it perhaps his greatest accomplishment.

The former Lafayette High basketball coach — he did it from 1961 through 1976 — amassed 204 wins in 279 games for a whopping .731 winning percentage. He was Coach of the Year in 1975-76 when he led the team, then known as the Frenchies, to a 19-1 mark.

As Lafayette’s baseball coach, his 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.

Not a bad resume for any coach — on any level.

So, when asked about his greatest accomplishment the coach, who turns 90 on July 24th, and is still sharp as a tack, said, “Just seeing the success of so many of my former players; and the good things they’ve accomplished.”

C’mon, coach, enough with the “coach speak.”

Sure, you’re proud of winning two PSAL City baseball championships — one at Shea the other at Yankee Stadium.

But the greatest memory easily rolled off the coach’s tongue.

“Well,” he remembered during a phone chat with the Eagle last week, “In high school we played baseball in what was the Ice Cream League. There was no Little League to speak of back then.”

And Gil Fershtman’s Ice Cream League team, the Scorpios, were playing the Tomahawks for the league championship in the Prospect Park Parade Grounds.

“There was an outstanding pitcher on that Tomahawk team,” he said, as if the game were played yesterday. “We played them even — no score — after 10 innings, and were told the game would continue the next morning (Sunday).”

Fershtman’s Scorpios scored a run in the 11th inning and won the Ice Cream League title with a 1-0 shutout.

Gil Fershtman walked away with the league Most Valuable Player trophy; and did we mention the pitcher Fershtman’s Scorpios faced?

None other, than Sandy Koufax — yes, Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, the Lafayette High grad.

Fast forward.

“It was in 1970,” Fershtman recalled, “The man who formed the Ice Cream League was honored at Shea Stadium, and (Sandy) Koufax returned for the ceremony. I met him and told him I was coaching for Lafayette.”

No mention of that MVP trophy.

Baseball was always Fershtman’s first love. “I wanted to play for the New York Yankees,” he said.

Lucky for those he coached, he never made it to The Show.

“I learned everything from him,” said Mel Goldstein, a member of the 1965 playoff team, who went on to become a successful basketball coach at Wingate High School. He later served as the PSAL basketball commissioner. “He molded me to what he wanted me to be,” Goldstein told the Eagle. “He inspired me to coach.”

He wasn’t alone.

“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.

In Fershtman’s first season as Lafayette’s basketball coach, 1961-62, he won 14 of 18 games, copped the divisional championship and made it to the Final Four before losing a one-point heartbreaker to Wingate at Madison Square Garden.

That team featured stars like Freddie Grasso, Mike Pollack and Gary Goldberg, the creator of the TV show “Brooklyn Bridge” and writer/producer for “Family Ties” and “Spin City.”

Not to be outdone, Fershtman’s baseball alums include Pete Falcone and Bob Turzilli.

Falcone pitched for the San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets and Atlanta Braves.

As for Turzilli, he caught for the Braves and was a six-season pro.

But none of those athletes beat out Sandy Koufax for an MVP award.

Happy Birthday, coach!

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]. Twitter: @AndyFuremanFSR

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