Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cedarhurst Municipal Stadium

Hewlett Harbor author Murray Greenberg's 2008 book The Passing Game highlighted the career of football player Benny Friedman (1905-1982), an All-American quarterback with a distinguished professional career.  In 1928 Tim Mara,  owner of the New York Giants, purchased the entire Detroit Wolverines franchise to acquire the rights to Friedman, its quarterback.  After a knee injury limited Friedman's career, he was a player-coach for the Brooklyn football Dodgers and  later in life coached for Yale and Brandeis Universities.  While he was coaching at City  College, the 34-year old Friedman became the coach and quarterback of the Cedarhurst Wolverines, a semi-professional team based at the Cedarhurst Municipal Stadium.

The Stadium was located near the intersection of Peninsula Boulevard and Rockaway Turnpike, on the site of today's Lawrence Senior High School.  It was built by the Village of Cedarhurst with workers furnished by the WPA in 1937. Between 1937 and 1941, it hosted minor league and semi-professional football teams with names like the Cedarhurst Giants, Wolverines (a nod to Friedman's former team), All-Stars, Gaels and Spartans.  They played the New York Football Yankees and an all-black team, the Brown Bombers  as well as teams from Valley Stream, Hicksville, Queens, Brooklyn, Connecticut, New Jersey and beyond.

In addition, semi-professional Metropolitan Baseball League teams, including the New York Black Yankees and the Brooklyn Royal Giants of the Negro National League.  Negro League baseball stars like Marion "Sugar" Caine and Barney Brown played at Cedarhurst during the 1939 season. 

As a young man, Bert Moser played in the minor leagues for a short time.  

"Born on August 6, 1918 in Cedarhurst, he spent his early years watching the teams at Cedarhurst Stadium. According to Bert, they played some of the best teams in their class such as the Bushwicks, House of David, Detroit Clowns, Black Yankees or Giants, Cuban All Stars and Springfield Grays. He would stand out there with a little mitt on Sunday afternoon catching balls, and when the game started sneak up into the stands or sell peanuts."  (Interview with Bert Moser, Society for American Baseball Research website)

Between May 1938 and September 1941, Cedarhurst Stadium also maintained a quarter-mile racing track for midget racing:   small race cars with a very high power-to-weight ratio which typically use four-cylinder engines.  Drivers like Ed "Dutch" Schaefer, Tony Bonadies, Bill Schindler and "Honey" Purick competed in 75-lap heats.  To increase interest, promoter Walter Stebbins offered $75.00 to the attending fan who held the ticket stubs on the winning car in the "Races for Riches" heat. The first American Racing Drivers' Club (ARDC) race was held on May 15, 1940 at Cedarhurst.  Unfortunately, the deaths of drivers Brad Stillwagon and Andrew "Honey" Purick at the Cedarhurst track in June and July 1940 contributed to the end of midget racing at Cedarhurst.

The beginning of World War II effectively ended other sports activities at Cedarhurst.  Although some events were held at the stadium after the War, it never regained the momentum of its pre-war days.  When Lawrence High School relocated to Reilly Road, the last remnants of the Cedarhurst Municipal Stadium were consigned to Memory.

Further Information

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