A legacy of champions

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On the week Notre Dame dedicates new fields, alum recalls Irish baseball championship after more than 45 years.

On Thursday, Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy will host a special dedication when students, athletes, alumni and school administration officials come together and celebrate new softball and baseball facilities with a special ceremony.

According to school officials, the "Bless the Bats" event will include a hospitality tent with food and refreshments; introductions of alumni, former coaches and administrators; remarks by school and athletic administrators; and a formal blessing of the new fields by Notre Dame Corporate President Fr. Leon Olszamowski, s.m.

Among the many Notre Dame alumni expected to be on hand Thursday will be members of the 1972 Catholic League championship baseball team, who will be joined by former players from other school championship teams, including the 1983 Pontiac Catholic state championship team, the 1989 NDHS state championship baseball team, the 1997 NDP CHSL championship baseball team, and the 2007 NDP CHSL championship softball team, among others. More league championship teams are listed below.

After the field dedication, Notre Dame's softball and baseball teams are scheduled to play home games vs. Marian and Royal Oak high schools, respectively.

Jason Gendreau, who has begun his inaugural season as head coach of the Irish baseball program, is looking forward to the ceremony and to the first full season on the new turf.

"The facility is a blessing to our program, not only for this season, but for many more to come," he said recently. "It has already enhanced and increased valuable practice time, and we are still early in the season!"

For Notre Dame alum John Berra ('72), who played on the 1972 NDHS baseball team, he remembers the championship game almost like it was a yesterday. The Irish beat Redford St. Mary, 2-1, in the final game of the league playoffs.

"Our winning run, which was scored by catcher Pat Srock ('72), came in when two outfielders for St. Mary collided on a fly ball," said Berra, who played outfield and first base for the Irish squad. "And Gary Cendrowski knocked him in."

"Junior Tim Flannery ('73) started the game for us on the mound and finished with a complete game," Berra added.

Led by longtime NDHS coach Tom Kelly, Notre Dame got to the 1972 league playoffs by virtue of a stellar 19-6 overall record and a 9-1 league tally.

The Irish made it to the league championship game after defeating St. Clement, 4-1. Originally scheduled to be played in Tiger Stadium, the game was rained out, rescheduled and played three days later.

After the league title, the team subsequently went deep in the state tournament, getting past league rival Bishop Gallagher, Detroit Finney and Grosse Pointe North before eventually falling to Detroit Denby, 8-6.

Berra recalled that after the 1971 league campaign where they couldn't get past Detroit Catholic Central senior pitcher Frank Tanana (who would go on to a 10-year career in Major League Baseball), he became obsessed with winning it the following year. 

"We just couldn't beat CC when Tanana was on the mound during the 1971 season," Berra recalled during a recent conversation from his home in California. "So, I told my classmates that it was do or die for us in 1972 since we were graduating that year."

He said the '72 team possessed great leadership and the determination to finally win it. 

Beating Brother Rice that year on the road was a big game that we needed to have for our Catholic League season standings," he said. "I remember getting the guys fired up on the bus ride to that Rice game."

Berra also had nice things to say about his coach.

"Coach Kelly was well-liked by all and he knew how to get the most potential out each of his players," said Berra, whose brother, Jim ('74), played third base on the team. "He certainly got the most out of us that season and he was awarded Coach of the Year by the Catholic League. Also, several of the our team players ended up All Catholic, All Central Division and All State that year, I believe. 

"I also remember that the day after our league championship win, the Detroit Free Press or Detroit News had our team picture and article on the front page. What a great memory!"

Notre Dame softball and baseball championship teams 

SOFTBALL
1981 Pontiac Catholic, Catholic League champions
1983 Pontiac Catholic, state champions
1986 Pontiac Catholic, Catholic League champions
1990 Oakland Catholic, Catholic League champions
2007 Notre Dame Prep, Catholic League champions

BASEBALL
1961 Notre Dame High School, Catholic League champions
1972 Notre Dame High School, Catholic League champions
1984 Pontiac Catholic, Catholic League champions
1986 Pontiac Catholic, state champions 
1989 Notre Dame High School, Catholic League champions
1991 Notre Dame High School Catholic League champions
1997 Notre Dame Prep, Catholic League champions


Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame's upper school enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.

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