Taylor Made Athletes-Fra Noi
Interview with: Vincent Romano
The Taylor Street Archives honor those intrepid Italian immigrants who settled in the legendary Little Italy on the Near West Side of Chicago, as well as their offspring who were born and raised there. As we note in our archives, Taylor Street Archives, they were a people who excelled in every field — from manual labor to endeavors that only the most talented and courageous could master. It should come as no surprise, then, that our annals are filled with the accomplishments of Taylor Street denizens and scions who left their mark in the talent-driven arena of athletics.
It is altogether fitting and proper to begin our list of athletic notables with Nick Fosco, who won the welterweight crown in the first National Golden Gloves Tournament, sponsored by the Chicago Tribune in 1928. Richard Guerrero, born two years later in 1930, was the most heralded Golden Gloves Champion of all time, capturing the 1948, 1949 and 1951 national titles. Richie’s phenomenal amateur career included a 332-2 win-loss record. Of special note was his defeat of middleweight Floyd Patterson, who went on to win the heavyweight championship of the world. Jackie Corvino, son of a blacksmith from Morgan Street, was yet another successful amateur boxer from Taylor Street, winning the 118 pounds Golden Gloves championship in 1949.
Fast-forward three decades to the reign of Muhammad Ali, when another Taylor Street boxer, Luke Capuano, etched his name in the chronicles as a cruiser heavyweight. Capuano was involved in a hotly contested split-decision loss to Mike Rossman that propelled the latter to a title fight for the world championship. Capuano’s youthful athletic career is documented in two stories he submitted to the Taylor Street Archives. The “Our Athletes” page of the TSA also bears witness to the talents of notable neighborhood boxers such as John “Chickie” LaPlaca, Tony Spano and Primo LaCasa.
Despite the many fist-fighters who won their share of laurels, the most popular sport in our neighborhood was softball. At the top of the Windy City softball hill during the pre-WWII era were out fielder Charlie Serpe and short center fielder Anthony “Noboy” Tenerelli. (Anthony acquired the nickname “Noboy” when he was asked as a youngster by a horseplayer to pick the jockey he thought would be riding the winning horse. He picked “Noboy,” which means there was no jocket yet assigned to that horse.)
Third baseman Bobby Garippo had a stellar career as an MVP who played on five Windy City Softball World Championship teams during the 1970’s and 1980’s. His achievements won him a place in the Windy City Softball Hall of Fame in 1987. Garippo and other softball standouts played at the likes of Cinder Stadium, which was ruled by the ten Orrico brothers(Editor’s note: there were 11 Orrico brothers) and Dante School yard, which was dominated by the Parise brothers. Other aces included Nick Parise, Cy Abatta, Leewa Yucille and Richie “Schemer” Mangarisi.
Basketball produced the longest list of stellar neighborhood athletes. Harry Garippo, whose talents also included baseball, shooting pool and handicapping horse races, topped the list as a leading schorer for Medill High School during the 1920’s. Nick Caruso captained St. Ignatius High School to an interleague city championship in 1951, and I once was named to the all-star team in the citywide Settlement House Basketball Tournament, and coached the 1960-61 Wells High School basketball team to the Chicago Public Schools Championship. (Editors’s note: The Chicago Public Schools is the largest school-boy conference in America.) Then there were the fabulous Billy Russo and the incomparable Johnny Incardone of St. Phillips High School. Johnny was the perennial high scorer in an annual basketball tournament at St. Sabina’s that featured college players and “almost made it” professionals.
Nick Caruso and I both coached Harry Garippo’s son Bobby,and both of us agree that he was the best basketball player and athlete to ever come out of Taylor Street. There was no one like Bobby Garippo, an eighth grader who popped jump shots that rivaled those of Kobe Bryant’s 3-pointers, long before the three-point rule came into effect. It wasn’t until Michael Jordan came along that I saw the equivalent of a young Bobby Garippo’s driving layups. (In addition to his basketball and softball skills, Bobby was noted in his later years for the numerous golf championships he won while representing the Ridgemoor Country Club.)
Hundred-point scorer Nick Panico was another hoops marvel, and equally notable were Doogy Belmonte, Joe Lasacco, Allen Bettina, Anthony “Hindu” Delcova and Larry Marnell. All were Sun-Times Youth Basketball Tournament victors who were frequently invited to play during halftime festivities at the Chicago Stadium.
Although not as high-profile as boxing, basketball and softball, another popular sport was handball. Taylor Street had a number of national-caliber players, including Jim DeVito and Anthony “Noboy” Tenerelli, and handball ace Tony Raso, who became a highly proficient racquetball player in his later years.
While most kids went to Cregier, McKinley or Harrison high schools, Crane Tech boasted more than its share of Taylor Street-bred athletes who won city championships. In his first and only year on Crane’s swimming team, Raymond Romano won the silver medal in diving. Chick Fazio won his share of track honors while at Crane, and Sal and Joe Carcerano, whose grandparents were part of that Taylor Street phenomenon, starred on Crane’s basketball and baseball teams, both of which won Chicago city championship titles.
We developed our indoor athletic skills at Hull House, Sheridan Park and the CYO. While boxing and wrestling were popular indoor sports at Hull House, Sheridan Park produced the boxers. Hull house did produce an AAU wrestling champion, Jimmy Parille, who competed during the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Of special significance are those Taylor Street athletes who have won national championships. Some were Taylor Street bred, while others had ancestries that reach back to Taylor Street and distant shores of southern Italy. Leading this list of national champions are Nick Fosco and Richard Guerrero of Golden Gloves fame, and softball ace Bobby Garippo. While serving as director of Sheridan Park, Jim DiVito won the senior national handball championship. Marc Romano, grandson of Harry Garippo, was a member of Triton’s 1970 National Junior College Wrestling Championship team. (Editor’s note: Amerigo “Rick” Romano, Marc’s brother was a member of that 1973 National Championship team.)
Angelina Romano — the 8-year-old great-granddaughter of Harry Garippo, grandniece of Bobby Garippo and niece of Marc Romano — was crowned the 2012 National Karate Champion. Her older sister, Christina, won the Illinois State Karate Championship. Editor’s note: Christina won the gold in 2014.) Angelina and Christina are the daughters of my son and daughter-in-law, Rick and Olga Romano.
I’d like to exercise my literary license by expanding the list of Taylor Street stars beyond the realm of athletics. One club, the Morgan Fads S.A.C., produced two international champion gin rummy players, plus a third that came within a whisker of making it three out of three for the Morgan Fads. Just imagine that one inconspicuous little club at one time harbored the best gin rummy players on the planet. Jerry “Bugsy” Piscatello won the first Las Vegas International Championship, followed almost back-to-back by Eddie “Steady Eddy” Giampa. And Joe “Hammer” Delessandro barely missed winning a third championship, taking seventh place.
All three were from Taylor Street. All three were from just one of the numerous clubs that filled our neighborhood. All three were first-generation Italian Americans.
We invite the readers to send in the names, stories and pictures of any notable athletes who have not yet been included in the Taylor Street Archives. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Editor’s note: The stories of the new additions to Taylor Street bred athletes are being added to the Taylor Street Archives as they are made known.