Nyack's Softball Dynasty

When the 'boys from Nyack' dominated Rockland County Softball

In the 1960s and '70s, the best softball in Rockland was played by the men of Nyack’s Apollo XII—a collection of mostly African-American players and a few white guys thrown in for their speed and fielding.

They played the games at the old Deer Head Inn, West Nyack's most infamous watering hole—now, ironically, a church. In the 1960s, great teams from around Rockland came to the Deer Head's annual fall softball tournament run by another NHS graduate, Judge Victor Alfieri. Teams like the Orange Lanterns from the Orangetown Recreation League played, along with Industrial League teams like Holt Contracting or the Grant Pulley boys plus the leading teams from Spring Valley and Haverstraw Leagues. They all came to face Apollo XII.

At times, the men of Apollo XII were all but unbeatable. Mostly graduates of Nyack High School, they were all-around sports stars. Many of them started playing softball in Memorial Park, in the old "Jewish league," with guys like Jerry Bernstein and Pete Peterzell, Doug "Bear" Johnson, Lou Tillinghast and Bill Desmond.

In those days, the Apollo Social Club was located at Depew and Railroad Avenues next to Mr. Easter's wood yard. Mr. Humphries, who owned a hamburger stand on Franklin Street next to Willie Wanamaker's shoe store, was the team's sponsor and adviser. The idea of forming a softball team is usually credited to Teddy Davis who, while managing the team, also played a pretty good first base.

While Apollo had an all-star team, two of their players, now members of the Rockland Sports Hall of Fame, led them to many of their victories. The team's star pitcher was John Jemison. He totally dominated games with his blistering fastball, a big slow hook curve and what most describe as the greatest "drop" ever thrown by a pitcher in the history of Rockland County Softball. With certain pitches, you’d never even see the ball. You could dig in at the batter's box, get set, watch his motion, and see his arm come around—but where was the ball? Great hitters in the Deer Head league used to attribute the vanishing ball to low, late afternoon sunlight coming from right field as you faced the mound at Deer Head Field—but that didn’t explain games that were played at midday. Jemison had an unbelievable record of 2,146 wins and only 145 losses over a career of more than 30 years. For the record, not all of Jemison's wins came while pitching for Apollo; he often played three or four weekend games for different teams.

Another stalwart of Apollo XII was Jim "Nose" Brown. A 1952 graduate of NHS, he played softball for four decades, dazzling opponents with his searing line drives and his unflappable clutch hitting. He was known all over the county for his prodigious home run power and still holds the record for hitting the longest homer at Suffern’s softball field. Some old time Nyackers might not recognize him as Jim Brown; to many he is simply Nose. His cousin gave him that nickname as a kid and it stuck. He says, "I've got friends I’ve known for 25 years and I swear they don't my real name."

Jamison and Nose led the Apollo XII teams to five straight major tournament championships, three in the Deer Head tourney and two in the Haverstraw tournament. In 1974 Apollo XII accomplished the triple crown of Rockland Softball by winning the Deerhead, Orangetown Recreation and Haverstraw tournaments where Nose Brown was voted best hitter.

Besides Teddy Davis at first base, Jemison on the mound and Nose Brown catching, some other members of the team were Jim Beaner, Carl Brooks, Eddie Carter, Harry Crayton, Arthur Miller, Barry Powell, Bob Reckstein, Ron Royster, John Ryan, Emil Schwob, Jerry Widabee, Turk Washington, Ernie and Eddie Watkins and their coach, James "Bo" Welsch, with his ever-present stogie.

Those were great days of watching Apollo XII win games while enjoying a cool brew on a summer evening. If I close my eyes I can almost hear the call: "Batter up!"

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Ken McQuade August 12, 2011 at 08:02 PM
Yes the Deer head teams were the best. I played with guys from all over the county Pete Depasquale,Frank Arboiino and a host of guys that went on to form the team P.R.I.D.E. from haverstraw. I hate the slow pitch (ARK) you turn the strike zone into a basketball hoop. Give me a JJ fastball !
James F. Leiner August 13, 2011 at 12:12 AM
What was the name of the FANTASTIC softball player from the Valley Cottage....Italian guy? OMG I am blank
Harry Nolan III August 13, 2011 at 12:21 AM
Let us not forget "Sleepy Galione" worked with me at West Nyack Plastic crafts prior to me joining the Navy..He was always at Deer Head and if my memory serves me right he played softball?
James F. Leiner August 13, 2011 at 12:52 AM
I am thinking of Tony Farena? One of the best softball players I ever saw....
Mary Koshak August 18, 2011 at 06:18 PM
Thanks again for the memories Jim. Reading the names amazed me how many of these great guys were people that I knew. I have been on Facebook on " You Know you're from Nyack if you remember." Please keep these great memories coming. Thanks, Mary.
Calvin Schupner April 20, 2012 at 12:17 PM
I'm in the process of writing my memoirs. I bowled for the Deer Head Inn back in the late '50s in the old Nyack "B" League and I can't remember the name of the owner of the Deer Head who sponsored us. Can anbody help me? Incidentally, I also played for Mittag & Vloger in the Rockland Industrial League and I played against Jim "Nose" Brown--a great player and a wonderful person. If memory serves me correctly, he played for Rockland State Hospital. His battery mate was Ira Howard. Signed, Calvin Schupner
Judy G. Martin April 23, 2012 at 04:01 PM
I posted a link to this article on the FB page "People who grew up in Rockland County in the 70s and 80s." Never mind that I grew up there in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Thanks, James. You should join the group. Judy Schefcick Martin
Judy G. Martin April 23, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Calvin, I was only just reminded that the owners (at least bartenders) were Vic and Ernie. I remember them but not their last names.
James F. Leiner April 23, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Not sure how long the Alferi family owned the Deer Head, but I know it was for a long time. Vic Alferi, now a State Supreme Court Judge ran the famous softball tournament for many years...
russ.nicolosi@yahoo.com July 11, 2012 at 12:49 AM
I still say my greatest accomplishment as an "athlete" was hitting a home run against JJ as a teenager playing for Peyton Elevator in the deer head tournament... Nice to read about those guys. They were amazing. Russ Nicolosi Avon by the sea, nj
James F. Leiner July 11, 2012 at 02:15 AM
OMG Russ, I would AGREE with you...From the records I have Jamison only gave up about 10 homeruns in his entire career pitching softball. Next to the totally amazing Eddie Feigner of the "King and his Court"....JJ was the best softball pitcher I have ever seen or tried to hit. I think my record against JJ was about 2 foul balls... Thanks for the memories
Vicky brooks August 12, 2012 at 12:50 PM
I remember my mom talking about when my dad played on that team Carl brooks and my mom would play softball as a pitcher and he stories I heard about men being afraid to go against her pitching I never got to see my dad play but did see my mom and found out why no one could hit against her skills
James F. Leiner August 12, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Hi Vicky....OMG I am getting old...I had forgotten Carl was married to you mom Vicky....OMG was that a long time ago. Yes, you dad was also quite a pitcher for Apollo....And I didn't know your mom played softball. I knew her over the years and always enjoyed her company and of course the Brooks Family Singers.
andy C November 20, 2012 at 09:14 PM
i played one year there in 1979. i played for orange lanten. i remember playing with gary arnow . walter, dennis, murphy who pitched. and buzz who own the lanten. you are right it was a great league. when did it go out of businees?? the fence wasn't very far and it was made out of wood.
James F. Leiner November 20, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Andy, memory is fuzzy as to when the Deerhead closed...I am going to guess in the early 90's...The bar closed and the property was developed for housing...Ironically, it is now a church
Andre chiavelli May 03, 2013 at 07:55 AM
Great article !! JJ was tuff for sure I remember being on a lot of great teams back then double play batting cages with bob tortorello Ron malin wishner and Brutt 33 skip feinberg warren flag tony d jay wolk the farina brothers and an outfield of myself Andre chiavelli. Karl farina John Williamson one of the best outfields I think ever great team deer head was awesome !!! Great memories


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