The Schaefer Brewers were legendary as Albany’s first and probably best ever pro hoop team. They reigned in the Capital District from 1965 to 1971, beating nearly every team that dared venture into the area.
The Brewers were the brainchild of Al DeSantis, longtime sports editor of the old Schenectady Union Star. Chatting with a friend one morning over breakfast at the Annex Restaurant in Schenectady, DeSantis mentioned he’d heard local star Barry Kramer had walked away from the New York Knicks. De Santis says. “I turned to my breakfast companion and said: ‘If Kramer is back, let’s start a local professional basketball team.’”
Originally sponsored by Wedekind Motors (playing their first two seasons as the “Wedekind Pros”), the underfunded team hooked up with North Albany’s Schaeffer Brewing Company, which was interested in sponsoring a local sports franchise.
For the next seven years, the Brewers beat every team that dared to venture into the area. Some notable and soon-to-be-notable names among their competition: Cazzie Russell, Austin Carr, Artis Gilmore, Julius Irving, Dave Bing, Elvin Hayes, Connie Hawkins, Tony Jackson, Calvin Murphy and Jimmy King. Armand Reo quipped, “These guys were fresh out of college and were in incredible physical condition. We all worked during the day, and we never practiced – yet we still beat them.”
Originally drafted by the Chicago Stags, Armand Reo passed on an NBA career and settled in the Capital District as a teacher and coach. Reo went on to become principal of Troy High School, and eventually Troy Superintendent of Schools. He was inducted into the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame.
Joe Geiger was coach of Troy High’s Flying Horses for 11 seasons, and a member of the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame. He authored a 1995 book entitled “Basketball Joe: Reflections On The Game.”
Barry Kramer played a year of professional basketball with the San Francisco Warriors. (Wilt Chamberlain was his teammate). He also replaced Tom Gola when he played a couple of months for the Knicks. Kramer is now Supreme Court Judge in Schenectady County, a member of the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame, and namesake of that organization’s Barry Kramer Lifetime Achievement Award.
Utica native Dave Bleau excelled by consistently making 25- to 30-foot jumpshots. He coached 18 season at Mont Pleasant, retiring in 1996. Bleau’s an inductee in the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame, and currently resides in Arizona.
At 6-feet-1, Bill Kirvin was the shortest player on the Brewers team, but he was aggressive and scrappy. He’s a member of the Xavier University Hall of Fame and the Schenectady Athletic Hall of Fame. Kirvin now runs an insurance agency in Schenectady.
Bill Telasky was a fifth-round Philadelphia Warriors draft pick in 1959. He coached 24 seasons at Christian Brothers Academy (1965-1988) and now lives in Rensselaer. Telasky was inducted into the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. He summed up the Brewers’ career nicely when he said, “Even though we never practiced, we were still better than almost any team we met.”
[Based on Larry Beaudoin’s article, “The 6 Originals,” which appeared in Capital Region Magazine, February 1989.]