Honoring Weehawken’s biggest sports legend Legendary Coach Purvere posthumously inducted into NJSIAA Hall of Fame

Danny Gabbianelli, one of the all-time greatest athletes in the history of Weehawken High School, vividly recalled his high school coach, the legendary Lester Purvere, recently.

“After I was done playing, I would stand and talk to him for hours,” said Gabbianelli, a four-sport standout who became an All-American basketball player at Georgetown University before World War II. “He lived on Eldorado Place and he would walk up to Park Avenue every morning to get his newspapers and his chocolates. We would stand there and talk all the time. That’s when we got pretty close, closer than I did when I played for him.”

Purvere, who died suddenly in 1959, was inducted into the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Hall of Fame last Monday at a luncheon at the Pines Manor in Edison. Purvere was the long-time basketball, baseball and soccer coach at Weehawken High School (from 1927 through 1959), guiding the Indians to three HCIAA titles, 17 state sectional and eight state Group championships in basketball, as well as three HCIAA championships and three state championships in baseball.

During his basketball coaching career, Purvere won 536 games and was considered the father of the fast-break offense. When the Newark Star-Ledger picked its basketball Team of the Century a few years ago, Purvere was named Coach of the Decade for the 1940s.

A charter member of the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame and the Weehawken Hall of Fame, Purvere became only the sixth Hudson County member of the NJSIAA Hall of Fame.

Retired Secaucus volleyball coach Maria Nolan was inducted last week as well.

Nolan and the late Purvere join other Hudson County legends like the late Joe Coviello, the legendary Memorial and North Bergen High School football coach; West New York native Warren Wolf who became the all-time leader in football coaching victories at Brick Township; Union City native Robert Kanaby, who was the long-time executive director of the NJSIAA, and Jersey City native Leon Bailey, who had a prestigious track career.

Started in Massachusetts

Purvere, a native of Rhode Island, was a standout basketball player at Springfield College in Massachusetts from 1917 through 1920. He came to Weehawken in 1927 as a young coach and quickly carved his niche as an educator, a coach, a strict disciplinarian and a molder of young men.

Two years after arriving at Weehawken, Purvere was one of the founding fathers of the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic Association, the major competitive league that still exists in Hudson County today.

Gabbianelli, who played for Purvere in three sports (soccer, basketball and baseball) from 1937 through 1940, remembers his coach as a “fair and honest man.”

“He never really showed his emotions,” said Gabbianelli, also a member of the Weehawken and Hudson County Halls of Fame. “He was very fair and very strict. If you played outside ball or you smoked, he would put you off the team, no matter how good you were. He was from the old school. When he first came here from Rhode Island, he came down with a zone defense that no one played in basketball back then. Everything we got off the backboard, we were off and running. He got good results.”

Gabbianelli said that he has nothing but fond memories about Purvere and was pleased to be able to attend the induction luncheon in his honor. Purvere’s daughter-in-law, Helen Purvere, his grandson, Albert “Chip” Purvere, and his granddaughter, Barbara Moody, were able to attend the luncheon to accept the award.

“He was a fair person who never played favorites,” Gabbianelli recalled. “If a kid could play ball, he would give them a chance. He gave everyone a chance to play. As a kid, we played all the time. Everyone wanted to play for him, because he was so respected. We were the smallest school in the whole county, but we always won.”

Added Gabbianelli, “Coach Purvere never gave you much praise. He was proud of his boys. But he never really made you feel better than anyone else, no matter how good you were. That was good, because you could never become too big for your britches. He was just a good, honest man.”

Gabbianelli was twice the leading scorer in Hudson County before going on to Georgetown, where he led the Hoyas to the NCAA championship game in 1943. He joined the Army and was wounded in battle, which ended his playing career. He went on to coach the Weehawken Build Better Boys Baseball League team for 27 years, with Purvere as an inspiration.

“I remembered when he would be on a baseball diamond, he had the habit of pulling on his ear lobe,” Gabbianelli said. “It was a little idiosyncrasy. But I told everyone it was our steal signal.”

Gabbianelli shared some of these stories with Purvere’s family at the luncheon Monday.

“It was really nice to meet his family,” Gabbianelli said. “It was the first time I went to one of these affairs. I think they were happy to hear the different things about him.”

Weehawken athletic director Richard Terpak, who nominated Purvere for the honor when the NJSIAA Hall of Fame was instituted in 1994, thought that Purvere was somewhat forgotten about by the committee that makes the Hall of Fame selections.

“I really thought his name got lost in the shuffle,” Terpak said. “I was ecstatic when they called me. It was long overdue. I’m happy that the family was able to come up and enjoy the award. The family got a big kick out of it. I was also glad to be able to bring Danny Gabbianelli to the luncheon, because it was important to have someone there who played for Coach Purvere.”

And obviously, someone who fondly recalls the man who put Weehawken athletics on the map more than 60 years ago.


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