Book commemorates 1961’s unprecedented undefeated and untied season
Since its founding in 1930, the all-male Chaminade High School has been known for its rigorous, co-curricular, liberal-arts curriculum that emphasizes the development of Christian community and education of the heart. Its athletic department has also gained renown for the excellence of its teams. Currently there are 15 different sports the Flyers are represented in. But the argument can be made that football is the sport that put the school on the map in the high school sports world. And while the Crimson and Gold won CHSFL (Catholic High School Football League) championship in 1956, 1958 and 1960, it wouldn’t be until the 1961 squad came along that the first undefeated and untied varsity football team would hoist the CHSFL trophy.
It was a special enough time for Tom Kiley and Chuck Mansfield, old friends and former teammates on that team, to write The Perfect Season: The Untold Story of Chaminade High Schoo’s First Undefeated and Untied Varsity Football Team. Written in roughly a year, the inspiration came out of a phone call Mansfield had with a Chaminade teammate about holding a 2021 reunion to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of that particular Flyers season.
“Al Groh, the former New York Jets head coach, told Chuck [Mansfield] and I that we should have a reunion to commemorate the 1961, first undefeated/first untied football season at Chaminade High School,” Kiley recalled. “A prominent urologist, [Dr. Kevin Loughlin], also a Chaminade grad, who was also at Al’s 75th birthday party also chimed in and said that we should write a book to commemorate the season.”
Kiley, who was a linebacker, and Mansfield who played guard, dove into the project in 2019, with an eye towards getting it published before the reunion that’s set to take place during the Oct. 1-3 weekend. The duo wrote half the book, agreeing to have the other half consist of recollections from “…players and people on the periphery of the team.” Among the 20 or so contributions are a pair of articles penned back in 1961 by future New York Times columnist and author George Vescey along with contributors’ remembrances of head coach Joe Thomas, odes to deceased teammates and plenty of wonderment and awe over the unprecedented accomplishments of the ‘61 team. The enthusiasm that lights up Kiley’s face nearly 60 years later as he recounts his time on the Chaminade gridiron makes you wish John Facena, the late NFL Films narrator and “Voice of God” were around to narrate the audio book version of The Perfect Season.
“Lots of great memories,” he said. “In varsity, I intercepted a pass and was going for the end zone. Their back tackled me and my nose was on the goal line and I never got that close again to scoring a touchdown. Plus, the camaraderie of the guys and the bus rides home. Especially the away games, of which we won all of them. For home games, you go to the sock hop. Away games, you ride the bus there and back. Going there it was quiet and tense. After business was concluded—raucous singing and rock and roll. We had a guy who sang ‘Beat ‘Em On a Sunday’ to the tune of the Shirelles’ ‘Met Him On a Sunday.’ That’s a pleasant memory. The guys themselves—once graduation came, not too long after the football season ended, they went to Notre Dame and Holy Cross and all kinds of different places.”
Ironically, the Brooklyn-born Kiley never intended to go to Chaminade and was instead focused on attending St. Francis Prepatory School in Fresh Meadows, Queens. That is until he was invited in November 1957 to see his musician cousin play in the St. Francis Prep marching band at an away football game being held at a school in Mineola called Chaminade.
“When I told my cousin I’d go see him, I wandered into the greatest game of the CHSFL [Catholic High School Football League] because one of the teams had gotten sick early,” Kiley said. “[Chaminade] typically played St. Francis Prep by the third game of the year, so it could never be the end-all and be-all game. But that year, both teams were 7-0. I was in seventh grade and it was unbelievable. My eyes were knocked out by the red and gold uniforms. At that point, I never thought of playing football at Chaminade at all. I didn’t have the faintest thought or hope of playing ball there. I was on the St. Francis Prep side that day and Francis beat [Chaminade] that day and it stopped us from having four or five straight titles. To this day, I don’t know why I tried out for Chaminade football.”
Having moved to Elmont with his family from Brooklyn when he was nine, Kiley did play for both the junior varsity and varsity Chaminade squads. The 1961 team was his varsity year and came in the middle of a threepeat of consecutive championships for the school. Kiley graduated and despite Columbia University pursuing him to play football for them, he leaned into his Catholic faith and attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worchester, MA. Post-college, Kiley moved to Levittown when he was 23, eventually having three children and working a few coaching jobs at Chaminade and the Merchant Marine Academy before landing an administrative job at the Rosenman and Cohen law firm, a role he held for nearly 40 years before retiring seven years ago at the age of 70.
Like a metaphorical tattoo, Kiley’s time in high school left an indelible mark that led to his being a Chaminade man, the moral standard that Chaminade endeavors to inculcate in every student of doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason no matter who may be watching.
“It meant to me a lot of friendships that have continued 60 years later,” he explained. “These are not only through football—there are many other Chaminade friendships. It was just a wonderful, naïve and tender time before the world really started to get turned upside down and that’s how I remember it.”