North grad eager to create cinematic tale of famed JV performance

Posted: August 22, 2012

TOM RAZZANO knew some of the main characters beforehand and befriended many more afterward, and he's quite determined to tell their story someday.

Not in a newspaper. Not even a magazine. We're talking about one of those places that features overpriced popcorn and people who just can't resist talking and/or texting.

Most amazing scholastic sports story in city history, say hello to the big screen . . . Maybe.

Razzano graduated from now-closed North Catholic High in 1965 and earned first-team coaches' All-Catholic football honors for his play at fullback. However, having worked in the motion picture industry for 3 1/2 decades, he now wants to light up the screen with a basketball story; specifically, one that details the major events that occurred before and during the quarterfinal round of the 1968 Catholic League playoffs.

This stuff drew national attention, folks.

Before 5,495 spectators on a Monday night at the Palestra, North's junior varsity, greeted by boos and derisive chants as it ran onto the floor for warmups, rocked Bishop McDevitt, 77-60. North trailed just once, 2-0, and reeled off the final 11 points after McDevitt appeared ready to make the dream go poof!

Where was the varsity? Elsewhere.

Earlier that day, all 12 members were suspended by coach Jack Friel, also the school's disciplinarian, for taking the l-o-n-g way back to school after attending a team Mass and chowing down at a nearby diner.

"Suspended" . . . That's the prospective movie's title.

$$$$ . . . That's what Razzano needs to make it come to life.

Razzano, who has served primarily as a production manager, producer and assistant director, and whose numerous credits include the likes of "Weekend at Bernie's," "Mississippi Burning," "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" and "The Natural," said he needed 6 to 9 months to write the screenplay, which he completed 3 years ago.

His writing partner was William Battaglia, a North Jersey native who has advanced from Razzano's professional colleague to longtime friend and frequent collaborator.

"Unfortunately, I picked the worst time to do this because of the economy," Razzano said. "Studios are having a hard time, and when you're talking about an independent film . . . Not easy."

And, about one facet, the West Germantown native is adamant.

"I wrote it and I'm going to direct it, as well," Razzano said, adding he also intends to partner with Battaglia in that endeavor. "I'm not going to give that up. I'm a passionate, emotional, diehard North Catholic alum. This is mine."

Razzano said 85 percent of the script is centered on the time frame from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., when the varsity players misbehaved, then learned their fate. The game itself is secondary, he added.

"This is not necessarily a basketball movie," Razzano advised. "My focus is an event that affected those players for the next 40-plus years. They're seen as students, athletes and people."

In '67, North captured the Catholic League championship, as well as the City Title, and the leader of that team, future Villanova star Hank Siemiontkowski, returned for '68. The other starters were seniors Joe DeMuro, Steve Pascavitch and Jim Asman, and junior Mark Williams (deceased). Friel passed away in July 2006 and thus was not one of Razzano's interview subjects.

The two were hardly strangers, however. Friel taught Razzano at North. Before switching careers, Razzano spent 7 years teaching health education at North, and Friel was one of his supervisors. Also, Iggy Brodzinski, who starred for the JV-turned-V that night, wound up being one of Razzano's faculty colleagues.

Razzano said he interviewed most of the available varsity players and had learned of their feelings going way back to his 1970s participation in a rough-touch football league. Those players are his primary concern. By a lot.

(The varsity, with JV heroes Billy Dever and Mike Kaiser also seeing some playing time, returned to action for a semifinal that Sunday at the Palestra. The Falcons fell to Cardinal O'Hara, the eventual champion, on Lou Ferro's buzzer-beating tip-in. A run-of-the-mill tip-in, it wasn't. The ball rolled around the rim for 2 seconds before easing through the net.)

"You know how it is for high school athletes," Razzano said. "Coaches are almost godlike figures. I didn't play football until my junior year. The feelings I had for Joe Lauletta; I revered that guy. When I was told he was leaving and wouldn't be there for my last season . . . Devastated."

Around the Greater Philly area, and even the country, Friel received unabashed praise for teaching his players a lesson.

When Razzano, who lives in New York City's North Jersey suburbs, was asked whether the script attempts to pass judgment on the severity of Friel's disciplinary measures, he responded, "I'll let the audience form its own opinion."

The home page of the hoped-for movie's website, www.suspended-themovie.com, features this statement: " . . . peer into the lives of a basketball coach, twelve varsity players and the day that forever changed their lives."

These two paragraphs, among others, can be found on an inside link:

"Overnight, the coach became famous as an icon to the establishment for taking a stand against the indulgences of students, who across the nation, were being labeled as privileged, spoiled brats.

"This event forever defined the coach's life. But what did it do to the players? The film delves into what that day was like for the 12 players. And it begs the question that some of the players still ask today; 'What did we do wrong?' "

And now there's this: Will the film ever get made?

"I still have great hope," Razzano said.


Contact Ted Silary at silaryt@phillynews.com.

Tom Razzano and other primary contributors to "Suspended" can be reached at info@suspended-themovie.com. Details of Razzano's career can be found at www.IMDb.com.

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