Mike Rotundo epitomized the multitalented Tappan Zee athlete of the early 1950s. He earned an astonishing 16 varsity letters – four each in cross country, basketball, baseball and track – and helped propel the Dutchmen to six County championships and nine Section 9 titles, including four each in basketball and cross country. He also garnered seven All-County citations – three in basketball, two in track, and one each in baseball and cross country. In 1953 he was accorded All-America status by a sports magazine as one of the premier high school basketball players in New York State. By Mike’s count he won 26 team and individual championships in County and Section 9 competition.
As a seventh-grader at Sparkill Elementary School, Mike was tabbed by Nick Mottola, TZ’s athletic director and three-sport coach, as one of several promising athletes who would form the cornerstone of the Dutchie sports “franchise” in succeeding years. Those seventh- and eighth-graders wasted no time making their marks. Mike made the varsity basketball team as a gangly 6-foot-1, 135-pound freshman and teamed with Howie Pierson, Hubie Nealy, Ed Spiegel, John Mercurio and Joe D’Auria to capture two Rockland PSAL and four Section 9 titles. Pierson, Nealy, Mercurio and D’Auria all are fellow Rockland Hall of Famers, as is Coach Mottola. In 1954 Tappan Zee became the first Rockland team to score 100 points in a game, accomplishing the feat twice, in a 103-65 victory over Pearl River and 112-28 romp over Spring Valley.
“We had played together since seventh grade,” says Mike, who set a school record with 17 straight successful free throws. “We didn’t even have to look – we knew where everybody was on the court. We were a true team. In one game against Nyack, I was on pace to break the record [for points in a game] and in the second half the guys started feeding me the ball. But I told them to stop – it ruined the balance of the team.”
After the season, Tappan Zee became the first high school team to win the renowned St. Peter’s Tournament, which assembled premier college, pro and semipro players from the New York metro area. “We outran, out-defended and out-shot everybody,” Mike says. They couldn’t watch all five of us.”
In the spring Mike and some mates split their time between baseball and track. “We had to, otherwise we couldn’t field a team for track,” he says. After finishing a ballgame, “we would throw our bats down and run over to the track to help out the track team.” In baseball he was a slugging All-County center- fielder who “loved to roam the outfield.”
In track, he won the Section 9 Class C/D high jump, long jump and 880-yard relay three straight years, ran on the County winning 880 relay in 1952, leaped a Rockland-leading mark of 20-feet-4 in the long jump, and even placed third in the County
shot put as a senior. Mike was also a triple winner at the prestigious New Paltz Relays – which were patterned after the Penn
Relays – and might have had a couple more long jump titles if he didn’t have to depart while leading the competition to attend a Piermont-sponsored sports dinner for Tappan Zee athletes. A growth spurt during eighth grade caused knee trouble that prevented Mike from playing a contact sport like football, so in the fall he joined cross country and helped the Hugh Short-coached Dutchies win two Rockland PSAL and four Section 9 crowns. He made All-County as a sophomore in 1954, placing fifth in the County championship meet.
Mike spent one year at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, playing freshman basketball for the Falcons, before embarking on a year-long tour in the West and Midwest with the Harlem Clowns traveling basketball team. Mike played for the foil team that opposed the Clowns, like the Washington Generals to the Harlem Globetrotters.
Coaching became one of Mike’s passions in his adult life and he got his start skippering the Cornhuskers, a team sponsored by Doctor Davies farm in Congers, in a local independent basketball league. He then spent 21 years, from 1964 to 1984, as freshman basketball coach at Albertus Magnus High School under Lou Kliewe and later, Tom Collins, both of whom he cites as models of coaching excellence.
Mike was a banker for 40 years and has worked in security at the County health complex in Pomona for the past 17 years. Born in Piermont and raised in Sparkill, Mike is 77 (he turns 78 on May 13) and lives in Pomona. He has four children: Mickey, who is 55; Mark, 54; Tim, 51; and Janine, 48; and two grandchildren – Sara, 16, and Jake, 12.
Mike also was inducted into the Albertus Magnus Hall of Fame in 2011 and the Tappan Zee Hall of Fame twice, as a member of the 1954 championship basketball team in 2010 and as an individual in 2011.