NEXT YEAR, JOE HUGHES
JOINS HIS MENTOR
By JENNIFER HILL
ONEONTA – Two OHS athletic directors – the current one, Joe Hughes, and a legendary one, Tony Drago – presented the annual Tony Drago Tournament trophy Saturday, Dec. 1, to the Lady Yellowjackets.They realized they were marking two milestones. One, it will be Joe Hughes’ last: He is retiring in June. Two, Tony Drago was marking his namesake tournament’s 60th anniversary.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Hughes. “There was no better way to go out than with the OHS girls’ win. Presenting the trophy with Tony to them was an honor.
“I’ve been blessed to have had such a good job and worked with such good people,” he said. “Coaches, students, directors, and of course, Tony.”
Hughes and Drago, who retired as OHS athletic director in 1984, share more than just that title.
Their families have been close since at least the late 1930s, when Drago and Hughes’ dad, Bill, attended OHS together. Tony was best man at Bill’s wedding, and a second father to Joe. “Joe is my son,” Drago declared. “He’s a good kid.”
As for Joe Hughes, “I followed in Drago’s footsteps.”
He went away to college, but came home to teach and coach – baseball, rather than basketball – at both men’s alma mater.
Hughes earned his BA from Florida International University and racked up numerous laurels in the College World Series and Minor League Baseball.
Drago served in World War II, graduated from Springfield College, and was Duke’s assistant basketball coach in the 1950s before returning to Oneonta in 1957.
Both men were inducted in OHS’ Athletics Hall of Fame.
Drago got the idea for the invitational basketball tournament while at Duke, which played in the annual Dixie Classic tournament.
“It was held over the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s,” Drago said. “Wake Forest, North Carolina, NC State, and Duke were in it. I wanted a similar tournament in Oneonta – invite three teams to play OHS in Oneonta over the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s.”
OHS administrators liked Drago’s idea.
Alumni visiting for the holidays and families of the students playing in
the tournament would reconnect at the games, share thrills and agony, and likely return for the next year.
Eventually, it would become a holiday weekend ritual.
The first tournament in 1958 drew 1,500 fans, who watched a thrilling end of the championship game when the OHS boys defeated the “previously unbeaten” Mount Pleasant High from Schenectady in double-overtime, 67-65.
A girls’ division was added to the tournament in 1990, but the format didn’t change. As with the boys, four girls’ teams competed. That same year, the holiday connected to the tournament changed from Christmas to Thanksgiving because too many schools had started their own invitational tournaments that were crowding out OHS’.
Later, the tournament was held over two weekends instead of one, the boys playing the weekend before Thanksgiving and the girls the weekend after.