Bristol Sports Hall of Fame member Julie Larese is the name most associated with the Tramps, a local basketball team he started during the late 1930s-1940s that later became one of the best semi-pro outfits in the area.
Raised on Park Street in Bristol, the Italian section of town, he had a hard-working father who did some of the stone work done at Rockwell Park and a mother who allowed him freedoms to develop his interests, including swimming at the park as a youngster. Julie was big in physical stature and he obtained power through the years with his size and street smarts which stayed with him all his life.
Although first known as an outstanding swimmer in the early 1930s – he could have been a standout in college and elsewhere had he chosen to stay in school – he’s recalled for his basketball playing, managing, team ownership and leadership, particularly with teams given the Tramps “moniker.”
The early days saw Julie and friends competing at the Bristol Boys Club and, as it was most common in those days, many played for a number of different teams with uniforms that were scarce because of the aftermath of the Depression. Players often played for a number of teams and had but one uniform, often a bit tattered with a patch here or there.
In time, Julie and some of his friends from different teams combined with Ed Lodovico and his Red Hawks basketball team. In picking out a name, the work “Bums” came up because of the conditions of players’ uniforms, but both agreed this was not the name they wanted. Tramps, “a glorified bum,” Julie said in a mid-1990s interview, “would be the name” and the team went on from there. Ed Lodovico was manager of the team and Julie eventually combined many roles.
The Tramps grew from Boys Club play with local players to playing outside of town in the late 1940s and 1950s with some players being recruited from outside of town, college talent and otherwise, from around the East. One player, the best Julie said, was New Britain’s Walt Kresge. Julie had thought him good enough to have played in the up-start National Basketball Association (NBA), had he chosen to. The NBA was just starting up in the mid-to-late 1940s, but Kresge was comfortable with things here. There was also the talented “Pluggy” Bell from New York, who Julie often paid to travel here and perform with his team.
To understand the talent Julie had at the time, he once said that during the mid-to-late 1940s, during the early days of the NBA, his Tramps might have beaten the Boston Celtics had they agreed to play one another. Julie was a friend of Walter Brown, owner of the Celtics for many years, but was unable to agree on the terms for a contest between the two teams.
Julie felt, though, his Tramps would not have been able to top the New York Knicks, but could stay with or beat the Celtics. Boston finished at 22-38 during the first official season of the NBA in 1946, the last of six Eastern Division teams while New York came in third with a 33-27 mark. The Eastern Division teams finished in this order, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Providence, Toronto and Boston.
The NBA took form in the summer of 1946 when owners of some of the country’s largest sports arenas decided to bring professional basketball to the biggest cities. With the end of WWII and the many outstanding college players graduating and the lift of wartime restrictions, it left Americans with far more time for such entertainment. Walter Brown was among three area owners helping to form the league.
The Tramps softball team came into existence in the 1940s and included some of Bristol’s best players along with standouts from outside of town. Among them was Hardy Brownell, a New Yorker, who once made a “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” column for his exploits as a Tramps Pitcher. Among the Tramps players were Joe Fortunato, (Bristol Sports Hall of Famers, Frank Longo and Dan Valerio), Steve Schittina, Bob Chapman, Nick Serino, Phil Collela, “Rabbit” Kurlicki, Bruno Alemoni and John Davitt.
At first, Julie had balked at the sport, calling it a “sissies” game because the ball was much larger than a baseball and you pitched underhand. However, as time went on and he saw the talent that played, he joined in. He and some of his friends and basketball teammates were bowling against the P & T Garage of Terryville one night when the two groups decided to test each other in the sport. Julie being the sports advocate and competitor he was, agreed and a game was played.
From there, the Tramps developed and began to play the best in Bristol and from around the state, again, often getting the best players in the area. One player was Joe Joyce from Waterbury, The father of Joan Joyce, who later on went on to pitch for the Raybestos Bracketts, one of the leading teams, if not the best, in the country for many years. She, to this day, is considered the best female to have pitched a softball.
In 1970, two decades following the Tramps’ playing days, Julie for his many sports endeavors, was honored. The idea came by way of Ray “Harp” Broderick, a former Tramps player, who wanted to promote a sports testimonial in Bristol. The event was held at Lake Compounce on April 3rd of that year and there were approximately 450 in attendance. Committee members were Harp Broderick, Dom Netti, Jack Lyman, John Davitt, Bob Berchard, Ed James, Ed Sterniak, Peter “Petey Buck” Gurginio, Walt Kresge, John Duffy, Jim Kane, Jim Mulcunry, Bob “Babe” Reimer, Don Spinelli, John Rafaniello, (Bristol Sports Hall of Famers Frank Longo, Chuck McCarthy, Ed McHugh, Bob Watson and Dan Valerio), Ed Lodovico, John Kowalczyk, Kelly Samele, Milton Rogers, Joe St. Johns, Joe Tabacco, John Leone and Dick Johnson.
The event was so successful it was decided to make it an annual event and “The Bristol Tramps Sports Reunion” was established and held in each of the years that followed. Julie was especially pleased because it was a great way to keep the Tramps name alive.
With the passing of Julie Larese in 1998, Tramps committee members decided to keep his dream alive and have continued honoring to this day, as the Tramps motto says, “those who have contributed to Bristol sports.”