Worcester hoop legends Jack “The Shot” Foley and Togo Palazzi are the big shots in Mark Epstein’s book


Mark “Pathfinder” Epstein wants Worcester to never forget the contributions of basketball legends Jack “The Shot” Foley and Togo Palazzi.

WORCESTER — Mark “Pathfinder” Epstein is a guy from Worcester. The city is very important to him – always has been.

He’s just as passionate about basketball, specifically two late Worcester hoop legends, Jack “The Shot” Foley and Togo Palazzi.

Both played at Holy Cross and played for the Boston Celtics. Epstein provided that story and more when he delivered an emotional talk at the Worcester Historical Museum on Thursday to officially announce the release of his new book, Jack ‘The Shot’ Foley – A Legend for All Time.

Archive: “My passion has poured out of me.” Epstein is considering writing a biography of Worcester legend Jack “The Shot” Foley

As a token of gratitude for writing the book, Worcester City Councilor Sean Rose presented Epstein with the ceremonial key to the city and proclaimed Worcester Thursday “Jack ‘The Shot’ Foley Day”.

Not bad for a man who hasn’t lived in Worcester in more than 30 years, but Epstein is firmly anchored in Worcester. He was raised on Durant Way and his father, Charlie Epstein, owned the once popular sporting goods store Charlie’s Surplus on Water Street.

Never forget

Epstein wore a smiley face button on his tie – a nod to Worcester native Harvey Ball, inventor of the world-famous smiley face – and told those in attendance Thursday that he spent eight hours a day rewriting the book for eight months to ensure the contributions of these two departed basketball giants are never forgotten.

Epstein and a litany of speakers who owe much of their lives to playing and coaching basketball, including former Mayor Tim Cooney, former Holy Cross head coach George Blaney, and Bob Foley – the longtime coach at St. John’s High, who set the all-time high school hoops winning record in New England – everyone praised Foley’s shooting skills.

They also shared anecdotes about his life, including his love of snakes and his normal attire – boots and flannel shirt.

Others, such as former Worcester Public Schools superintendent Maureen Binienda, praised Jack Foley for his contributions outside the court.

Binienda began her teaching career at South High, where Foley taught and held court with his stories in the teachers’ cafeteria.

“I finally got a seat at his table, and the bell rang (to end the lunch hour),” Binienda recalled. “I wish I could have stayed longer to talk to him. He was a true friend.”

A South High student who played for Foley, Nancy Mayer Bates, who is now a professional educator in Rutland, was “devastated” when Foley kicked her out of practice.

The next day, minutes before practice, Bates laced up her sneakers and Foley told her, “If you’re going to be great, you have to be great every day.

“Man, that was powerful,” Bates said.

Strong enough to spur Bates on to becoming a Parade All-American at South High.

Best shooter ever

Many speakers called Foley the best marksman that ever lived.

Some spoke of the many hours young Foley spent at Worcester’s Holland Rink Playground, where he honed his shot and held his arms high above his head when his shot was taken, making it almost impossible to block .

All that practice paid off, with Foley scoring 61 points in a game, which his brother Frank Foley says is still a Crompton Park League record. The excellent shot carried into high school, where Foley averaged 42 points per game in his senior year at Assumption Prep.

At Holy Cross, Foley averaged almost 29 points per game.

The first time Epstein hit “the shot” was when he went to the gym at Worcester Boys Trade High School — now Worcester Tech — to play for Foley, who was coaching the boys’ team after Foley’s NBA days were over .

During the first practice session, Epstein recalls Foley holding a basketball and telling his players, “Hold that basketball tight. If you do that, you can become a great player and achieve great things.”

Epstein played college ball at Worcester State for four years, and he remained close to Foley for years, calling him his “big brother.”

basketball vise

Basketball became more than a passion. It put Epstein’s life in a vise.

“I was so done[with basketball]that I didn’t care about my education, my career, my family,” he said. “I was obsessed with the game and needed to break away.”

Epstein separated after a divorce in South Carolina, but he did not make a clear breakthrough. He became a teacher, career counselor – and basketball coach.

“I never got away from it. If you open me up, Worcester Balls will pop out of me. It’s me. It’s my first love,” he said.

Another love of Epstein is Palazzi.

Epstein first came into contact with the man he calls “Uncle Togo” when Epstein was 7 years old and attending Palazzi’s summer basketball camp.

They remained friends for decades, and Epstein spoke to Uncle Togo weekly for 50 years.

Togo’s voice

On Thursday, Epstein pulled a small tape recorder from his pocket, pressed the play button, and the audience heard Palazzi’s voice.

It was a snippet of hours of interviews on that phone that Epstein recorded with Palazzi for the book. He then presented the ribbon to Holy Cross athletic director Nick Smith as a gift for the college archives.

Epstein announced more generosity.

More than 400 copies of his book have been donated by the Palazzi family to each boy and girl on the basketball teams of five Worcester high schools – Burncoat, Doherty, North, South and Worcester Tech.

“So they can learn the history of our great city,” Epstein said.

Also, every basketball player at St. John’s High receives a copy, courtesy of Jim McCaffrey, a former hoop star at Holy Cross.

‘Scout’

For those wondering how Epstein got his nickname “Pathfinder,” Charlie gave it to his son when the boy was 11 because dad liked the Pathfinder sleeping bags sold at his store.

With a key to the city and a tag named after “The Shot,” Epstein reflected on his book and the lives of Jack Foley and Togo Palazzi.

“This book isn’t about the game of basketball, it’s about a way of life in central Massachusetts. These two men are my family and should never be forgotten.”

Contact Henry Schwan at henry.schwan@telegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @henrytelegram

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