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Corliss is a legend; Basketball coach's fame has not diminished.

Byline: Jay Gearan

FITCHBURG -- For Craig Corliss, coaching high school basketball ended 50 years ago in 1965 at St. Bernard's. But for those who knew the talented and highly respected Corliss, or who played with him or for him, he has remained one of the area's hoop legends.

In the late 1950s, Corliss began coaching at his alma mater, Notre Dame High, where he was a superstar in his own high school playing days as a multiyear Worcester County and Worcester Catholic League All-Star, finishing with 1,460 points upon his graduation in 1957.

Against Gardner in January 1956, on Notre Dame's home court, Corliss, a point guard, scored his career-high game, a masterful 47-point performance that included 18 of 25 from the floor and 11 of 13 foul shots.

The son of the late William and Mary Corliss of Fitchburg, Craig will turn 77 this July. In a recent interview, he reminisced about growing up on Cedar Street in Fitchburg and about his love of basketball, from his boyhood days playing for the Moran Square Diner Juniors and onward through high school.

"As a kid, I loved going to Holy Cross games with my father and his friend, Paul Gearan, who was a Holy Cross grad and got us tickets to see those great teams with Bob Cousy,'' Corliss said. "What an inspiration for a young boy who loved basketball.''

To this day, the names of many of his Notre Dame teammates are recalled with ease, players including Warren Baker, Don Casacca, Bob Brown, Don Benoit, Bob Keating, Vic Blanchette, Greg Tessier, Bob Cote, Doug Hannula, Lou and Norman Cormier, and coaches Lou Pick, Mathias Pappas, Bernard Stanley and Bob McNally.

Corliss was recruited as a scholarship athlete to Northern Michigan University by Stan Albeck, who would later coach the Chicago Bulls with the great Michael Jordan.

"I was out there for a short time, but I came back,'' Corliss said. "My father was sick and out of work. And they also found out in preseason workouts that I had a heart murmur.''

He returned to work and to coach, and as a young man in his mid-20s, from 1960 through 1965 he had his dream job as the head basketball coach at St. Bernard's High in Fitchburg.

Corliss recalled some of his top St. Bernard's players, including Pat Murphy and the late Gerry Flynn from his last team in 1965, which won the Fitchburg city championship and finished 18-5.

Murphy, the longtime North Middlesex Regional High girls' basketball coach, was recently selected to the New England Basketball Hall of Fame.

"Craig Corliss was one of the best,'' said Murphy. "He saw something in me and pushed me to be better in hoops and to succeed in life. He was the best teacher of fundamentals that I've ever observed. Coach Corliss is one of the reasons that I am still involved in this game 50 years later.''

"I really enjoyed coaching,'' Corliss recalled. "I had a real passion for it and the game. I think that my players understood that I was making them better. I was not easy, but I could tell them what to do and how to do it, and once they bought into it, things became easier.''

His departure from St. Bernard's was not easy.

"Father Robert Donahue had great ambitions for St. Bernard's athletics, but shortly thereafter he became ill, and at the same time my full-time job at Prentice-Hall in their financial publications was expanding,'' said Corliss, who went on to gain his broker's license and rise to senior vice president of Shearson-Lehman Bros.

Speaking of his successful career, Corliss said humbly, "It worked out well.'' He then added, "There are days even now when I'm watching a game and start thinking about what I would do in certain situations as a coach. Or I think about different drills to do. I really enjoyed coaching more than I enjoyed playing.''

Retired since 1992, Corliss lives in Wellesley with his wife, Judy. The couple will celebrate their 54th wedding anniversary this fall. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

Still thin, strong and athletic, Corliss hits a gym in Wellesley five mornings a week for a couple of hours. "Weights, some cardio, and occasionally I'll get on the basketball court and shoot around if nobody is around.''

The sounds are South Street echoes from the glory days over half a century ago inside the Notre Dame gymnasium: Swish, swish, swish.
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Title Annotation:Weeklies
Author:Gearan, Jay
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 17, 2015
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