Sussex County History Today: Star’s beginning

| 10 Sep 2023 | 07:27

This is Part 2 of the story of one of Sussex County’s most standout athletes.

Mike Ferrara was exceptional in high school and in college and made it to the NBA - considered the pinnacle of achievement. How he gained his success is documented here, and the “history lesson” may act as a guide for others willing to try to make the best of what skills and abilities they may have.

Here is Mike’s story, as told by himself, Part 2:

* * *

I remember the start of the 1974-75 school year. The first one or two days back we absolutely all knew we were going to be a powerhouse. We lost a few upperclassmen from the year before. They were OK players, but none of them were committed basketball players.

Not only did I have Nick Stefkovich on the court, but we also had seven or eight other teammates who have been playing with us since 1972 as freshmen and sophomores.

Two years later, after working with and being coached by Mr. (Jim) Platukis and Mr. (Frank) Virtue, everyone was bigger, stronger, faster and a heck of a lot better than the guys we had just lost the previous year.

Eddie Paiva was one of our main training crew guys from the beginning and he should have been going to Franklin also as he was from Ogdensburg. Unfortunately, he was a year ahead of us and already went to Vo Tech in 1971; otherwise, he would have been with us too. If that happened, I think some teams wouldn’t have shown up to play us that year.

We were in the Skyline Conference in ‘74-75. Playing all the school’s 20, 30 or 40 miles down Route 23 or Route 80 toward New York City, we were coined the “Franklin Farmers” in the Star-Ledger and Paterson Times, and we wore that moniker proudly for the nexttwo years.

I remember going down below to play those games. In ‘74-75, we had an imposing height among us: 6 feet 6, 6 feet 5, 6 feet 3, 6 feet 3 and 6 feet 2 as the starting squad.

Those were the disco years, so we all wore platform shoes, making all of us two to three inches taller. I remember walking through the various gyms and people just looking up at us. Those games were basically over right then and there.

Then the games would start, and we’d have as many or more people in their gym as they did at their own home gym. We had maybe 750 to 1,000 people following us everywhere we played those two years. All the games were like exciting festivals/events.

I am sure all those guys we played against to this day, when they get together and talk basketball from the old days, I am sure the Franklin Farmers still give them nightmares.

Now the home games were really special. It was a circus-like atmosphere at the games. If you didn’t get to the Franklin gym by first quarter of the JV game, you did not get into the varsity game.

Our JV team was very excited to play in front of packed gyms every night. I remember one game getting to the gym a little late due to hitchhiking from Vernon and the security guard wouldn’t let me in. He was new and didn’t know that I played.

I also remember sneaking Gary Baldwin, Eric Roskelly and Jim Jim Kelly in through the locker room many times. I’d be checking the stands in the second quarter of the JV game and when I didn’t see them there, I knew to go out the locker room door and find them to get them in. Or my dad would just come to the locker room and tell me to go get them as he would see them outside stuck when he went for his smoke.

Mr. Virtue and Mr. Platukis were hysterical to play for besides. Everything they did was basketball, basketball, basketball. They were a great coaching combination.

Mr. Virtue was the jump-shot specialist and handled the outside game, and Mr. Platukis handled all the big man moves and the inside game. And Mr. Platukis was responsible for teaching all of us, and to me, the killer instinct.

To give you an idea on how intense they were: One game at FHS that year we won by about 25 or 30 points but played poorly. The coaches didn’t like our defense. So when the game ended, they lined us up in uniform and had us do sprints until everyone exited and the entire gym was empty.

Another funny quick thing I remember was at the high school parties. Back in those days, the parents would go away and their kid would throw a keg party and the entire school would go. So would the basketball team.

We would get word inside the house at around midnight that Mr. Platukis and Mr. Virtue were sitting in a car outside the house waiting/looking for us to leave. We’d have to sneak out the back, work our way around the neighborhood (there were a lot of cars at these parties), sneak back to our rides (I wasn’t driving yet) and high tail it out of there. We never got caught, but I don’t think we ever fooled them either.

That ‘74-75 season was very special. We won the conference, went deep in the states, and the town of Franklin was back and was basketball-crazy. Mr. Virtue was chosen Coach of the Year in the Paterson Times for all of North Jersey, not just Sussex County; quite deservingly, I might add.

The best part of that 25-win season was we still had another year to cement that team’s legacy, which we surely did in ‘75-76.

Contact Bill Truran, Sussex County historian, at