Saturday, July 9, 2011

Washington Generals Top Players: Al "Big Al" Szolack

Photo by Jonathan Wells. Copyright © by NJ.COM.
All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Former Washington General Al Szolack is a man who at one time seemed poised to become just another statistic to the hazards of drug abuse. But he proved that if you want to bad enough, you can face down your demons.

Born in 1950 and raised in Woodbury, NJ he was always described as rail thin but was a master on the basketball court. He started playing basketball for Woodbury High School in Woodbury, New Jersey. His skills were evident as he earned all-conference and all-country honors while playing for Woodbury.

Upon his graduation in 1968 Al continued playing ball for Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing, New Jersey. On his sophomore year Szlack transferred to Glassboro State College, which is now known as Rowan University where he continued his basketball career.

During his two years at Glassboro his team qualified for the national tournament both years. Al graduated from Glassboro in 1973.

Upon completing college Al tried out for the Scranton Apollos of the Continental Basketball Association. Unfortunately for Al, he was the last cut and did not make the team.

Scranton's loss turned out to be the Washington Generals gain. Al came upon the Generals while attending a Globetrotters game at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

Obtaining Red Klotz phone number he reached out to Klotz and was offered a spot on the team for the 1974-1975 season. Szolack played as both a point guard, and small forward.

During his season with the Generals Szolack played in a reported 235 of the 245 games played. Which included stops all over the US, Canada, and Europe. "Big Al" averaged 15 points-per-game with a season high of 30 points in Phoenix.

What's more Al became a favorite of Globetrotters Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal. Frequently the target of Meadowlark's jokes and chasing Curly around the court in the keep away dribbling, Al did more then his part to help make the children laugh and entertain the fans.

After his season with the Generals Al moved to Florida where he became a bartender. It was then that his life took a tragic turn that almost destroyed him.

His mother, only 54 years old, had a heart attack and passed away. Al and his mother were very close and the loss devastated him. One day a friend offered him cocaine to help ease the pain and he quickly became hooked on the drug. Self medicating with Cocaine as well as Alcohol.

For seven years the drug controlled his life as Al admitted in later interviews he wasn't living, just maearly existing. He says at its worse he had a $1,000 a day habit, and eventually even started dealing Cocaine himself.

Eventually he hit rock bottom and not knowing where else to turn he made one last attempt to reach out for help by visiting his fiance's mother. She gave him a hug and Szolack has repeatedly said it was a hug that turned his life around.

Szolack finally got the help he so desperately needed; and aside from one brief relapse 30 days after quitting, he has been sober since 1986.

Szolack has channeled the 7 years of hell he put himself through towards helping young people not make the same mistake.

Al became a motivational speaker, donning the nickname Al "Hugs Not Drugs" Szolack and traveled to high schools, colleges and universities preaching the dangers of Alcohol. He is currently on the NCAA-Approves speaker roster.

Szolack doesn't do many speaking engagements these days, but serves as an abuse awareness counselor at Hammonton High School in Hammonton, New Jersey.

Al also runs an annual basketball camp called, appropriately enough,  "Big Al's Basketball Camp" and in 2010 was inducted into the "Woodbury High School Hall of Fame".

Al Szolack suffered more hardships and possibly made more mistakes then most. But he learned that through kindness people can find the strength to change. He has since dedicated his life to showing showing others the kindness that was once shown to him.

That's a victory that even 1,000 losses on the basketball court could never take away.


Under Controll - From NJ.COM
'Big Al' awards presented in Harrison Township - From NJ.COM
Woodbury High School Hall of Fame Inductees - From Woddbury's Home Page

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