As he scrolled through nearly two years of meticulously curated video, the excitement to see his passion project nearly complete was written all over Francesco Palumbo’s face. 

Francesco Palumbo has spent two years of filming, editing, and producing ”The Bodacious Bears” documentary about the SUNY Potsdam’s men’s basketball teams’ two championship seasons. The film is set to premiere in early November at SUNY Potsdam’s Preforming Arts Center. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

Billed as a nostalgic trip back in time, Palumbo’s documentary, “The Bodacious Bears” will be officially released Nov. 6.

“The best way to describe it is it’s about the 80s basketball team in Potsdam, and they had an incredible run of success in that era. And from that stemmed a bunch of different stories,” Palumbo said. 

The story of NCAA basketball in the 1980s cannot be written without highlighting the feats of the SUNY Potsdam Bears. From 1980 to 1990, the Bears posted a record of 288-49, including an NCAA Division III record 60 consecutive wins from Nov. 22, 1985 to March 14, 1987. SUNY Potsdam won its second national title of the decade during this stretch, having won its first at the end of the 1980-81 season.

Along with two national championships in 1981 and 1986, the Bears were runners-up in 1979, 1982, and 1985. 

Palumbo’s documentary thoroughly covers Potsdam’s nearly unparalleled college basketball success during the 1980s, but the story continues far beyond the court at Maxcy Hall. 

“When you look at that era, and what they accomplished, it’s pretty amazing to think that happened up here in northern New York,” Palumbo remarked. “So that is kind of the middle of the story, talking about the parts of how it’s not necessarily a basketball area, the history of everything in this region, from hockey to other sports and the success that we’ve seen up here.”

As is the case with many other sports stories in the North Country, the support from outside of the program is paramount to the success enjoyed by SUNY Potsdam.

“We emphasized the fact that it was a community effort in a lot of ways because the program was really built in a way that emphasized how the community was a part of it,” Palumbo said. “It was really interesting to see that and learn about it. Jerry Welsh brought the community into his program.”

Indeed, it was community members who brought this idea to Palumbo in the first place. Tim Dempsey, who was in high school during SUNY Potsdam’s glory years, found Palumbo through his friend and current SUNY Canton Athletic Director Randy Sieminski. Sieminski and Dempsey had been fans of the Bears during their historic run, and after pulling inspiration from similar sports documentaries, he pitched the idea of the documentary to Palumbo. 

“I knew the history in terms of, you go play high school sectional games at Maxcy, you walk in and you see the history around you,” Palumbo said, recalling his experiences in the SUNY Potsdam facility. “My dad had been at school there at that period. Every time I went there, he’s telling me about Jerry Welsh, basketball, and everything about the history. Obviously, there’s that sense of it, where it’s physical stuff on the walls. But diving into this project, it really gives you perspective on how real it was.”

Not only was the community a source of inspiration for the story, but those connected with the team who still reside in the area were instrumental in helping the project come to fruition. Palumbo credits Bill Mitchell, who was involved with the program under Head Coach Jerry Welsh and took over as head basketball coach after Welsh’s tenure, with much of the coordinating leg work for the film.

“Bill Mitchell has been a huge part of this, just setting it all up,” Palumbo said. “He’s been a great, great person to help me work through it all.”

Welsh is a prominent figure both in the history of SUNY Potsdam basketball and also in “The Bodacious Bears.” His extensive coaching tree and influence in the game is on full display in the documentary. With interviews ranging from local figureheads in the sport like Hal Cohen and Rick Carlisle, to some of the legends of the game, Welsh’s legacy is a prominent storyline.

“I think one thing that’s really important is the reverence that everybody I talked to has for Jerry,” Palumbo said. “Everybody from current players and how his impact lasts even today, all the way to some of the biggest names in basketball history.”

Palumbo himself pulled inspiration from Welsh as he dug deeper into the history of the SUNY Potsdam coach.

“I’ve always had a really deep appreciation for leadership, being in a sport management field. That’s something I always wanted to learn more about. I always had an appreciation for people who can bring that out in people and it’s something I’ve always wanted to develop myself,” Palumbo said. “It’s been like a masterclass for myself to learn from Jerry Walsh, and hear over 30 people talking about these stories that are so consistent. That’s a lesson in itself, for me to see that authenticity.”

In realizing such a deep respect for the leader Welsh was, Palumbo often found motivation to continue his work on the documentary by attempting to emulate the coach’s mindset. 

“When the work gets to be overwhelming and I have so many things to do, and thinking ‘how am I going to pull this off?’ And there’s nights where I don’t sleep, because I’m just trying to keep going. And I just think, what would Jerry do?” Palumbo said. “Hearing the stories that are in my mind and thinking ‘what would he do?’ It just motivates me to know that he would push you to keep going and find a way to get it done.”

“The Bodacious Bears” will premiere on Saturday, Nov. 6 at 1:30 p.m., with the primary showing at Proscenium Theater on the campus of SUNY Potsdam. There will be an additional showing for overflow, and the film will premiere simultaneously on YouTube. To purchase tickets or find more information, visit

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