A Basketball Odyssey
My Season as the Athletic Director of St. John's
Well I sit here still in disbelief that the CYO basketball season has finally come to an end.
A hard fought loss by the girls Bantam team in the EMASS Final Four has left me with nothing to do next weekend. But it was all worth it. A tremendous group of girls supported by great coaches and fabulous parents has made me look back fondly on a tremendous year.
It all started in late October when the reality set in that the girls director, Tom Dawley, was not walking through that door anymore. How hard could it be to add a few girls teams to the boys program, which I had been involved with for the past four years?
Well, it was much harder than I thought. I made a commitment early on to give as much support as I could to the girls program.
That would mean attending as many of their games as possible. This started my basketball odyssey. I would attend 27 boys games and 23 girls games from December until March.
Our season officially started off the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I traveled to Wakefield to see our youngest girls team play at noontime.
When I arrived, I had no idea that I would end up coaching the start of the game! Coach Tom Healey arrived just after the start and I was able to turn the team over to him.
Despite the fact that the team lost, I was impressed with the enthusiasm shown by these young girls who would unfortunately struggle in their first year of travel basketball.
As the game ended, I rushed off to the Breed Middle School in Lynn to see a game between our other girls team against perennial league powerhouse St. Pius of Lynn. I noticed right away just how much they had improved.
A year earlier they had finished 7-7, but three of those wins had come via forfeit. They jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. I was on board and would become a big girls basketball fan!
The next week marked our home openers at the Swampscott Middle School. The boys Bantams, which I coach, started their season off with a win. It was a good start.
Four of the players on the team had been playing for me for three years and I could not have been happier with my decision to stay with the younger boys when my son had moved on two years earlier.
Unfortunately, things got worse. In the middle game, our boys Cadets were crushed by St. Joseph’s of Medford. This was followed by a 23-point loss by our girls Bantam Blue.
A week later it was a girls weekend. I headed to Winthrop on a Saturday morning and from there over to Matignon High School in Cambridge.
It was a split with the game in Cambridge being a close win. On Sunday I headed over to Medford for a game between our Bantam White and St. Joe’s.
Saturday December 18th marked the first time that all four teams would play at home. My day started at 1:30 and would end at 6:30 that night. The following day I headed over to the Breed Middle School for a game between our boys Cadets and St. Pius.
Our head coach, Ed Thurman, could not make it and I was thrown into the fire. It turned into an inferno! The game came down to the last few seconds. Alex Cormier saved me with a last second steal and I was now undefeated as the Cadet Coach!
Things started to settle down a little bit. Conflicts between the teams meant that I could not make it to every game. But I certainly tried!
Over the next four weekends, I would attend 4,5, 4, and 4 games. The weekend of February 5th & 6th may have been the best. I started the day at St. Mary’s High School in Lynn with my boys Bantam team.
I then headed over to Swampscott to make sure that our boys Cadets were ready to play at the Middle School at 2pm. I couldn’t stay because I had to head back to the Breed Middle School in Lynn for our Bantams second game of the day at 2:45. After that game ended, I headed back to Swampscott to see our girls Bantams play against St. Thomas of Nahant.
Chuck DiGrande has done a great job over in Nahant and his girls play hard. Fortunately for us, our girls team was on a roll and they improved to 9-1 with the win. The next day I headed to Peabody at noon to see the Blue team improve to 10-1. From there I headed to Wakefield for a 2 o’clock boys Bantam game. The win gave us a 5-1 record for the weekend.
On Friday February 11th, our boys Bantams headed over to Marblehead to take on Star of the Sea. The Marblehead program is just getting started again and it was good to revive the rivalry.
We won easily and heading into the last weekend of the regular season, things were finally starting to settle down.
The next day was an emotional one. In the opener, Alex Derkautsan passed 100 points for the season in an easy win. The second game was the last home game for six of our Cadet players.
Before the game a brief ceremony was held to honor their accomplishments and to thank their mothers with Valentines Day on Monday.
On Sunday, our boys Bantams played at Breed Middle School in their last game of the season. This would be the last time I would coach 10 of the players.
A win was not in the cards. For me, this was a very special group. The year prior, they had qualified for the State Tournament. Josh Allen, Peter Battinelli, Chad Swigor, and AJ Venuti had played for me for the past 3 years. I wish them all well.
A week later, our boys Cadets headed to Lynn’s Breed Middle School for their playoff game. It would turn out to be their last.
As the game ended, I looked over and my youngest son was overwhelmed with emotion. I realized just then how much CYO had meant to him. He had played his 71st and final game after 5 years. I guess he just never thought it would end. Neither did I.
We still had one team remaining. The girls Bantam Blue. They had cruised through the regular season with a record of 13-1. After a bye and a semifinal win, they headed to Medford High School on Sunday February 27th to play the only team that had beaten them all year for the League Championship.
It was not to be. St Adelaide of Peabody jumped out early and never looked back.
Despite the loss in the league final, they could look forward to the State Tournament the following weekend. They had qualified by winning 70 percent of their games.
This is a special group. They had stuck together the year before and had really come together as a team. They entered the tournament as the second seed and rolled to the Final Four by beating St. Bartholomew of Needham.
This past week, they practiced on Tuesday night at the JCC. They would be facing St. Francis of Medford, a team that had beaten twice earlier in the year.
One of the secrets of this team has been its outstanding coaching. Head Coach Joe Caponigro had coached the JV team at Swampscott for many years.
Watching them practice, I knew why they had been so good. The girls were having fun and they were ready to go.
On Saturday, I headed out to Milton High School for the game. It was a real battle.
The girls fell behind early and one of their best rebounders, Lily Burkett got into early foul trouble.
They battled to the end and came up short. But it was a tremendous season for them. The unfortunate part of single elimination tournaments is that it leaves teams with a season-ending loss. I
t is our challenge as coaches (and Athletic Directors) to use tournament losses as an opportunity to help the young to deal with disappointments, which are an inevitable part of life.
These girls represented St. John’s and the community in a very positive way. I can only thank them for allowing me to come along for the ride.
Was it all worth it? You better believe it. I wouldn’t change a thing. Well, maybe the last game...