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BASKETBALL: Bishop McDevitt Marks the End to Its Illustrious Basketball History

By Rich Flanagan ( Layout: by Angela DelVecchio), 06/04/21, 2:00PM EDT


The Bishop McDevitt Basketball Programs Leave Monumental Legacies and Lasting Memories

By Rich Flanagan

WYNCOTE, PA--Dan Greenberg’s opinion of Bishop McDevitt basketball reverberates like that of so many fellow alumni on the boys’ and girls’ programs. The atmosphere experienced inside Ryan McGinty gymnasium, which may be considered small to some across the Philadelphia Catholic League today, on Friday nights was impeccable and the allure of Royal Avenue brought out alumni, former players and coaches, and even neighbors from down the road.

Greenberg, a 1988 graduate and First-Team All-Catholic as a senior, recalls the gym being packed to the rafters and what it truly meant to have the support of so many.

“I remember, even back in the late 1980s, it was special and it became even more special when they opened up the stage,” Greenberg said. “They had to put folding chairs up during my senior year. Then, the 2018-19 season, almost every game they had to put the folding chairs up and it’s not the most comfortable seat in the house.

“It showed that this place was rocking tonight. There were several games during that stretch I recall like beating Bonner, losing to Roman and then beating Wood in the playoffs the following Friday. People were parking on the grass and across the street. I think the memories of the fans was number one.”

First Team All-Catholic Dan Greenberg '88 plays before a packed Archbishop McDevitt gym. (photo/Bishop McDevitt Athletics)

His father, Charley, was the head coach at Father Judge from 1964-74, leading the Crusaders to three Philadelphia Catholic League title game appearances in that span. His cousin, Chip, starred at La Salle College High School, scoring over 1,000 points before scoring nearly 1,300 more at the university that bears the same name. Greenberg had been an assistant with the Lancers boys’ program, under Sean Ryan and then Will Chavis, before taking over the girls’ head coaching job in 2019.

He remembers that infamous day in November when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced that his alma mater, along with John W. Hallahan, would be closing at the end of the academic year. Enrollment was the key factor in its decision, but to Greenberg, from the way the community embraced the school and vice versa, mere numbers cannot tell the story of what will be lost.

“McDevitt’s location in Cheltenham and Wyncote was a central location,” Greenberg said. “We always prided ourselves, even back in the ‘80s, with your city kids and suburban kids. We had Glenside and Abington kids getting to know one another. It was one of our selling points. This has affected two different types of communities. It’s going to leave a hole in this community.”

Bishop McDevitt opened in 1958 and the boys' program began playing six years later. The program posted its first winning record in 1968 behind the talented Bob Haas and teammate Jim Sullivan. Haas won league MVP the following year, became the school’s first 1,000-point scorer, and played a season at St. Joe’s. The Lancers would not make another playoff appearance until Joe Sette took over and ushered in a new era in the 1980s.

1969 Bishop McDevitt team vs. North Catholic (pictured (L-R) John Brady, Joe Dollinger & Mark Walsh (photo/courtesy McDevitt Athletics.)

Robert "Bobby" Haas '69 pictured with coach Will Chavis commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Haas setting the PCL record for scoring 51 points in a single game vs. Archbishop Ryan on Jan. 28, 1968. (photo/McDevitt Athletics)

Sette has spent the majority of his life as an educator and coach within the archdiocese. He was a teacher at Archbishop Wood for 45 years but has been all over the area when looking at his coaching history. He began as the Vikings freshman team coach in 1974, then got his first head coaching gig four years later at Neshaminy Maple Point High School. One of his assistants there Mark Heimerdinger, went on to have a successful career at the helm of Cardinal Dougherty.

When Sette took the job at Bishop McDevitt in 1980, Heimerdinger succeeded him, which became both men’s pit stop before becoming head coaches in the Philadelphia Catholic League. Having the understanding of the landscape that spans over four decades, Sette knows “everybody wants these jobs because of the recognition of the PCL,” but there is a current trend that is making the opportunities for these positions less abundant.

1981 Bishop McDevitt in triple overtime loss to Cardinal Dougherty-pictured #12 Jack Kelly '81 & starting freshman #50 All-Time leading scorer Eric Ervin '84-photo/Jack Kelly '81

Bishop McDevitt 1987 Boys' Team - Photo courtesy of McDevitt Athletics

Bishop McDevitt's 1988 Boys' Basketball Team - Photo courtesy of McDevitt Athletics

“If you look across the state and county, private and Catholic schools’ numbers are down,” Sette said. “At one time, Cardinal Dougherty was the largest Catholic high school in the country. I hope it’s not a pattern but if the most recent history is any indication, I’m concerned, especially as someone who has spent time in Catholic education. I hope there is a reversal but we’ll have to wait and see.”

As the District 12 Basketball Tournament Director since 2008 and Philadelphia Catholic Basketball Chairman prior to that, Sette has gotten a great feel for how the game has changed, but his first true taste of what the league had to offer was after taking over on Royal Avenue. He led Bishop McDevitt to the playoffs in 1983, its first postseason berth in 14 years. That team was led by Eric Ervin (’84), an imposing 6-foot-8 forward who scored 1,272 career points, which will stand as the most in program history.

The Lancers went 31-17 from 1987 to 1989, which included several firsts. Bishop McDevitt’s win over Heimerdinger and Cardinal Dougherty in the 1989 North Division playoffs was the program’s first postseason win in 26 years. As a result, the program also made its first-ever league semifinal appearance.

Sette oversaw the development of several players, including Aaron Ervin, no relation to Eric but a First-Team All-Catholic during the ’89 season, and 6-7 forward John O’Connell, a two-time First-Team All-Catholic who averaged 17.8 points per game as a senior before going on to play for one of the most exciting teams in college basketball history.

“The trials and tribulations make for great memories,” Sette said. “My nine years were very special to me. John went to play for Paul Westhead at Loyola Marymount with Hank Gathers. John was the most major player I had. He was not recruited heavily, but he fit Paul Westhead’s scheme. Coach Westhead liked taller players who had guard skills.”

O’Connell was a part of two NCAA Tournament appearances at Loyola Marymount, helping the program make the Elite Eight in 1990. That team had Bo Kimble, who starred at Dobbins Tech and averaged 35.3 points during that Elite Eight season before playing three seasons in the NBA, and Gathers, Kimble’s teammate at Dobbins and one of the most versatile players in the game at the time. Gathers scored 2,490 points in three seasons but tragically passed away in 1990 at the age of 23 from a severe heart condition after collapsing during a West Coast Conference semifinal game.

Sette won 73 games at Bishop McDevitt and stepped away in 1989. He would later return to coaching at Wood, leading the program to a league semifinal appearance in 2005. Players like Ryan Presson (’97), who played at what was then Philadelphia University under Herb Magee, and Tyrell Long (’14), who scored over 1,000 points at Bishop McDevitt and West Chester University, excelled on Royal Avenue. Wayne Bishop was the 2000 Philadelphia Catholic League Northern Division MVP who hit 124 three-pointers at East Stroudsburg, eighth-most in program history.

A resurgence began in 2017 when Will Chavis took over. The Lancers had finished 1-12 in the Philadelphia Catholic League the year before he came on as head coach. Chavis was a dynamic point guard at Engineering and Science before playing under Bob Knight at Texas Tech. He will leave as one of the most heralded coaches in program history, but with that comes the reality that he is also the last coach.

“I don’t see myself as the last coach there,” Chavis said. “I wish I wasn’t but that’s the reality. I ‘m honored to have started my head coaching career in the Catholic League. Bishop McDevitt gave me the opportunity to do it.”

Bishop McDevitt head coach Will Chavis in game vs. Bonner-Prendie 2020 (PSD photo by Geanine Jamison)

Robert Smith Jr. and Ahmir Harris joined Bishop McDevitt as impact sophomores, coming over from Roman Catholic. Glenn Smith came over from Archbishop Ryan the following season. Add those two players to a roster that already included Jamil Manigo and Shamir Mosley, and Chavis turned them into one the premiere starting lineups in the league.

That group advanced to the playoffs in Chavis’ first season but fell to St. Joe’s Prep. They won two games in the PIAA Class 3A playoffs before falling to eventual champion and league rival, Neumann-Goretti.

The following season was another year of firsts. Bishop McDevitt won 11 games in league play, the first time they had surpassed at least 10 league wins since 1989, Sette’s final season as head coach. They downed Archbishop Wood in the opening round of the playoffs (one of those games Greenberg alluded to) and made their first trip to the semifinals since that same year. While they lost to La Salle, the postseason was just beginning. For the second straight season, they won their first two state playoff games before another matchup with the Saints. This time, it was the Lancers imposing their will and exiting with a 60-57 victory, marking the program’s first trip to the PIAA 3A semifinals. The run ended with a loss to Trinity, but it put Bishop McDevitt on a stage it had never been before.

The Lancers' 2020 class went 27-14 in league play over their final three seasons with three league and state playoff appearances. Robert Smith Jr. ended his career with 1,203 points, second-most in program history. Manigo finished his career with 1,106 points. They are the only players from the same class to surpass 1,000 career points in program history. Robert Smith Jr. and Manigo committed to West Chester, Mosley is at Kutztown, Harris is at Georgian Court, and Glenn Smith is at Shippensburg.

2019 Team's 60-57 victory over Neumann-Goretti. (Video by PSD)

2020 Bishop McDevitt seniors Kevin Young, Jamil Manigo, Shamir Mosley, Robert Smith Jr., Glenn Smith and Ahmir Harris are honored before game against Neumann-Goretti.( PSD photo by Geanine Jamison)

Robert Smith Jr. was instrumental in expanding the Bishop McDevitt brand outside of southeastern Pa. and he felt the team’s playing style during that run epitomized the grit of the community.

“What I’m most proud of is the way in which we came together through those tough times and battles while winning games we weren’t supposed to win,” Smith said. "We went to the Palestra and the final four of the state playoffs. We all went on scholarship to play basketball.”

Robert Smith Jr. ends career with second-most points in program history. (video/voice-over by the legendary voice of the Lancers, John McBride)

McDevitt's Jamil Manigo (center) pictured with his Dad (L) and head coach Will Chavis (R) after making his 1000th career point: photo by Geanine Jamison for PSD.

2021 Bishop McDevitt Basketball Team. (photo by Geanine Jamison for PSD)

The final class finished 8-7 with its final win coming in the last game of the season, an 81-51 triumph over Father Judge. Justin Moore, the talented junior guard and Cheltenham transfer who averaged 12.1 points, will finish his career at Archbishop Wood. Sophomore Terrell Pitts, who boasts an offer from Nebraska, averaged 8.5 points and will play for St. Thomas Aquinas (N.J.) next season.

Hunter Healy, the 6-8 Bloomsburg commit, averaged 8.2 points in his lone season with the Lancers and feels honored to be one of the last players to don the black and gold.

“It means a lot that I got to be part of the very last team at McDevitt and represent the school,” Healy said. “It is a great school and there are a lot of great people from a great community. It’s a shame that it’s closing. I feel honored to be on the last team as a Bishop McDevitt Lancer.”

While the boys’ program did not win a league title during its existence, that does not define everything that it has accomplished along the way. The Lancers girls’ program, however, will always be defined by its unprecedented success. The school became coeducational in 1970 and the program hit the ground running from its inception.

One of the reasons Chavis took the job in 2017 was due to the history he had known about the girls’ program.

“McDevitt has a great community, and it was pretty underrated on what they have here,” Chavis said. “When my staff and I came to McDevitt, we didn’t have many expectations but we knew there was a history. Geno Auriemma started here. Cindy Griffin started here. It was shown that you could do it at the school. We took the approach and worked hard every day to get that same feeling that they had in the past.”

Before he went on to build UConn into one of the greatest women’s basketball programs ever, Auriemma was an assistant at Bishop McDevitt under Jim Foster, who would go on to coach at St. Joe’s and Vanderbilt, from 1976-78. The man who has led the Huskies to 11 NCAA national championships and 21 Final Fours began his coaching career on Royal Avenue. From there, the Lancers program continued to rise.

Bishop McDevitt captured its first league title in 1980 behind Trish Brown and the late Nancy Bernhardt. Bernhardt recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds while Brown secured 10 boards of her own to lead the way. Both went on two storied careers at the collegiate level. Bernhardt, who passed away in 2016, scored 2,018 career points at Villanova, second-most in program history. Her 465 career assists rank fifth and her 631 rebounds put her 11th on the all-time list. Brown finished as St. Joe’s all-time leading scorer (1,487) and rebounder (769) when she graduated and led the Hawks to their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth in 1985.

1980 Bishop McDevitt Girls' Basketball Team. (photo/McDevitt Athletics)

That 1980 victory put everything into motion and was the beginning of something special on Royal Avenue, for it became the first of five titles and eight title game appearances. Bishop McDevitt is one of only eight Philadelphia Catholic League girls’ programs to win at least five titles and, according to Greenberg, losing it leaves a huge hole within the rest of the league.

“When the announcement was made, many of the schools and coaches reached out and said, ‘We don’t want to see any of the schools close. We’re sorry to see McDevitt go,’” Greenberg said. “They realize that if a school like McDevitt goes, another school could go next and what becomes of the actual league itself? It’s getting tighter in terms of survival. Obviously, the league is going to survive and have a high profile but for the basketball side, not seeing McDevitt for the first time in 60 years, I think it’s really going to hit home.”

Legendary head coach Tom Lonergan took over in 1984. He and Griffin, current St. Joe’s women’s head coach, helped spur the Lancers to league titles in 1986 and 1987. “The point guard,” as Lonergan proclaimed Griffin, had 17 points and seven assists in the 1987 title and was recruited by Auriemma to play at UConn. She, of course, chose the Hawks and had a phenomenal career. She was joined by Jenny McGowan, Greenberg’s cousin, and starting center Rosemary Magarity-Knouse, whose son, Mike, just won a title with Archbishop Wood this season. McGowan, who starred at La Salle, and Magarity-Knouse, who played at Villanova, were part of the 1988 class that went 46-1 in Philadelphia Catholic League play and claimed three straight titles under Lonergan, who has won more than 700 games in his coaching career.

“I was fortunate to get the position so young as it was my first year out of college,” Lonergan said. “It was an easy transition because of the talent I had around me. That 1987 team was ranked as high as 10th in the country. Saturday nights were for going to the girls’ game at McDevitt, not the boys' game.”

McGowan scored 1,047 career points with the Explorers and holds the school record for games played (125) and steals in a single game (9 vs. Loyola (Ill.) in 1993). She is 10th in school history with 303 assists and second with 233 steals. Magarity-Knouse grabbed 477 rebounds in 155 career games with the Wildcats.

1986-87 Bishop McDevitt girls' basketball team.(photo/courtesy McDevitt athletics)

St. Joe's Women's head basketball coach Cindy Griffin '87 pictured with 2020 McDevitt girls' basketball team.(photo/courtesy McDevitt Athletics)

Lonergan was the architect for much of the Lancers' success. He notes that while the school (and program) may disappear, the history will always keep the tradition at Bishop McDevitt alive.

Lady Lancers Kate Fennell, Jackie Logan & Deirdre Fennell hold PCL plaque after winning 1986 Championship.(photo/courtesy McDevitt Athletics)

1988 PCL Champs pictured (LtoR) holding PCL plaque are Joyce Dimond, Jenny McGowan & Rosemary Magarity-Knouse.(photo/courtesy McDevitt Athletics)

“It was definitely special to be part of that Catholic League tradition but also be able to make a statement,” Lonergan. “It’s something that no one can ever take away, but unfortunately, it may fade over time due to the fact that the school will not be around to have it carried forward. It’s a sad moment when you think about it that way.”

Bishop McDevitt made title game appearances in 1991 and 1993 before securing the program’s final league crown in 1994 with a win over legendary Kristen Clement (University of Tennessee) and Cardinal O’Hara. Katie Wolfe-McGary was named back-to-back Northern Division MVP in 1993 and 1994. She had 11 points, five assists and four steals in the 1994 title victory. She went on to play at La Salle and led the Explorers in scoring during the 1997-98 season (303 points). Shannon McGowan-Harmar, another member of that 1994 title team, had 21 points and 19 rebounds in the 1993 title game loss to the Lions. She played at Bucknell and averaged 8.2 rebounds over four years.

Wolfe-McGary and McGowan-Harmar were joined by Jen Zenszer, who was also part of the Lancers' 1994 title team and last trip to the title game (1997). Zenszer was a two-time Northern Division MVP and four-time First Team All-Catholic selection. She is Bishop McDevitt’s all-time leading scorer with 1,812 career points. Her success continued at La Salle, where she was a four-year starter, scoring 1,290 points and ranks fourth in program history with 174 three-pointers made. Lonergan, who stepped down in 1999, called Zenszer “probably the best player I coached at McDevitt.”

1993-94 McDevitt girls' basketball team. (photo/courtesy McDevitt Athletics)

All-Time leading scorers and McDevitt Hall of Fame Inductees Jen Zenszer '97 (1,812 points) and Eric Ervin '84 (1,272 points). Photo/courtesy McDevitt Athletics.

Dana Mizelle finished her career in 2019 as the program’s fifth and final 1,000-point scorer. Under the direction of Greenberg, Bishop McDevitt secured the 2021 District 12 Class 2A title before falling to Mahanoy Area in the PIAA state quarterfinals, the final game in program history. Junior Emma Obfenda, the final All-Catholic selection ever (Third Team), scored nine points in that game, including the final two free throws with 23.7 seconds left to play.

McDevitt junior Emma Obfenda. (2021 photo by Geanine Jamison for PSD)

2019 McDevitt grad Dana Mizelle was the last Lady Lancer in McDevitt history to hit 1,000 points - PSD Photo by Mike Gray

District 12 2A Champions 2021 Bishop McDevitt Girls' Basketball.(photo/courtesy McDevitt Athletics)

District 12 2A Champions 2021 Lady Lancers.(photo/courtesy McDevitt Athletics)

As a graduate, Robert Smith Jr. felt the pain when the announcement came down and understood how the realization began to set in for players like Obfenda and coaches like Chavis and Greenberg.

“I was really disappointed because it was like a home to me,” Smith said. “They welcomed me with open arms. It’s depressing and I feel bad for the kids who are there now, especially the coaches and the players.”

As the academic year draws to a close, the chairs on the stage inside Ryan McGinty gymnasium will be put away for good. There will be no more raucous crowds struggling to find parking for Friday night thrillers. The program will not have any more firsts or notable accomplishments. The excitement felt within that gym will have to be told by alumni like Greenberg who lived through and exuded it every time they spoke about their alma mater. Royal Avenue will be as quiet as it has ever been when the lights go off in June.

The memories will endure and lasting lessons shared by fabled players and coaches from O’Connell to Sette to Chavis to Auriemma to Zenszer to Greenberg are what made these programs transcendent for so long.

The community will be losing a large part of itself but, for Chavis, what was built here will remain with members of both programs forever.

Girls' Basketball head coach Dan Greenberg '88 comes full-circle as coach, having the opportunity to lead his daughter junior Mary Greenberg for the Lady Lancer's final season.(photo Geanine Jamison for PSD)

“I always remember something Jackie Robinson said, ‘A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,’” Chavis said. “I tried to teach that to my players and got them to understand that it’s about service and helping other people. If you can help other people, they will help you. That quote is something that I tried to leave with them. That feeling and attitude is a mentality.”

2021 Bishop McDevitt Girls' Basketball Team. (photo by Geanine Jamison for PSD)

Highlights of last game played by 2021 Lady Lancers at the State Quarterfinals vs. Mahanoy Area HS. (Video by PSD)