By Larry Moko
The 42nd-annual Kennedy Ontario All-Catholic junior boys’ invitational high school basketball tournament tips off this weekend with the Cathedral Gaels having an added incentive to capture the championship trophy.
That’s because this year’s 16-team event is being dedicated to the memory of Cathedral legend John McPhee.
A former teacher, principal and coach at Cathedral, McPhee passed away on January 18 at the age of 90. His significant contribution to the lower city school’s history – 35 years spent as an educator at Cathedral and Brebeuf -- was also recognized during the 2018 Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association football season when the Gaels’ new artificial turf playing surface was named Thomas J. Gallagher-John J. McPhee Field.
Kennedy junior basketball tournament games will be played at both the St. Thomas More and Bishop Tonnos gyms beginning Friday at 9 a.m. The title match scheduled for Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at More.
Admission for all games is free.
“The No. 1 and No. 2 teams are d’Youville (from Brampton) and Cathedral,” said Stefano Giovannangeli, a tournament co-convener along with Chris D’Angela and Luca Ciardullo.
“Cathedral and d’Youville are 1A and 1B.
“It’s probably the strongest field that we’ve had in a while. The top four teams in the tournament are lights out. We’re looking forward to a competitive weekend.”
Other HWCAA participants include the St. Thomas More Knights, Bishop Tonnos Titans and the St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves. In league play so far, four-time defending champion Cathedral is in first place with a record of 9-1. Brebeuf, at 7-3, is third behind the St. Mary Crusaders, while fourth-place More is 4-5 and Tonnos is winless in nine starts.
Said Giovannangeli: “More started off slow last year, too, but they got to the championship and lost at the buzzer. I’ve got a feeling that’s what Jon (coach Gordon) is doing with this year’s team as well. He’s still whipping them into shape. They could be dangerous.”
The rest of the field is comprised of the Brantford Assumption Lions, the Burlington Assumption Crusaders, Toronto St. Michael’s College Blues, Mississauga’s St. Martin Mustangs, Oakville’s Holy Trinity Titans, the St. Francis Phoenix of St. Catharines, Kitchener’s Resurrection Phoenix, Milton’s Jean Vanier Knights, Grimsby’s Blessed Trinity Titans, Milton’s Bishop Reding Royals and Mississauga’s Father Goetz Gators.
Giovannangeli says he considers defending champion St. Martin and St. Mike’s as favourites along with Cathedral and the d’Youville Panthers.
“They score a lot,” Giovannangeli said of the top four teams. “They are athletic and go up and down the floor with tremendous speed. That will give us some exciting basketball to watch.”
Cathedral lost 62-53 to St. Martin in last year’s final.
“George Luciani (the Kennedy tournament founder and long-time convener) started a tradition of giving dedications … not every year but when something significant happened,” Giovannangeli said. “This year we’re honouring John McPhee who passed away recently. We’re dedicating the tournament to his memory.”
New tribute banners and logos are also being unveiled by organizers of the tournament to be displayed at both sites. They depict Father Kyran Kennedy, McPhee and Luciani, the former More vice-principal, basketball enthusiast and coach who passed away in 2016.
Father Kennedy (1927-2012) developed many young CYO basketball players in Hamilton and, along with assistant coach Jim Daly, coached the Gaels to their first OFSAA boys’ basketball championship in 1968. A Catholic school trustee for more than 40 years, Father Kennedy made a significant contribution to the board and to young people throughout the community.