Tonight I’ll be at Father Doyne Hall at St. Pius X for one last run up and down the hardwood. While I’m proud of a lot of things accomplished during my Pius years, being part of two Ches-Mont championship teams in 1978 and 1979 ranks right up there, mostly because a lot of people thought we couldn’t do it, but also because I now think of it as a defining period for me, personally and politically, although I would not have described it that way then.
In the course of doing research for a memoir I’m writing about growing up, I’ve spent some time at the microform reader at the Pottstown Public Library, reading old articles from The Mercury. As so often happens, while I was looking for one particular article, I got distracted by another.
Back in those days, a sportswriter by the name of Ken Murray* had a column in The Mercury called “Ken’s Corner.” On June 21, 1974 it was titled, “Is There Room For a New League?” and it was all about St. Pius X looking to get into a new league now that the Suburban Athletic Conference had disbanded. Murray wrote, “What league could the small Catholic school join without stepping in over its head?” He goes on to speculate about a league of smaller schools, perhaps including Pottsgrove, Upper Perk, Methacton and Landsdale Catholic.
I’m pretty sure I read that piece back then, even though I would have been just eleven years old. I was a sports junkie. I followed major league baseball, basketball and football. And that was the year that I – and a handful of other girls – barged our way into Little League baseball in Pottstown. Back then, competition – any competition – felt like a matter of life and death to me. (I’m not always proud of that, but that’s for another time.) As a tomboy, I’d had a chip on my shoulder for as long as I could remember. Anything a boy could do, I wanted to do better. And then sports opportunities for girls were federally mandated through the passage of Title IX in 1972, and I felt personally vindicated.
Another reason I’m pretty sure I was a regular reader of Murray’s column is because I’d met him right around that time. Eight days after the Pius piece, his column featured me, one of my teammates (Caren Holsberger), and our baseball team (M & M Green) in “A Lonely Battle for Sue, Caren.” (That’s the article I was actually looking for.)
In middle school at St. Al’s I dreamed of playing basketball for Pius (the Suburban Catholic League champs in 1974), and it’s not inconceivable that I carried a kind of “I’ll show you, Ken Murray and all you other doubters” attitude around for years until I got the chance. Pius entered the Ches-Mont my junior year. The league had some big schools – Coatesville, Downington, West Chester Henderson, West Chester East, Pottstown. Murray was absolutely right. Pius was a small school. It was the only Catholic school. And we were all white. Racial tensions from the 70s still ran high; I remember police escorting us off the bus at some schools. Playoff games and title games were fraught with emotion and a kind of danger. And we won. Yes, we had some amazing talent (shout-out to my classmate and teammate, Carol Glutz, the school’s all-time leading scorer.) But under Coaches Bernadette and Bill Travers, we also worked our butts off. Every day.
All of this opened my eyes to a larger world: laws got passed in Washington that affected me personally. Gender equity, race relations, and social unrest weren’t far-away concepts that just appeared in headlines. They played themselves out in our own towns and on basketball courts. I think I was also tuned in because I was in the midst of getting a Catholic education, steeped in the values of social justice. While I have not been a practicing Catholic for quite some time, that blood still runs through me. There’s no shaking that, nor do I want to.
So, when I step on the court at Pius tonight and pose for photos with our championship banner with my sister, Michele Dunleavy (varsity girls’ coach at Phoenixville), and my old teammates and friends, all this – and a whole lot more – will be running through my heart and head. And through my veins. St. Pius X will always be more than a building. Its spirit will continue to move through all those who walked its halls and played on its courts and fields – sometimes as though their lives depended on it.