A winning winter

— Here's a look at the winter-sea­son bas­ket­ball play­ers and coaches who will be honored at the 27th an­nu­al North­east Sports Awards Ban­quet in May.


As is usu­ally the case, the winter sports sea­son in North­east Phil­adelphia fea­tured plenty of note­worthy per­form­ances on the bas­ket­ball court.

On the boys’ side, Samuel Fels and Arch­bish­op Ry­an high schools achieved turn­around years; oth­ers, such as Frank­ford and Lin­coln, had their wills tested and built char­ac­ter by en­dur­ing tough trans­ition­al sea­sons. For the girls, Naz­areth Academy and North­east had fant­ast­ic sea­sons.

And des­pite every coach and play­er’s de­sire to win a cham­pi­on­ship, wins and losses come sec­ond­ary to grasp­ing the con­cepts of team­work, un­selfish­ness and a strong work eth­ic that will be ap­plied in life after high school. Every play­er and coach de­serves to be ap­plauded and re­spec­ted for get­ting through the grind­ing bas­ket­ball sched­ule.

The North­east Times is pleased to an­nounce the win­ners in boys and girls bas­ket­ball who will be re­cog­nized at the 27th an­nu­al North­east Sports Awards Ban­quet in mid-to-late May (the ex­act date will be de­cided later this week).

The event will hon­or neigh­bor­hood ath­letes and be­stow more than 30 awards. Con­grat­u­la­tions to all of the com­pet­it­ors. Here are the loc­al ath­letes and coaches who will be honored in the winter sport of bas­ket­ball.

Boys Bas­ket­ball Coach of the Year

Mark Heimerdinger, Samuel Fels High School

Hav­ing won 428 games over three dec­ades at Car­din­al Dougherty High School, Mark Heimerdinger is no stranger to coach­ing ac­col­ades. A Phil­adelphia high school bas­ket­ball coach since 1983, he had a 2011-12 sea­son may have rep­res­en­ted one of his finest to date.

Heimerdinger’s Fels team did not win a Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship this year, but its 18 wins were a co­lossal im­prove­ment over past sea­sons for the school. In the five years be­fore he got there, the Pan­thers won a total of 27 games; in the three sea­sons since Heimerdinger has taken over, Fels has won 39.

In year three, Fels took a gi­ant leap for­ward, as Heimerdinger mol­ded an un­sure group of mov­ing parts in­to a uni­fied team that re­spon­ded to the coach’s les­sons of team­work and to­geth­er­ness. He has suc­cess­fully trans­formed the Pan­ther bas­ket­ball pro­gram from just an­oth­er Pub­lic League hunter to one of the hunted — a team that op­pon­ents must be ready to play if they plan on leav­ing the gym with a vic­tory.

He also holds his play­ers ac­count­able for their ac­tions off the court and in­side the classroom, which has been an­oth­er key in Fels’ re­sur­gence. With the motto “Five is One,” Heimerdinger turned Fels in­to something the pro­gram hasn’t been in quite some time: a con­tender.

“I’m really proud of where we’ve brought the pro­gram, con­sid­er­ing where it was pri­or to me get­ting here,” he told the Times in Feb­ru­ary. “I think this sea­son was a huge step in es­tab­lish­ing Fels as a ma­jor pro­gram in the Pub­lic League.”

Boys Pub­lic League Bas­ket­ball Play­er of the Year

Imire Taylor, Frank­ford High School

The 2011-12 sea­son was a total trans­ition year for Frank­ford, as the Pi­on­eers ad­jus­ted to join­ing the bru­tally dif­fi­cult Pub­lic League A Di­vis­on. Lucky for them, they had one heck of a seni­or lead­er in Imire Taylor to help pave the way for the fu­ture.

Though the Pi­on­eers fin­ished with just an 8-13 over­all re­cord (3-8 in league play), Taylor was a con­stant standout. His 17.5 points per game was good for sixth best in the league, and what made it even more im­press­ive is that he played most of the sea­son with three badly in­jured fin­gers.

After go­ing 20-6 over­all a year ago and win­ning a Class AAAA city cham­pi­on­ship, Frank­ford switched di­vi­sions and stumbled through much of the sea­son, but Taylor nev­er grumbled. A con­sum­mate team play­er on and off the court, he was a de­light for the Pi­on­eers coach­ing staff.

“I had him for four years,” head coach Dave Huzzard told the Times in its Feb. 1 is­sue. “The kid can just flat-out score. That’s the bot­tom line. He has that will and that knack of get­ting to the bas­ket­ball.”

Boys Cath­ol­ic League Bas­ket­ball Play­er of the Year

Bri­an Hen­nes­sey, Fath­er Judge High School

Though ju­ni­or team­mate Steven Griffin av­er­aged nearly sev­en points more a game in Cath­ol­ic League play than he did, seni­or Bri­an Hen­nes­sey was the vet­er­an lead­er who kept this year’s Judge team afloat. The Cru­saders had a dis­ap­point­ing sea­son in a stacked-as-usu­al league, post­ing just a 13-10 over­all re­cord that in­cluded a 5-8 mark in league play. Judge went 8-1 in non-league play but nev­er got go­ing oth­er­wise, drop­ping its fi­nal four league games.

However, Hen­nes­sey ac­ted like a pro­fes­sion­al on and off the court for the Cru­saders. He was the lead­er of an ex­tremely young team, as only one oth­er seni­or on the roster saw sig­ni­fic­ant play­ing time. In ad­di­tion to his 11.1 points per game in Cath­ol­ic League com­pet­i­tion, Hen­nes­sey aided in the de­vel­op­ment of young­er play­ers, most not­ably Griffin, who av­er­aged 16 points per game this year. Be­cause of Hen­nes­sey’s pres­ence, a 2012-13 team led by seni­ors-to-be Griffin, Sean Hanna and Joe Robin­son will likely be a force to be reckoned with next sea­son.

Hen­nes­sey was al­most al­ways on the court for the Cru­saders, and his lead­er­ship made coach Sean Tait’s job easi­er. In ad­di­tion to his bas­ket­ball re­spons­ib­il­it­ies, Hen­nes­sey was an ex­em­plary mem­ber of the Judge com­munity; his ex­tra­cur­ricular activ­it­ies in­cluded help­ing to or­gan­ize Judge’s “Lock-in for Leuk­emia” bas­ket­ball mara­thon, a 24-hour event in early March that raised more than $12,000 for leuk­emia pro­grams.

Girls Bas­ket­ball Coach of the Year John Turn­er, Naz­areth Academy

For someone who in­her­ited a team that lost four play­ers to gradu­ation, John Turn­er cer­tainly didn’t look like a first-year head coach. After serving as an as­sist­ant coach for the Pan­das, Turn­er was pro­moted to head coach and mol­ded a group of un­proven play­ers in­to stone-cold win­ners.

Un­der Turn­er, the Pan­das went 17-10 this sea­son, in­clud­ing an ap­pear­ance in the Dis­trict 1 Class AAA Play­off semi­finals. After bow­ing out to league rival Villa Maria Academy, Naz­areth earned a spot in the Class AAA state play­offs, elim­in­at­ing St. Basil Academy be­fore fall­ing to the 20-win Saints of Neu­mann-Gor­etti.

Naz­areth nev­er lost more than two games in a row all sea­son, due in large part to Turn­er’s tu­tel­age. He helped turn seni­or tri-cap­tains Dani­elle Gasperi, Brid­get So­bon and Raya Ste­arn in­to a co­hes­ive group of team lead­ers, and ju­ni­or Nicole Dom­browski be­came one of the most pro­duct­ive scorers and re­bounders in the Cath­ol­ic Academies League.

Girls Cath­ol­ic League Bas­ket­ball Play­er of the Year

Dani­elle Gasperi, Naz­areth Academy

One play­er who cer­tainly be­nefited from Turn­er’s in­struc­tion was Gasperi, one of the more pro­duct­ive two-way play­ers for a very bal­anced Naz­areth team. With play­ers like So­bon, Dom­browski, Ste­arn and fresh­man Melissa Sylvester flank­ing her, Gasperi didn’t al­ways lead the Pan­das in scor­ing, though the ma­jor­ity of her box scores fea­tured double-di­git point out­puts. The num­ber that mattered most to Gasperi was wins, and the Pan­das had 17 of them to top all North­east Philly girls bas­ket­ball pro­grams.

Des­pite los­ing four seni­ors to gradu­ation and deal­ing with the ini­tial un­cer­tain­ties of a new head coach, Gasperi and her team­mates worked to­geth­er to en­sure that the team didn’t fall apart. She pa­tiently waited her turn to enter the start­ing lineup and nev­er dis­ap­poin­ted her team­mates or coach­ing staff. Though she’s lis­ted as a guard, Gasperi nev­er shied away from mix­ing it up in the trenches, wheth­er it was chas­ing down a re­bound or play­ing shut­down de­fense.

“With a kid like that, you al­ways feel like you have a shot,” Turn­er said of Gasperi last month. “She has that drive about her on game day. At any point she can really go off and take it to the oth­er team.”

In ad­di­tion to her bas­ket­ball du­ties, Gasperi is a part of Naz­areth’s Com­munity Ser­vice Corps as well as the school’s chem­istry club. She hopes to fol­low in the foot­steps of her broth­er and cous­ins to be­come a nurse after col­lege.

Girls Pub­lic League Bas­ket­ball

Play­er of the Year

Lauren Wil­lis, North­east High School

A year re­moved from fin­ish­ing 11-4 and los­ing most of its roster to gradu­ation, nobody would have blamed the North­east girls bas­ket­ball team for re­gress­ing.

Lauren Wil­lis made sure that didn’t hap­pen.

On a team com­posed mostly of sopho­mores and con­tain­ing zero seni­ors, the Vik­ings fin­ished with an im­press­ive 15-6 over­all re­cord this sea­son. North­east was stretched ex­tremely thin all sea­son, and Wil­lis went above and bey­ond to make sure the Vik­ings didn’t go un­der on her watch. Led by her do-it-all ap­proach, Wil­lis’ Vik­ings won 13 of their first 14 games. Al­though North­east ul­ti­mately lost to Cent­ral High School in the Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship game, Wil­lis scored a team-high 15 points. She also av­er­aged a team-best 17.5 points in North­east’s 15 wins, in­clud­ing a fant­ast­ic 30-point ef­fort in a Jan. 11 win over Fels. ••

The 27th an­nu­al North­east Sports Awards will be held in mid-to-late May; ex­act date and ven­ue for the event will be de­term­ined later this week and be placed in next week’s sports sec­tion.

A spe­cial com­mem­or­ative pul­lout sec­tion will be pub­lished in the North­east Times the week be­fore the ban­quet. If you are in­ter­ested in pur­chas­ing a paid ad­vert­ise­ment in this sec­tion, call Michele Kelly at 215-354-3077 or send e-mail to mkelly@bsmphilly.com.


You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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