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 email@example.com.EndFragment