John Knebels
Special to The CS&T

Last week’s announcement that both North Catholic and Cardinal Dougherty High Schools will be closing at the conclusion of this school year has certainly led to significant reminiscing. Take, for instance, the athletic teams.

North Catholic began in 1926 and Dougherty followed 30 years later. Both schools waited two school years before joining the Catholic League.

Although hundreds if not thousands of terrific athletes have honored their schools on and off the playing field, and there have been countless hours of sacrifice by the many coaches who have mentored their particular sports, some people and accomplishments arguably rise to the top.

And so, we honor the following in a bittersweet trip down memory lane. Apologies to those not mentioned. Then again, when it comes to recognition, both schools undoubtedly reminded their brothers and sisters that there is no “I” in the word team.

“Pledging hearts to you in loyalty,” states Dougherty’s alma mater, “we’ll bear your glory far and wide.”

North Catholic’s reminds its brothers: “Falcon symbol, we now salute thee! Sons who love and revere thy fair name.”

North Catholic’s soccer program’s success has been legendary. The Falcons’ first Catholic League title came in 1957. Then in 1958. And after a 3-3 tie for the 1959 title with, ironically, Cardinal Dougherty (playing in only its second season), North Catholic again captured championships from 1960 through 1967. Then another in 1970. And others in ’74, ’75, ’77 through ’79, and again in 1990. North won again in 1999, 2001, 2002 and last fall in 2008.

Their greatest player ever? That’s tough. Eddie Blaney (1969 grad) is in St. Joseph’s University Hall of Fame. Don D’Ambra (1990) is the leading scorer in the history of the Philadelphia Kixx professional soccer team.

The Falcons (along with La Salle and West Catholic) have also won eight Catholic League basketball titles; only Roman Catholic (28) and Neumann-Goretti (15) have captured more. The championship that stands out most occurred in 1987, when coach Joe Rapczynski’s group stunned heavily favored Roman Catholic in the final, although the 2008 champs guided by Mike McCarron (22-5 overall) are a close second.

In football, men such as Frank “Bucko” Kelly and Frank Reagan achieved early glory. The former played as a lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1944 to 1955; the latter was a punter for both the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. In 1950, Reagan led the National Football League with a 51.3 average per kick.

Teamwise, the Falcons seized four straight championships from 1934 through 1937 under coach Ken Simendinger. Coach Jack Gillespie piloted North to championships in 1949, ’50, ’52 and ’56.

On the baseball diamond, the Falcons’ first championship occurred in 1948. More titles were earned in 1950, ’54, ’56, ’77, ’81, ’86 and ’95.

In track, North won on five different occasions, the first in 1941 and the last in 1966.

Although Cardinal Dougherty forged its own sense of excellence, it wasn’t long after its commencement that other new Catholic League high schools provided rugged competition. Along the way, the Cardinals accrued a fair share of trophies that can be seen inside various trophy cases that dot the school hallways.

Dougherty’s early success was in cross country. The Cards’ boys’ team won in their first two years of Catholic League membership (1958 and ’59). After a one-year miss, Dougherty won five straight titles from 1961 through 1965 and another in 1967.

Dougherty’s track team, both boys and girls, were notoriously strong in the ’70s and early-to-mid ’80s. After Ned Moore coached the boys to titles in 1969 and 1971 through 1973, Brother Jerome Benway led the Cards to championships in 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983 and 1985.

Among Dougherty’s great runners was James Jefferson, who

set a still-standing record in the 200-meter run (22.63 seconds). And in field events, Audrey Codner in 1990 established a still-standing record in the shot put with a heave slightly more than 39 feet.

Many professional athletes have learned their craft at Second and Godfrey. The most celebrated professional was Harry Swayne, a 1983 graduate who played 15 years in the NFL and started in three Super Bowls for three different teams (San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens) and won the NFL’s prestigious showcase with both the Broncos and Ravens. Swayne starred on the Dougherty team that won the 1982 championship. His three sacks in the Northern spanision championship win over Bishop McDevitt paved the way for Dougherty’s 17-14, last-second victory over Archbishop Carroll in the final. It was Dougherty’s first gridiron championship since 1968.

Jim Cooper (1973) won a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys in 1977. Florian Kempf (1974) was a soccer star who kicked former NFL great Tony Fritsch out of a job when he made the Houston Oilers in 1982 as kicker. Mike Dennery (1969) played for the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins, and John Waerig (1995) played several years in the NFL as a tight end. Although he did not play professionally, Lawrence Reid (1976) is also regarded among the Dougherty elite.

In basketball, recently retired Cuttino “Cat” Mobley has to be considered Dougherty’s best-ever hoops performer, having played in the NBA from 1998 through 2008. The 1992 graduate helped Dougherty reach the CL finals in 1992 before losing to Roman Catholic. Current NBA guard Kyle Lowery (2004) is now playing for the Houston Rockets.

Dougherty’s soccer prowess occurred in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when the Cards won championships in 1968, ’69 and ’71 through ’73. They would have won six in a row had it not been for a 1-0 overtime loss to, again ironically, North Catholic in 1970. Dougherty, which won boys’ bball titles in 1964 and 1970, also won soccer championships in 1980 and 1989.

Alex Ely, a former Spanish teacher at Dougherty, coached soccer there. Ely is a member of the USA Soccer Hall of Fame and at one point competed with the legendary Pelé.

While Betty Ann Kempf (1978) was a field hockey and soccer phenom for Dougherty, 1989 graduate Maureen Dolphin led the Cardinals to a Catholic League basketball title in her graduating year, and Dougherty successfully defended its crown in 1990.

No doubt, there has been a litany of other notable accomplishments worth mentioning. To those, and to those listed here, your alma maters thank you for sharing your talents in such noteworthy form.

John Knebels can be reached at