John Knebels

Sports Columnist

PHILADELPHIA – If the players who comprise the boys’ varsity basketball team at Our Mother of Sorrows-St. Ignatius of Loyola School in West Philadelphia are ever asked for an encore, they will simply have to decline.

There really isn’t any more they could do.

In Harrisburg back on March 21, the team known as the Comets defeated Our Mother of Sorrows from the Diocese of Altoona 54-35 to win the state boys’ CYO basketball tournament. The victory punctuated a surreal feat – a perfect season. The Comets’ 41-0 record included a triumph over St. Jude Parish, Chalfont, in the CYO archdiocesan championship two weeks earlier. {{more}}

“We are so proud of them,” said Sister Owen Patricia, S.S.J., the school principal. “What stands out most is how they jelled so well together. They got to a point where they just knew where their teammates were on the court at all times.”

During a block party that celebrated the Comets becoming the first Region 8 team to ever win the archdiocesan tournament, let alone a state title, some of the boys’ fathers challenged their sons to a game.

The result? Score one for the youngsters.

“I think the dads were thinking they would spot the boys some points and then hand them their first loss,” Sister Owen Patricia said. “The dads couldn’t even come close. It wasn’t even a contest.”

The varsity boys’ team consisted of Xavier Berry, Andrew Bonner, Hondu Brown, Jordan Coles, Termir Durham, John Fletcher, Troy Harper, Frank Johnson, Darius Kennedy, Jaquan Newton, Jalen Roberson and Basil Thompson. They were led by head coach Leroy Duncan, varsity assistant coach Keith Chennault and junior varsity coach Kwanzaa Timmons. Duncan and Chennault are both from the St. Ignatius of Loyola’s class of 1986; Timmons graduated from Our Mother of Sorrows in 1992.

Being able to “give back” to his alma mater in such a profound manner left Duncan almost speechless.

“I’m still floating on cloud nine,” said Duncan. “It’s been an honor and a privilege to coach this team. To have gone to school here and played and to come back and be a part of this is really a once in a lifetime thing.”

Duncan, who praised the work of his former longtime grade school coach, Bernard Smith, said all of the credit should be given to the players. And, he said, that had less to do with their resilience while playing smothering defense on the court than it did for their outstanding behavior off the court.

“I didn’t have an ounce of trouble with any of them,” said Duncan. “They were wonderful. Just a great group of kids who I wish I could coach again.”

One of the rare scary moments occurred in the archdiocesan tournament when a last-second shot by point guard Jaquan Newton prevented defeat and kept the Comets’ perfect season intact. From that point, the Comets took care of business early and often.

The collective summary seems to be that the entire community has benefitted from the basketball team’s success.

“Sports always bring people together, but this season really brought us all together – past and present, church and school,” said Simon Kaufman, the development director of the St. Katharine Drexel Project in West Philadelphia.

“School parents, parishioners and alumni rallied to support the team however they could. We had one alum stop by the school the week before the championship on his way from D.C. to New York just so he could meet some members of the team.

“Another alum sent a check in to support the team, along with a newspaper clipping that he had saved since his team from Our Mother of Sorrows won the (since-closed) St. Thomas More High School Tournament in 1948. A parishioner took it upon herself to get a resolution passed in City Council honoring the team. When they showed up for the council meeting she kissed each one of them on the cheek like each one was her grandson. Parents and parishioners carpooled out to Harrisburg together. It’s been a great feeling.”

As for not having huge numbers, Kaufmann said that mattered little.

“Our cheering section may not have been the biggest,” he said, “but it was the loudest.”

John Knebels can be reached at