John Knebels
Sports Columnist

Upon first inspection, some might have thought they had mistakenly entered a Bon Jovi concert.

The music was loud, the people were yelling. Many of the ones seated had to stand because those who had nowhere to sit were straining to find a good place to see the floor.

But alas, it wasn’t a rock concert. Only a couple of archdiocesan grade school basketball championship games. And Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield wasn’t the Wells Fargo Center – just a high school gymnasium.

“That type of crowd is always great to see at any high school event,” said Joe Fisher, the boys’ basketball coach at St. Andrew in Newtown, Bucks County. “It’s hard not to get excited.”

Fisher paused.

“And for the players, that’s something they will never forget, and that’s what’s most important.”

Fisher was referring to the approximate 1,000 fans that packed O’Hara’s gym March 4 to watch Drexel Hill’s St. Bernadette defeat Annunication B.V.M. of Havertown to capture the girls’ archdiocesan title, followed by St. Andrew upending Newtown Square’s St. Anastasia to seize the boys’ crown.{{more}}

While the teams’ two coaches are 12 years apart in age, their mission is exactly the same – exercise the character building that CYO sports is supposed to be all about.

“Coaching these kids is an honor,” said Fisher, a 1973 Bishop Egan High School graduate now in his 25th year as varsity coach. “We are able to touch their lives as coach, parent, mentor … and hope to help instill the attitudes and beliefs their parents would want them to be exposed to both on and off the court.”

Fewer and fewer grade school coaches are remaining at the same school for as many years as Fisher. St. Bernadette’s girls’ coach Mike Murphy, a 1985 Monsignor Bonner grad who inherited the varsity team three years ago but has been coaching for the past 15 seasons, has no idea how long he will remain at St. Bernadette’s.

What he does know is that this season – which, like St. Andrew’s boys, will continue in the state tournament later this month – has been “one of the greatest experiences I have ever had with basketball.”

“We come on the court and we aren’t very big, but then you watch us play and realize that you can’t measure heart,” Murphy said. “You look at the teams we beat and it really says something.

“Before we beat (West Chester’s SS. Simon and Jude) in the quarterfinals, we had lost to them (twice). We beat (Newtown’s) St. Andrew’s by two in the semis and they came in undefeated.

“And Annunciation. We lost to them by one in a scrimmage and then in the championship we really turned up the defense and held the ball for the last couple of minutes and pulled it out by one. It was a great win because there is a great rivalry between our kids because of the proximity of the two schools. It was an amazing run.”

St. Bernadette’s assistant coach Megan Kearney sometimes laughs at how well her team performs despite carrying only nine players and, to put it nicely, very limited height.

“They’re a great group of kids,” Kearney said. “They work so hard. We play a lot of up-tempo and put on a lot of pressure all over the floor. Our girls stick together really well.”

Alyssa Monaghan, a Cardinal O’Hara-bound point guard labeled by Fisher as arguably the best player in the entire area, provides the glue. Maureen McCann and Molly Sullivan also play guard while defensive stalwarts Sarah Quintus and Anna Savage play forward.

The rest of St. Bernadette’s varsity roster includes Maura Pawlowski and a trio of seventh graders – Jess Carney, Bernadette McGeever and Claire Savage.

With height and bulk aplenty, St. Andrew’s is quite the opposite of St. Bernadette’s Lilliputians. While Chase Kumor and Tim Guers run the point and Sean Cuskley migrates as a three guard, J.R. Hicks is stationed at the high post and Ryan Peyton at the low post.

Several players have consistently contributed off the bench, none more than center Colin Cunningham and Ian McIntosh, whose clutch baskets down the stretch proved critical in the archdiocesan championship victory, which was St. Andrew’s third in the last six seasons and in 2008 culminated with a state title.

“The memories,” Fisher said. “These guys will always have something to talk about for the rest of their lives. They will have fun discussing the season, talking about different players and big plays that led to exciting wins. It’s really a beautiful thing.”

That says it all.

John Knebels can be reached at