Hackettstown Boys Basketball Enjoys Yearly Competition in Florida

Photo courtesy of Michael McDonagh

 

By Steve Sears

For the past seven years, head coach Michael McDonagh and his Hackettstown High School boy’s basketball Tigers have headed south to Florida for a set of games with high school clubs in that state.

Their latest trip, concluded in January, saw them beat the Crusaders of Keswick Christian High School of Saint Petersburg, 61 – 49 in their first game, but lose the second contest to the Tampa Prep Terrapins, 49 – 35. 

Tampa Prep was a new addition to the schedule. The past five years, the Tigers took on Canterbury High School, also of Saint Petersburg.

It’s not just about wins and losses on these trips. Per McDonagh, it’s most of all about life and more about bonding for his players than anything else. “The bonding takes jealousy out of the equation,” he says. “When these kids bond – when they’re bowling, paintballing, eating and laughing, playing beach volleyball and high fiving – the jealousy kind of starts to go away, and they become more of a team. After we come back, they’re even cheering for each other more.”

The idea for a trip first came to McDonagh nine years ago. He laid it out to Athletic Director, Bob Grauso, who gave it his full support. Once McDonagh got approval from Grauso and the school superintendent for the initial trip, he emailed 50 schools in the Sunshine State, and one responder told him to contact Daryl Blume of Saint Petersburg’s Shorecrest Preparatory School. “He (Blume) hooked me up and we went down here for his Christmas tournament, which was great. Every year we keep going back, because we’ve never had a hiccup, never had a problem,” McDonagh proudly says. “Our kids are great kids, they really are. I’ve never had a discipline problem with a kid, and it makes it easier when you don’t have to deal with those issues. For the kids, it’s become a thing where they love it, they talk about it, and they get excited about it. It’s a special thing.’”

Three hotel rooms are booked in Florida, one for coaches and two for the players. McDonagh and his coaches buy food for the players, and the teens take it from there. “We do breakfast,” McDonagh explains. “That’s our routine. The seniors usually will cook the team breakfast, and then everyone meets in a room, and we all hang out in the morning and eat when everybody’s just waking up. It’s a good start.”

McDonagh also credits his Assistant Coach, Kevin Silverstein, with the help he provides. “I can’t do this trip by myself,” McDonagh says. “He’s a teacher at the middle school – he’s a phenomenal teacher. And he coaches three sports at our high school, volleyball, basketball and baseball. And I’ll tell you, he is grade A!”

After Blume retired and Shorecrest would no longer be a holiday tourney opponent, he offered advice to McDonagh. “He said, ‘Listen, to keep it going, reach out to this lady. She’s a wonderful woman. She’s an athletic director and girls’ basketball coach,’” McDonagh recalls.

Blume was referring to Karrmayne King of Keswick Christian School. McDonagh emailed her about wanting to be in their Christmas tournament, which is held annually. “We actually had an opening, which was awesome, because I love when him and his team come down,” King says. “They did a great job in that tournament, and then decided afterwards to start coming down in January instead.”

And for McDonagh and his Tigers, it has been a happy marriage. “I make sure all my kids give her a hug,” he says, “and I make sure that I say in front of her, ‘Without Miss King this does not happen.’ We give her a nice gift card, and my kids are so respectful. They appreciate us being down there, and they know it’s because of her.” And the feeling is reciprocal. “Shaking hands with their head coach, who’s a great guy, is wonderful, and they treat us so well. They send us emails afterwards thanking us. They’re the nicest people in the world.”

“It’s a great thing,” King says, who sees the benefit on the Keswick Christian side as well. “It’s good for our guys to be able to play against people that aren’t in their area. I love what Mike does with his program; they’re the most respectful guys once they get here. I never have any issues, and Mike’s an outstanding leader. The way he treats officials, coaches, and everybody, I just love him. He brings a real enthusiasm, always shares some plays with me, so it’s always a great time.”

 

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