Elizabeth, NJ - The afternoon officiating assignment was a girls varsity scrimmage at St. Mary's High School.
Let the shoppers inundate the malls. Home for yours truly on this Friday afternoon, is on the basketball court: the Elizabeth based school was hosting St. Vincent Academy from Newark.
The head coach of St. Vincent, Carol Alm, has been at the helm there for quite some time. Her tenure is measured in decades not years. She is well respected for dedication just as much for longevity.
St. Vincent was once in the Catholic Girls School League, a conference that consisted of schools with similar enrollments and 'mission statements'. Simply, the schools wanted to attract students and was not engaged in all-out recruiting to build a state power. A competitive program would be fine for these schools, thank you. Carol does a nice job, attends a good deal of college games and runs a solid program. I asked her if there was truth to a rumor she invented the 1-1-3 zone. "Not at all," she says, "but I use it some of the time."
The St. Mary's athletic director Robert Halleck, a former coach at the school with a long and very successful tenure, chats with myself and partner Mike. Most of the topic concerns how kids today do not realize the monumental step you take moving and trying to adjust from high school to Division I.
The gym is small and quaint, something reminding you of the game's more innocent days. The floor is in good condition. The banners on the wall tell us the boys team, especially back in the 50's was arguably the envy of the state. County and state championship banners from that decade adorn the South end of the gym. St.Mary's' nickname is the Hilltoppers, kind of ironic because we can't get any closer to sea level than we are now.
Early on we get the hint play may not be too fluid. It is a scrimmage and the kids have been in practice just over a week. Twelve seconds in, a St. Vincent's player commits a foul in the act of shooting. Carol calls time out. No matter if only a dozen seconds have elapsed, Carol sees a teaching moment and wants to seize it.
Each quarter the score is wiped off the board and we begin a new eight minutes at 0-0. St. Mary's is competitive early but as the scrimmage wears on, begins to struggle. Their big players are having trouble matching up with St. Vincent, their guard play appears to be their strength and is neutralized by the several types of zones employed by the visitors.
In the third quarter the St. Mary's point guard is closely guarded. She tries to get space by pushing off her opponent. Offensive foul. To his credit, the St. Mary's coach substitutes for her and has an assistant run the team as he has a good ten minute talk with the lead guard.
A number 53 with good size is showing a nice touch for St. Vincent. Offensively, St. Mary's is having trouble with the zone, settling for three pointers. The shots don't drop and the lack of scoring effects their energy on defense.
We play a five quarter scrimmage. St. Vincent ‘wins' each of the five. They are running some nice sets and just seem to be further along at this point. St. Mary's has some work to do but will show improvement with hard work as the season progresses. Cutting down on turnovers and zone offense will probably be major priorities to address in practice.
Post game we wish coaches and players from both teams best of luck on the season. Carol tells me, "I am glad you called some of those fouls on (number) 53, she has to learn proper defense and not to reach so much." Her offense, as noted, is coming along fine and ahead of her D.
I tell Carol that whenever her team had a dead ball inbound and we said ‘hold your spot' or you can run' the inbounding player would say ‘thank you sir'. Carol was pleased to hear that and said, "they better be polite or else..." Went on to tell her that ‘thank you' courtesy reminds me of another team I officiate, the St. Anthony's High School boys. With Bob Hurley in charge those players better show a positive demeanor as well.
Overall, some good work to get out on the floor and assess, from our point, what needs to be worked on. A bonus, there was a great post game stop, a Dunkin Donuts for coffee just down the block from St. Mary's.