This is St. Mary CYO and the Sean Moran Summer Slam
By Krista Vellis
St. Mary CYO playoffs begin this weekend. And be on the lookout for information regarding the Sean Moran Summer Slam this spring.
St. Mary CYO basketball is more than a sports program; they’re a family. This volunteer-based program enriches the lives of over 140 children. Their mission is simple. Teach young athletes the value of hard work, sportsmanship, and teamwork. This is Rutherford sat down with Program Directors Tom Lewis and Brian Redington to learn more about the program.
TIR: What made you get involved in the CYO program?
TL: Some of my best memories of playing basketball as a child came from playing St Mary CYO. I was lucky to have great coaches who cared about the players and did their best to teach the game of basketball. When I was given the opportunity to take over the program with Brian, I knew I had to say yes. Being a part of the CYO program allows me to give back to the community I grew up in and provide my children, as well as other children, the same opportunity I had to make lasting memories and friendships.
BR: I helped Tim Ryan and Benn O’Hara for a few seasons when I was in college and then came back and helped Matt Stone when he was brought in to be the boys’ varsity basketball coach.
I became involved in the program again when my daughter was in 4th grade. She was showing interest and promise in the game, so I wanted to get her into the program because it was always so good. At the time there was no 3/4th grade girls’ team. I asked Matt if one could be started. He said “Yeah, if you coach it….” I said yes, and the next day he texted me Tom Lewis will join you and that was pretty much how we got rolling. Tom and I coached our daughters together that season. Two years later when Matt’s other duties became a bit much for also balancing CYO, he asked us if we would take over the program. We said yes and have been having a blast ever since.
TIR: What is the goal for the program? What do you want the athletes to get out of it?
TL: The St. Mary CYO basketball program teaches young athletes the value of hard work, sportsmanship, and teamwork. Coaches are focused on developing their players’ basic skills and knowledge of the game. We make it clear to our coaches that our programs success will not be judged on wins and losses, but player development and retention from one season to the next.
TIR: What makes St. Mary CYO different than other sport’s programs?
TL: We want our athletes to understand that CYO isn’t just about basketball. We’re about family. Brian and I do our best to get to know each player and their parents in order to build a sense of community within the program. Brian and I may be the directors, but it takes a lot of people willing to step up and help to make this program work. All of our coaches, concession stand workers and scorekeepers are volunteers. We are unbelievably lucky to have some of the most unselfish people who are always willing to help out where needed and make this the best experience possible for the children.
BR: There are so many sports programs out there to choose from. So many seem to be trying to establish an elite brand of some kind. Often though, that means the kids who can help the brand soak up a lot of the attention and you see others get cut or marginally involved. For me, this is a chance to offer an alternative, to get everyone involved and take a longer term view of everyone’s potential while also maintaining a fun atmosphere for the kids, parents and coaches. Competition comes naturally to us all, it really doesn’t need a lot of emphasis. We don’t forget to compete, but we don’t make it the end all to win. We’re a .500 program overall from a win/loss perspective, and that’s okay if all of the kids are learning and having fun doing it. We’ll get our championships along the way.
TIR: In what other ways does the program foster a feeling of community?
TL: We start off the season with a basketball clinic for our coaches. St. Mary Athletic Director Matt Stone and High School Boy’s Varsity Coach Brian Gaccione demonstrate developmentally appropriate skill building drills for our athletes. High school students and former CYO players are used in the demonstrations so coaches get to see firsthand how the drills are run before the season opens. This clinic ensures that all of the children are being taught the same way, but most importantly, the right way.
About a month into the season we have Family Fun Night. Players and their families are invited to a night filled with friendly competition, music and prizes. It’s a way for players and parents alike to meet one another in a relaxed, fun-filled environment.
For St. Mary Senior Night, our CYO players cheer on St. Mary seniors as they play their final home game of the season. Afterwards, the high school players have a meet and greet and take pictures with our athletes.
We also participate in local community events such as the Rutherford Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
BR: All I can add to what Tom said is that we definitely view the coaches and other volunteers as people who are helping us out, and deserve our gratitude. We hand pick people who we know share the philosophy and then we give them freedom and support. I think everyone feels like they make a meaningful contribution to a greater cause and they absolutely do.
TIR: What is Seton Hall CYO Night?
TL: On March 9th, the Seton Hall Pirates are honoring CYO programs throughout the state by giving discounts on tickets, allowing players to be part of the high five tunnel and inviting them for pictures on the court after the game. Players can watch and cheer on the Pirates at Prudential Center as they take on Big East Rival and defending National Champion Villanova Wildcats.
TIR: How many children benefit from the program?
TL: Currently, we have 140 children enrolled in the CYO program. We have eight boys’ teams ranging from 2nd to 8th grade and six girls’ teams from 2nd – 8th grade.
TIR: How is the program funded?
TL: We run a self-sufficient program where registration fees and fundraisers are used to support the program. We also develop partnerships with the community. One of our biggest supporters is James Rizzo of BCB bank. Their donation allowed us to buy needed training equipment for the children.
TIR: Who is eligible to play CYO?
TL: Children who are enrolled at the Academy of St. Mary or are active participants in the CCD program at St. Mary’s Church are eligible to play.
TIR: Who governs the program?
TL: The Archdiocese of Newark oversees the entire program. On the local level, we have amazing support from St. Mary parish. Father Mike and Debbie Moran are an integral part of our program’s success.
TIR: How closely do you work with Athletic Director Matt Stone?
TL: There would not be a program without the support of Athletic Director Matt Stone. Besides securing gym time for us on a weekly basis, he arranges basketball clinics for the athletes to attend, organizes Senior Night for our players, and allows us to store basketball equipment at the school.
BR: Tom and I have both been close friends with Matt for many years. Working with him now continues the tradition that this program was built upon. The CYO program has always been run by friends who naturally work well together and have the same basic mindset. We’re a small group at the core and that may lead to a little extra work, but it also leads to quick decisions and efficiency.
Boy’s Varsity Head Coach Brian Gaccione stopped by during the interview. This is what he had to say:
BG: The CYO program establishes a foundation for the future high school players of tomorrow.
TIR: I know that you both run something called the Sean Moran Summer Slam? Who was Sean Moran?
TL: Sean Moran was a Rutherford resident who attended St. Mary HS and continued to give back to the high school for over 30 years. He was my coach, mentor and best friend. Coach Mo, as he is known by all who played for him, used his position to not only teach the game of basketball, but how to become a good man. He stressed self-accountability, hard work, and the importance of putting team goals above your individual goals. He had a positive effect on the lives of all players he coached. He unfortunately passed away two years ago. He was only 56 years old.
I wanted to honor the commitment he had to the children of this town. I thought the best platform for honoring him would be a basketball tournament. Coach Mo always taught us that some of life’s best lessons come through the game of basketball. In this way, Sean Moran can continue his teachings. We had a tremendous show of support for the event last year, and are currently planning this year’s event which will be held in the spring.
BR: The Moran and Redington families go back a long way. Sean and his brother Frank went to Saint Mary High School with my older brother and sister in the late 70’s. Although they were in different classes, Frank and my brother were close friends. Sean graduated with my sister, so I knew Sean well. He was a great guy to say the least. I coached his nephew Danny in one of my early years coaching and then Danny later helped me coach my second time through the program. And the Moran connection to the CYO program continues as we have two of Sean’s nieces, Meghan Moran and Mikaela Scanlon, coaching with us right now. With all that history, being able to help Tom Lewis and Matt Stone with the Summer Slam was the least I could do.
And it’s not just us, volunteers like Adam Lawdanski offered their time because of what Sean Moran meant to this community. BCB Bank generously donated the tents, grills, food and music. They really made the day special. We’re looking forward to this year’s event.