Sunday Night at St Mary’s Gym

Featuring the Great Fr. J


One of the greatest parts of my youth was Sunday Night hoops at the St Mary’s gym. Father Jerry Brittain opened the gym every Sunday night. It started out small but grew exponentially in a very short period of time. Fr. Jerry came to St Mary’s when I was in like 5th grade. He stayed til shortly after I graduated high school. It was an epic run from a classic dude. Incredibly practical. Comedic timing with a joke or a correction. And as the great Pat Grochowski once said, “he may not need that left-handed, 3/4 court, outlet pass all that much, but when he does…he’s prepared for it”. Simply said, he was a dream come true for the sports-playing kids that went to church at St Mary’s. Sunday night hoops at St Mary’s was a social event.

On any given Sunday night you’d have 18-30 kids playing and waiting to play 5 on 5…winner keeps the court. And yes, the younger you were the harder it was to get on the court and almost impossible to stay on the court. But man did you get good at going to the hole 1-on-none while the game was at the other end of the court, ha!  And Fr. J was just one of the dudes, waiting his turn, shooting for the ball to start the game (left OR right-handed). He got some consideration because he was the reason we all got to play but he was just a rotation guy like everyone else.

I think of the names and the faces you’d see every Sunday night. Seems I’d get matched up against Greg Gillespie a lot. He lived close, was always there and we were similar in size and so-so ability. The first time I ever met John (Yorkis) Perez was there. Names like Joe Carnavalie and Paul Schold (easily the most improved from day one til the final day) come to mind. And it comes as no surprise to me that the gym at the school where Fr. J went to after he left St. Mary’s has now been renamed in honor of the great Jerry Brittain…imagine that…that dude getting a gym named after him. Not the least bit of a surprise to guys that knew him.

And in all of those years, NEVER once did I see anything that remotely resembled a dust-up. It was 100% hoops from beginning to end. And if you weren’t in the game, you were watching the game, waiting your turn, and firing up shots whenever the game was at the other end of the gym, and most definitely in between games. It was a very important community to those that were there religiously…pun intended. I was lucky enough to be there pretty much from the beginning to almost the very end. Which meant I saw a ton of great “open gym” hoops.

In honor of those days, I give you my All-Time Starting Line-Up for St Mary’s Sunday Night Hoops:

PG – Al Anderson. The small gym was perfect for him. Played with an attitude but was someone you just could not get off the floor. That little gym lead to some close quarters which made many of the passes he made even more ridiculous than they appeared. He could shoot but would single-handedly win games to 15 and score 1 or 2 points. And he wasn’t tall but he may have been one of the first guys to actually make the game more physical at the gym. The guy you wanted to play with and hated playing against.

SG – Trace Nordstrom. Lighting fast and just stop on a dime or completely change directions at full speed. Smooth left-handed shot that once he got the groove and started shooting off a quick dribble and a pull-up, it was going in 80% of the time and that is not an exaggeration. An absolute staple of Sunday Night Hoops and just the nicest guy and best teammate you could possibly meet there. He was definitely the mentor type of the group. A guy the younger dudes looked up to. He was just cool…still is. No one ran a lane any better.

SF – David Fiorini. It is hard to even describe the way that dude played at St. Mary’s. It was so unorthodox that it was beautiful. His shot looked he was shooting it out of the holster…but it went in. When he went to the hole, it was all curly hair and elbows and goofy moves in the air…and then it went in. My bet is he has the all-time winningest percentage of anyone to ever play up there. I don’t know that I ever saw him play a game outside of St. Mary’s but man, that dude was almost flawless on Sunday Nights.

PF – Perry Hegewald. His advantage at St. Mary’s was familiarity. Our pops was Fr. Rick’s right-hand man for many years and Perry had my dad’s “keys to the gym”…literally. That was shortly after our mom passed and he knew EVERY board in that gym and had taken every shot the gym had, over 1000 times, by the time he was in 8th grade. Without getting too deep, that gym saved him from a pretty dark time in his life…you get good when that is your safe space. Even in his advancing years, I’d bet my right arm that he could go there tomorrow and hit 85 out of 100 FTs and 70 out of 100 3’s.

C – Jimmy Anderson. Literally the first true St. Mary’s superstar. No shot was out of range. Granted it was a small gym, but he could take a long rebound, dribble once and shoot a jumper with crazy accuracy. Another total gym rat, he was pretty much the guy that got Fr. J to open up the gym in the first place. Incredible ball handling skills, again from just pure hours and hours of dribbling and shooting. He was also a football QB, but hoops was his love…and he was nothing close to being a “jock”. He was truly larger-than-life in that little-ass gym.

Coach – Father Jerry Brittain. Easily on my Mt Rushmore at St Mary’s Catholic. A gentleman. A hooper. A Leader. And the reason a bunch of teen kids had a place to want to go to. Puma low cuts…gray socks…colored glasses strap..sweat like a grown man, while setting an example to some decent kids. Props to one of the greats who, no doubt, can still hit you in stride, streaking up the left side of the court.