By William T. Clew
This was the big one.
The Mercy Centre was playing the women’s basketball team from the College of the Holy Cross for the 25th year. In each of those 24 previous years, the Mercy Centre has won.
Every year, Holy Cross Coach Bill Gibbons tells the Mercy Centre players and coaches that this is the year that Holy Cross is going to win. He’s been wrong 24 times. And he was wrong again Tuesday morning in the Mercy Centre gymnasium.
The final score: Mercy Centre 14, Holy Cross 12.
And if ever there was a game in which the losing team is as happy as the winners, this is the one. The smiles on the faces of the Lady Crusaders Tuesday morning at their Mercy Centre defeat were as big and happy as those on the faces of the winning Mercy Centre players.
The Mercy Centre provides training and employment programs for adults with intellectual disabilities who are 22 and older.
It opened in September 1961, staffed by the Sisters of Mercy under the auspices of Catholic Charities. Coach Gibbons said Msgr. David Sullivan and his aunt, Anne-Marie Daly, were involved in its founding.
He said the people who are helped by the Mercy Centre are God’s special people. He said his uncle Tom Fitzgerald was one of God’s special people and was the center of love in his family.
Coach Gibbons said his interest in the Centre led him, 25 years ago, to bring his Holy Cross players to play a game against the Centre team. They also visit on Halloween and at other times. They always receive a very warm welcome, and it is warmly returned by the Lady Crusaders.
“The joy they give us is worth a lot more than we give them,” Coach Gibbons said. “We try to teach our players to be women to others, and this helps us immensely.”
Each year Coach Gibbons introduces each member of the Holy Cross team with a little quiz, asking the Mercy Centre players and guests to identify the state each woman comes from using the hints he gives them.
In past years he has had a player or players from New Jersey. Someone always got that answer quickly, yelling out “New Jersey!” and Coach Gibbons would reply, “That’s right. New Jersey. I got a new jersey for Christmas this year.”
That usually got the kind of reaction it deserved, some laughs, some groans.
This year he had a new one.
“This player is from the biggest pencil in the world,” he said. “What’s the biggest pencil in the world?”
Someone finally said “Pennsylvania.”
“That’s right, Pennsylvania,” he said.
Why the change in his stand-up material?
“We don’t have anyone from New Jersey this year,” he said.
As always happens in these games, the Holy Cross players seem to lose their basketball skills. Their passes go awry, winding up in the hands of their opponents, as do rebounds. Their defense falls apart and Mercy Centre players get lots of shots. Holy Cross manages to keep the game close, pulling to within 2 points of the lead several times Tuesday.
In several of the games in past years, the score often turned out to be 24 to 22, with the Mercy Centre the winner. Coach Gibbons called this year’s 14-to-12 Mercy Centre victory “a defensive struggle.”
After the game, the players exchanged hand shakes and hugs, the Holy Cross players passed out team posters and helped Mercy Centre players practice shooting and, before they left, posed with Mercy Centre players and guests for photographs.