Heavenly Assistance Helped Colonials Win
By Chris McManes, MikeLonergan.com
Monday, January 28, 2013
WASHINGTON – Ask Mike Lonergan his mother’s birthday, and he has to think a minute. Ask him what day she went to be with the Lord, and there’s no hesitation.
Lonergan’s mother, Maureen, died June 9, 1995 after a six-month battle with breast cancer. A former soccer coach and athletic director at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, Md., she was her son’s primary influence to go into coaching. Seton’s playing field is named “Lonergan Field” in her honor, and the school annually recognizes one of its athletes with the “Maureen Lonergan Coaches Award.”
Lonergan’s mom is not the only person close to him to die from cancer. His coach at Catholic University, Jack Bruen, succumbed to pancreatic cancer Dec. 19, 1997. Just six days before his death, the 48-year-old New York native coached Colgate to an 80-69 victory over Marist.
Before Lonergan became head coach at Catholic in 1992, he was an assistant under Bruen for three seasons at Colgate. He also used to eat dinner frequently at Jack and Joan Bruen’s house.
Lonergan and his George Washington staff were pleased to participate in last Saturday’s Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers awareness weekend. Charlotte Coach Alan Major and his staff also donned athletic shoes, as did basketball coaches around the country.
Coaches vs. Cancer is a nationwide collaboration of the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
Saturday’s game – an 82-54 victory – turned out great for Lonergan and the Colonials. Then again, they had some assistance from on high.
“We have a great record in all the Coaches vs. Cancer games I have been in,” said Lonergan, who is celebrating his 47th birthday today. “I feel Coach Bruen and my mom are providing extra coaching help from heaven.”
Lonergan still remembers the first Coaches vs. Cancer game he participated in. It was Jan. 15, 1996 – less than a year after his mother died – and his Cardinals defeated No. 1 and eventual national champion Rowan, 92-88. Catholic fans stormed the court to celebrate, and the school raised $3,000 for cancer research.
Rowan, which finished 28-4, was coached by current La Salle Coach Dr. John Giannini, who will bring his Explorers to Smith Center this Saturday. He was asked about that 1996 game today during the Atlantic 10 Conference men’s basketball coaches teleconference.
“I remember they won, and I remember it was the year we won the national championship,” Giannini said. “We certainly weren’t losing many games back then, so I was really impressed with Catholic U. They certainly earned our respect immediately.”
Bob Valvano, Lonergan’s predecessor at Catholic, was instrumental in bringing Coaches vs. Cancer to St. Mary’s (Md.) College, where he coached from 1992-94. The Seahawks and Cardinals were members of the Capital Athletic Conference at the time. Valvano is a brother of former North Carolina State Coach Jim Valvano. Jim and ESPN formed the V Foundation for Cancer Research in 1993 shortly before he died of metastatic cancer.
Lonergan partook in Coaches vs. Cancer games against Valvano’s successor at St. Mary’s, the late Bob Flynn.
While coaching at Vermont (2005-11), Lonergan’s teams participated in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s “Think Pink” campaign in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Week.
Lonergan’s team posted its most impressive performance Saturday in his less-than-two-year Colonial tenure. GW dominated in every way imaginable, leaving his players and Nike-sneakers-wearing staff to delight in a benchmark victory.
“This one was fun, especially on Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers day,” he said.
Lonergan had a message for his team, most of whom were less than 5 when he participated in his first game to raise awareness for cancer research and the role diet and physical activity can play in reducing cancer risk.
“I told the guys before the game – the freshmen – I said, ‘I don’t want to assume you know what this is all about.’ And it’s important to me,” he said. “I said you should play for whoever in your life is fighting cancer or passed away.
“I always feel like my mom and Jack Bruen are helping me coach my team. It’s special in that way.”
To find out more about the many resources the American Cancer Society provides to cancer patients and their families, see http://www.cancer.org/index.
Chris McManes is MikeLonergan.com content director. His mother, Madeleine, died from cancer on Oct. 2, 2001.