Juniors in the spotlight at Father Kennedy basketball tourney

George Luciani’s ‘bouncing baby boy’ turns 37 this weekend.

And everyone is invited to the special event.

On Saturday and Sunday (Feb. 1-2) the 37th-annual Father Kennedy Memorial Invitational high school basketball tournament takes place in Hamilton. It’s the junior boys teams All-Catholic competition that Luciani launched in 1978 and has convened ever since.

Cardinal Newman beat Bishop Ryan, 49-42, on January 9.  (Photo: Gerry Graham/HWCDSB)

Cardinal Newman beat Bishop Ryan, 49-42, on January 9. (Photo: Gerry Graham/HWCDSB)

Sixteen schools are entered this year, including Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association squads from Cardinal Newman, St. Thomas More, St. Jean de Brebeuf, Cathedral, Bishop Tonnos and Bishop Ryan. Games are scheduled at the new Bishop Ryan and St. Thomas More gyms.

The Jean Vanier Jaguars of Richmond Hill are the defending champions.

“In 1977, I coached with Al Smithson and we won the All-Catholic senior tournament championship in St. Catharines,” said Luciani, a retired vice-principal at More. “It was St. Thomas More’s fifth year in the system and that was one of our biggest tournament wins in boys’ basketball.

“During that weekend, I said, ‘this is a great experience. Are there others for the junior and midget teams?’ They said, ‘no, why don’t you start it?’ So after that championship, I helped create the environment for a junior All-Catholic.”

The tournament is named in honour of Reverend Father Kyran D. Kennedy, a Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board trustee for over 40 years and who coached junior and senior basketball at Cathedral High School in the 1950s and ‘60s. He passed away in 2012.

Said Luciani: “Father Kennedy invested so much time in young kids and young players in the CYO system. He was a key factor in the development of basketball at that level.”

Some of the CYO players who Father Kennedy instructed later became part of Cathedral’s first-ever Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations championship team in 1968. Incidentally, members of that ’68 Cathedral Gaels provincial title squad bought the trophy which is presented at the Kennedy tournament.

One more bit of history: When the old St. Thomas More was located on East 5th Street, the church next door was Sts. Peter & Paul and the pastor was Father Kennedy. “So it seemed appropriate at the time, to seek (Father Kennedy’s) permission to name the tournament after him,” Luciani said. “He graciously consented.”

According to Luciani, the top teams for this year’s tournament are the St. Michael’s College Blue Raiders of Toronto, the St. Benedict’s Saints of Cambridge, the Resurrection Phoenix of Kitchener and Jean Vanier. The other out-of-town entries are the Brantford St. John’s Green Eagles, the Oakville Holy Trinity Titans, the Burlington Assumption Crusaders, the Milton Bishop Reding Royals, the Welland Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Burlington Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Opening games at Bishop Ryan are at 9 a.m., (Reding vs. Newman) 10:30, (St. Benedict vs. Bishop Ryan) noon (Welland Notre Dame vs. Brebeuf) and 1:30 p.m. (Burlington Notre Dame vs. Vanier). At St. Thomas More, tip offs are also at 9 a.m., (St. John’s vs. Holy Trinity) 10:30, (Resurrection vs. More) noon, (Assumption vs. Cathedral) and 1:30 p.m. (Tonnos vs. St. Mike’s). Action continues Saturday at both sites, with games at 3, 4:30, 6 and 7:30 p.m.

The consolation final and the championship final are Sunday at 1:30 and 3 p.m., respectively, at St. Thomas More.

“The skill level of the kids today is phenomenal,” Luciani said. “They can run, jump and shoot … they can do everything better now.”

The last Hamilton team to win the Kennedy was the St. Thomas More Knights in 2011. More’s David Boyce remains the only player to have won the tournament’s Most Valuable Player honours in back-to-back years (2005-06).

Thus far this season, the HWCAA junior boys’ basketball standings are as follows: Cardinal Newman, 9-1; Brebeuf, 6-3; Cathedral, 6-3; Bishop Ryan, 5-4; More, 4-5; Bishop Tonnos, 3-7, St. Mary, 0-10.