|Michael Gardner is carrying on his father's D-III hoops legacy, albeit at a different Centennial Conference school.
Photo by Jay VanRensselaer
By Ryan Scott
Fifteen years ago Johns Hopkins began holding a memorial game named after two alums.
Glenn Wall and Matt O'Mahony worked at Canton Fitzgerald, which occupied floors 101-105 at One World Trade Center. Wall, O'Mahony, and 656 of their coworkers died when the towers collapsed. Friends and family organized to provide a scholarship at Johns Hopkins as a tribute to their memory.
"They were both gym rats," says longtime Hopkins head coach, Bill Nelson, who took over the program in 1986, two years after Wall and O'Mahony graduated, but who got to know them as heavily involved alums. "We hold our alumni game on a Saturday and I'd come in Sunday to get some work done and these guys were still there playing ball."
In addition to the game and scholarship, the memorial fund has paid for updates to the men's locker room at Hopkins, a remodeled student lounge, and new video scoreboards in the Goldfarb Gymnasium, which debuted this year. After each Wall-O'Mahony game, an MVP is selected from each team and presented with a trophy. This year's recipients, Matt Billups of JHU and Cedric Moune of Franklin and Marshall, received their awards from Wall's two daughters, the oldest of whom, Payton, is now a freshman at Hopkins.
"It means so much to me to be here as a student now," she says. "It's been a really sentimental place for me. There's a lot of my father's presence here. Walking around here, knowing he went here. Every year I get closer to his memory; I find out something new about my dad that I didn't know before. It's really great that his friends and family have done so much to keep his memory alive here."
Typically, the Wall-O'Mahony game is played when JHU hosts Haverford, as the Fords have their own tragic connection to Canton Fitzgerald and 9/11. The Douglas B. Gardner '83 Integrated Athletic Center is named for a former Haverford basketball player and co-worker and friend of Wall and O'Mahony who also lost his life in the World Trade Center attack. This year's contest was postponed by snow, but the Haverford connection was still present in Gardner's son, Michael, who is a freshman guard on the Johns Hopkins team.
"Haverford is a great school and a great program," says Gardner, "but I don't know if I could've gone to a school where my dad's name was everywhere. That would've been a lot for me. I think here is perfect. There's a big 9/11 tribute here, which is really nice, but it's not my name on the side of a building. It's really nice having that plaque for Wall-O'Mahony in the locker room. It's a great tribute."
Franklin and Marshall was the opponent on Saturday and Hopkins was more than motivated. Besides the memorial, they honored six seniors before the game, and are still in the mix for a Centennial Conference playoff spot.
This is a great recovery for a team that lost its point guard, Austin Vasiliadis, early in the season and play has been up and down all year. There have been big wins, especially over teams at the top of the conference standings, but also disappointing losses that have left the Blue Jays needing every win they can get.
"Our motto before the game was 'no fear,'" says Nelson, "At this point in the year, especially for the seniors, what do they have to lose? Go out and play basketball."
And play they did. The Diplomats came out strong, building an 11 point lead early, before the Blue Jays came roaring back, led by great team defense and a fired up senior class. F&M started the second half similarly, driving the lead back to double digits. Johns Hopkins once again rallied to tie the game with just over a minute remaining on a layup by Ryan Curran, who finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds, most in the second half. Jesse Flannery and Sam Gordon hit free thros down the stretch to seal the upset victory over No. 22 Franklin and Marshall.
It seems odd that the MVPs went to Billups and Moune, who ended up guarding each other for much of the game. Moune scored 17 and led the Dips with eight rebounds, but Billups really made him work for every point, notching six blocks, including one from the weak side with 12 seconds to go that helped secure the win.
It was a performance that would certainly have made Glenn Wall and Matt O'Mahony proud. While the game began as a memorial, it has taken on a larger role as time goes on. Fewer and fewer current college students have first-hand memories of 9/11. This annual recognition helps to make the tragedy and courage of that day more than just events on the page of a history book for students increasingly disconnected from the reality of that experience.
Johns Hopkins has gone out of its way to keep the memory of these two alums alive and it's paid dividends for the school as well. There is a sense of purpose and pride instilled by this connection to one of the most profound events in recent American history. It's a legacy carried on by the children of those who've lost their lives and the basketball team Wall and O'Mahony loved so much.
One of the great things about Division III basketball is that it's almost always about something more than the game. Hopkins' Wall-O'Mahony tribute is one great example of how that plays out in the lives of real people both on and off the court.
Vallely continues to shine
Muhlenberg sophomore Brandi Vallely got recognition early in the season for a series of triple doubles. Her assists are impressive and she's averaging more than nine per game this year, but towards the end of the season her scoring stroke has come alive as well. Vallely scored 39 points against Dickinson on Feb. 8, tying the school record. If this pace continues, she should set one of the top ten all-time assist seasons in NCAA D-III history.
Ursinus battles adversity
February finds both basketball teams at Ursinus battling for Centennial Conference playoff spots. Coach Kevin Small and the men's team thought things had gotten tough when leading scorer Matt Knowles went down to injury last month, but it was nothing like the schedule they'll face to finish out the season after an epidemic of Norovirus crushed campus this week. Classes were cancelled, along with two conference games, while the school disinfected and recovered from over 200 people falling ill. There is a clean bill of health on campus now, but both Bears squads will be playing four games in seven nights to complete conference play.
CoSIDA district awards
The College Sports Information Directors or American announced district awards for men and women this week. On the women's side, Julia McLaughlin of Salisbury and Sara Tarbert of Stevenson were honored. For the men, Tanner Brooks of St. Mary's, Davon Hill of Hood, Niko Kotoulas of Johns Hopkins, Brandon Federici of F&M, John Vitkus of Scranton, and Hunter Wetherell of Christopher Newport all got recognition.
Alyssa Polimeni of Ursinus scored 1,000 points. Bryson Fonville from Catholic and Kelecia Harris from Albright hit 1,500. Harris moved over 1,000 rebounds this week as well.
We are always on the lookout for good Mid-Atlantic region stories. I'm especially interested in statistical milestones and behind the scenes successes – these aren't always as easy to find in headlines and box scores. Contact me at email@example.com or @ryanalanscott on twitter.
Around the Mid-Atlantic was written by Ryan Scott during the 2015-16 season. He now writes Around the Nation.