Back in the mid-seventies, Our Lady of Perpetual Help was a thriving parish, and the school already sported an active athletic program. The school offered football and basketball for 6th, 7th and 8th graders as well as numerous extra-curricular activities. Many students also participated in Little League throughout the summers, and the parish was alive with action.
But, following one Sunday’s Men’s Club meeting, as we were relaxing over a cup of coffee, we began reminiscing about our own grammar school experiences, and commenting about the “highlights” – those evanescent 15 minutes of fame – of our all too-short athletic careers. We realized that OLPH was remarkably similar to St. Ignatius and St. Gertrude’s parishes on the north side of Chicago, where we were born and bred, and where the highlight of our school year just happened to be the annual “Intramural Basketball Tournament: -- a tournament in which all children from 5th through 8th grades who wanted to play, no matter their skill, were part of a team. The unique feature about those tournaments, we concurred, was that everyone played.
Why couldn’t OLPH do the same thing? The Men’s Club instantly liked the idea and approached the pastor, Myles McDonnell, to see if a weekend in March could be set aside for a tournament, which was thereafter aptly named “The Roundball Classic”.
Because no one knew whether such a tournament would be well received by the children and parents, the first abbreviated “Classic” took place on Thursday through Sunday evenings. Initially it was just a boys’ tournament, which of course changed the very next year to include our girls. The teams that weekend played cross-court at the south end of the gym, because we thought that the smaller players might not be able to handle a full court game, especially since in the seventies the Playdium court was much longer than a normal basketball court. This required the Men’s Club to hoist out gym mats each game and place them on the walls to prevent injuries.
The first championship game featured the Loyola Ramblers, captained by Kevin McCarthy and the Notre Dame Irish, captained by Kevin Garvey. This first Sunday evening championship game was played under the watchful eyes of scores of circling roller-skaters, who couldn’t wait for the overtime game to finally end. The teams as they are now, were composed of 6th, 7th and 8th graders; and the rules, from the beginning, required that all players must play, and must sit out, a minimum number of minutes each game. There were jerseys for each player, and there were trophies for the championship and second place teams. Programs with pictures of each team began the second year. High school students were recruited as coaches, and they enthusiastically supported the whole idea. Buying one more trophy than was needed in 1976, the Men’s Club decided to present an award to “The Best Dressed Coach,” a trophy that fashionable high schoolers coveted for years thereafter. Volunteer referees came from the Men’s Club; and parents and school coaches manned the microphones and officials’ tables.
When “OLPH Roundball Classic” jerseys began springing up all over town the following summer, the Men’s Club knew that it had created a winner. Of course, it was the children then, and throughout the years, as it remains to this day, that made the OLPH Roundball Classic such a success.