History with Chuck: 56th anniversary of McDevitt basketball vs. North Catholic JV

Bishop McDevitt alumni might recall that Monday, February 26, will be the 56th anniversary of one of the most bizarre basketball games in Pennsylvania high school history.

On February 26, 1968, Bishop McDevitt and North Catholic were scheduled to play in the first round of the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs.

The day before the game, the entire varsity squad at North Catholic cut mass to eat breakfast at a diner. Head coach Jack Friel, a Latin teacher and the school disciplinarian, suspended every player on the team.

Coach Friel had the following to say about the situation:

The kids were due back at 9:15. I happened to be in the discipline office at the time and I noticed the attendance slips came back with their names marked absent. By 10:30, they still weren’t back. I made a few stops and met them as they were coming back to the school. I said, ‘On your way back, think about not playing tonight. ‘I gave them the opportunity for an explanation, but none seemed to hold water. I then went off to discuss the matter with the principal, Rev. Edward Corcoran, and the vice principal, Rev. William Guerin.

There was no hesitation. We had to show the kids in the most forceful way possible that they were students first, athletes second. The kids took a liberty. As athletes, they felt they deserved something extra. But they always got that through the accolades they received for playing the games. Another punishment never entered my mind. It was clear-cut as far as I was concerned.

From a Daily News article in 1978

The day of the game, the junior varsity of North Catholic rode the train down to the Philadelphia Palestra to play McDevitt’s varsity team. During the season, McDevitt’s JV team had split games with the North Catholic JV.

According to local historian Chuck Langerman, there were close to 5,000 fans at the Palestra that night, many of whom started booing when they saw North Catholic’s JV warming up.

Led by Iggy Brodzinski, Joe Evanosic, Mike Kaiser, Bill Dever, and Jim Boylan (among others), the JV stunned the crowd by knocking off the McDevitt Lancers 77-60.

The story made national headlines around the country and was later turned into a book by Joseph Rapczynski titled “The Junior Varsity Team Is Playing: The upheaval of 1968 and a great sports event!” You can purchase a copy here.

You can watch the game (accompanied by an eclectic choice of background music) below:

The North Catholic varsity was reinstated and lost to Cardinal O’Hara at the buzzer in their next game.

For more on the event, you can click here.

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