OLIVET — LaSalette’s Big 3 Tournament offers a unique approach to high school competition.
The three-day, three-state, three-event format includes basketball games, but that’s only one element in what will ultimately determine Saturday night’s overall champion.
Students from all-boys Catholic boarding schools in New York and Kansas also will compete against LaSalette — and each other — in chess and speech.
“In Western civilization, there’s a beautiful setup for the formation of young men,” ninth-year LaSalette headmaster Father Michael McMahon said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
“There’s the spiritual, intellectual and the physical. If a yearlong formation is what you strive for, then it would be nice if competition like this reflects that.”
LaSalette’s basketball team overcame a 12-point deficit in the final 10 minutes Thursday to hand Blessed Virgin Mary Academy, from Syracuse, N.Y., a 67-52 opening-round loss at The Coliseum.
Afterward, the players dined together. They’ll attend Mass together, participate in intramural activities with one another and try to help their schools claim the coveted championship that LaSalette captured in 2013.
The headmasters from the three schools attended the same seminary (Minnesota’s St. Thomas Aquinas) and share many of the same values, philosophies and perspectives.
The cornerstone is the overall development of teenage boys.
“Boys can come here and graduate and form solid citizens, individuals who love their country, love their faith and love each other,” Father McMahon said.
LaSalette basketball coach Jim Zigulich especially loved the way his 11-player varsity squad responded to the adversity of a 46-34 deficit with 1 minute, 58 seconds left in the third quarter.
“We switched defenses, and they had a tough time with our fullcourt pressure,” Zigulich said.
Senior captain Dominick Martin scored 11 of his team-high 25 points in the final 5:01 as the Lions surged ahead and maintained control.
“When we need a big shot, he’s the one we want the ball to go to,” Zigulich said. “He’s our leader.”
Zigulich enjoys coaching in the atmosphere that exists at LaSalette. The student body — which attends all the games — is a boisterous bunch that becomes respectfully quiet when an opposing player is shooting a free throw. Students from BVM Academy reciprocated.
“How could you not love it,” Zigulich said. “The fans are right over your shoulder; everyone is getting after it. It’s how it’s supposed to be.”
The coach appreciates the setup of the weekend competition that enables many of LaSalette’s 78 high school students to participate.
“Basketball is my passion,” he said, “but not everyone can play basketball. There are different things going on, and it highlights everyone’s strengths.
“That’s what it’s about, developing the all-around young man.”
John Wernowsky scored 12 points for the Lions (11-9) and teammate Spencer Thomet narrowly missed a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds. Martin and Sam Thomet each hit two three-pointers for the winners.
As pleased as he was with the outcome on the court, scorekeeper Father McMahon’s greatest joy is in what’s transpiring in the deportment department.
“We’re always happy to take good boys and have them do good things,” he said, “but when boys come in with teenage attitudes and you see them develop into young gentlemen, it’s extremely satisfying.
“It’s not impossible.”
And for the LaSalette basketball team, neither was that 12-point, third-period deficit.
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette’s executive sports editor. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5235, by fax at 217-373-7401 and at email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter @fredkroner.