Father Judge students participate in the 40th annual Basketball Marathon to fight leukemia Wednesday evening.
In this day and age, it’s difficult enough to get high school students excited to be at school during normal hours, which is why it was so eye-opening to see Father Judge pupils knock down the doors to stay overnight last week.
For 24 hours from Thursday to Friday afternoon, Judge held its 40th annual basketball marathon to raise money for leukemia programs. Those associated with the school are not strangers to the cause, but for the first time in 20 years, the event was restored as an all-night marathon.
From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., about 250 students were locked in Judge’s basketball gymnasium at 3301 Solly Ave. to take part in three-on-three and five-on-five basketball games to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
The primary question: How on Earth would so many people be able to stay in one place for so long while exerting themselves playing basketball?
“Two cases of Red Bull ought to do the trick,” joked senior class president Pat Hasher.
The excitement for the event was ubiquitous, and extended throughout the 24 hours. Students, parents and alumni gladly offered their time and donations, and those in attendance enjoyed a visit from the Phillie Phanatic, as well as getting a chance to honor recently retired teacher Ed Mooney, who founded the marathon in 1972.
The Lock-In for Leukemia culminated on Friday afternoon with the event’s crown jewel, a faculty vs. students basketball game.
“I don’t personally know anyone who has leukemia, but I do know how happy people get when we do this every year,” said Anthony Walker, a Judge senior football player and student council member. “Anytime we can do something to help other people, that’s what it’s all about. We all come together and have a great time while helping others. We’re going to play basketball and stuff our faces all night while raising money for a great cause. How can you beat that?”
Most schools can’t beat it, which is why the community reaction has remained steadfast for 40 years. The resurrection of the all-night aspect added a fresh, exciting wrinkle to the event that students and alumni from the last 20 years did not get to experience. That’s also why it was a fairly common sight to see people continuously entering the gymnasium with sleeping bags and pajamas.
The student council members got the ball rolling over the summer, eager to experience the legendary all-night tales they’d heard about from their fathers and uncles who’d gone to Judge before them. With the help of the Rev. Jack Kolodziej, assistant principal for student affairs, the 24-hour duration was reinstituted and enabled the school to raise close to $12,000. The figure is almost double what the school typically had raised during the all-day marathons.
Kolodziej expects the total to keep climbing as donations continue to arrive.
“The students made it a priority to bring back the overnight element,” he said. “They really pushed for it. It took a while, and we don’t anticipate it every year, but for the fortieth anniversary we had to bring it back.”
What brought a lot of people back was the chance to honor Mooney, the architect of this event.
“Mr. Mooney is a Father Judge hall of famer, and he’s why I continue to come back,” said Jeff Long, a 1978 Judge graduate who has sent his three sons to the school. “I remember this getting started right around the time I was a student here, so there’s always an excitement around this time, and the kids have done such a good job keeping it going. I think Mr. Mooney is the reason most people are here, not necessarily just to honor him, but his influence keeps them coming back. He and so many Judge teachers have helped shape these kids into gentlemen. People like him teach the kids real-life examples on how to live. We’re all very proud to be Judge graduates, and it’s one of those things that always stays with you no matter how old you get.”
Mooney started the event as a young teacher because family members of two student council members had been diagnosed with leukemia, and he wanted to help the students through their difficult times. With the help of the student council, Mooney planned a one-time marathon, but it was so popular that it was extended for a second year, then a third, and on it went.
“When you go to a Catholic school like Judge, one of the things you’re told is that you must give back,” said Mooney, who retired from teaching three years ago. “It’s a pretty easy way to do it when you make it fun and involve basketball. After a few years, we just decided not to stop this. The best thing for me is that I’ve been here for all forty, whether it was playing or just helping to organize it. Even though the student council changes every year, they still remain determined to keep this event going, and that to me is the most amazing part.”
What keeps Mooney coming back, aside from raising money for a good cause, is the memories he has created with so many students. The strength of the Judge community has been overpowering, and according to Mooney, no school in the area has raised money for a cause over so many consecutive years.
ldquo;The best part about it is to see all of the people who come back and remember their time at Judge so fondly,” Hasher said. “That’s why we keep doing it forty years later, to create those memories that will stick with us forever and allow us to come back twenty years from now and meet a new wave of students who are keeping it going. We’re not like every other school, and I think this event proves that.”
“It takes a special group of people to start something like this, but it takes even more special people to keep it going over the years,” he said. “None of them are willing to say, ‘No, we’re not going to do this anymore,’ and that’s really a credit to these kids. I’m so proud of them, and am just honored to still be a part of it.” ••