Sports

Hoops Tourney Honors Late Pastor’s Memory

The late Msgr. John Brown, left, is pictured with 2015 Msgr. King Tournament M.V.P. Christian Taylor of Susan E. Wagner H.S., Staten Island. File Photo courtesy Guy DeFonzo

Everyone who came in contact with Msgr. John Brown knew what a kind, caring and generous individual he was.

Sadly, Msgr. Brown passed away in March 2017 at the age of 60 after a brief illness. To celebrate his legacy, his former parish has bestowed upon him the honor of a basketball tournament bearing his name.

The girls’ version of the famous Msgr. King Basketball Tournament at St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands, is now named the Msgr. John J. Brown Memorial Girls’ Basketball Tournament. This year’s tourney was played Jan. 12-15 and featured eight teams, including local GCHSAA squads from Bishop Kearney H.S., Bensonhurst, Fontbonne Hall Academy, Bay Ridge, and St. Edmund Prep H.S., Sheepshead Bay.

“People should remember his (Msgr. Brown) kindness and his generosity toward the kids in the parish and toward the athletics in the parish,” said Guy DeFonzo, parish athletic representative and athletic director at St. Thomas. “I think we’re going to be able to at least keep his name around and keep it alive by naming the girls’ tournament after him.”

When he arrived at the parish as pastor in July 2013, Msgr. Brown played an instrumental role in bringing the boys’ version of the Msgr. King Tournament back after a 10-year hiatus. Once the parish developed its Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) program, the original goal was a five-year plan to restart the tournament.

However, Msgr. Brown had his own plan. The tournament made its return to the iconic green floor of the St. Thomas Aquinas gymnasium in December 2014.

Msgr. Brown – a basketball lover – understood the history of the tournament and what it meant to the parish. Founded in 1962 and sanctioned by the CHSAA and Public Schools Athletic League, the tournament honored Msgr. Jeremiah King, the parish’s former pastor who oversaw the construction of the gym.

At the time, it was the first high school basketball tournament to be played at a grammar school gymnasium in the U.S. This storied history was one of the many reasons Msgr. Brown wanted the tournament to make a comeback.

“When I got here, that was one of my drives, because I like basketball, to start this up again,” Msgr. Brown said in 2016. “It’s been very successful for the last three years.”

Msgr. Brown’s basketball playing days trace back to his time at Cathedral Prep, Brooklyn. The 1975 graduate said he enjoyed basketball more so for the friendships he made and the camaraderie. He was inducted into the Prep’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012.

Nationally recognized for leading the relief efforts as pastor of St. Francis de Sales, Belle Harbor, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Msgr. Brown has been sorely missed among the faithful at St. Thomas Aquinas, where he initially served as parochial vicar after being ordained a priest in 1983.

He was a fixture at the tournament then and continued to be so upon its return. He attended every game and circulated among the crowd – with a hot dog and Diet Coke in hand.

“He took the time to be there,” said Father Dwayne Davis, administrator at St. Thomas Aquinas, who was assigned to the parish right when Msgr. Brown became pastor. “I know as a young priest, I watched Msgr. Brown since the tournament has come back and have seen him so alive at the tournament. He’s very loved here at St. Thomas Aquinas, so of course we wish we had more time with him. He was just a great man.”

“He told us it’s important to have CYO and the tournament running because it brings the community together, and he’s 110 percent right,” said Anthony Quaranta, chief financial officer of the St. Thomas Aquinas Sports Association. “I’ve seen it every year grow, grow and grow. It makes the parish alive.”

In addition to the girls’ tournament being named in his honor, Msgr. Brown’s name also adorns the boys’ tournament’s M.V.P. trophy. This year’s recipient was senior forward Dre Turnipseed from the tournament’s winner, Nazareth H.S., East Flatbush.

Years from now, we may not recall which local girls’ high school hoops team captured the Msgr. Brown Tournament title in any particular year. But we’ll surely remember the tournament’s namesake as if we were sitting right next to him in the stands.

“When they walk in and know it’s the Msgr. Brown Tournament, they’ll have nice visions of the kind of person he was,” said DeFonzo.

Through the renaming of the tournament, St. Thomas Aquinas will continue to celebrate the legacy of man dedicated to the diocese, his parish, the youth community and, of course, the game of basketball.


Contact Jim Mancari via email at jmmanc@gmail.com.

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