Posted by: jrd34 | March 15, 2014

Defined Roles – On and Off the Court

Defined Roles – On and Off the Court

Jeanine R. Delaney 2014


One month before the Pitman High School Boys Basketball team was to begin their season, I decided to invite them to a retreat at the Discovery House, in Mullica Township New Jersey.  I had been coaching these young men for the fall basketball season and was getting ready to turn them over to their head coach for the 2013-2014 basketball season.  It was my hope that they had grown as teammates, both as players and as people.  After winning every game in the fall by an average of 20 points, I was pretty certain they were all ready to play basketball.  I was not as convinced that they were ready to go into battle – as the highly touted team with the proverbial red X on their back – as a unified and bonded group of young men.

With a blend of players from out of town (tuition paying) and local players, along with four college level players and several talented two sport athletes, chemistry and unified strength was not a given.  Some of the players had been together since grammar school, some for three years as JV-Varsity players, and some were new to the team, having arrived during their junior or senior year to Pitman High School.

The team had a lot in common; a passion for winning, a love for the game of basketball, and a knack for scoring.  The question remained – did they have the intangible qualities that defined successful teams?

I took this concern to Monsignor Mike Mannion (aka Father Mike). As a sports enthusiast and a gifted spiritual advisor, he generously offered to host the entire team, including managers and coaches for a day at the Discovery Retreat House.

Father Mike has over 35 years of experience in leading retreats and inspiring self-leadership and self-discovery for people of all ages, backgrounds, and challenges. He is gentle, wise, inspirational and faithful – and very creative and funny at times, too.

One Sunday in October, the team drove a caravan of cars through the rural towns and into the remote but beautiful land of  the blueberry capital of the United States. As Father Mike welcomed our team to the Discovery House, the players had a sense that they were in for a good day. Any day that starts with a huge hoagie tray, cookies, chips and soda at a kitchen table that sat 20 people, is a good day for this group!

As soon as the team finished eating, Father Mike made a casual announcement: The firewood that was delivered to the house was mistakenly left in the front yard and needed to be moved to the backyard before we could get started on our retreat.  It was due to rain that night, and he made it clear that the whole 4 cords of wood needed to be under a tarp to stay dry. He asked if the boys could lend a hand and get it done within 1 hour.  Having been well fed, the boys enthusiastically filed out of the kitchen. Father Mike let them know that there were two wheelbarrows in the yard, one that worked and one with a flat tire. This casual comment became more meaningful as time went on…

The boys approached the pile of wood confidently as I stood back for a moment and observed the actions of the team.  Within minutes, I saw our senior captain, a four year varsity player, jump in. he was determined to make a big impact on the wood, just as he approaches basketball games where he comes out determined, looking to score early. He grabbed as much wood as he could carry in his arms and led some players to the backyard.

I also observed our newcomer, a senior power forward who we referred to as the clean-up guy.  He is always mixing it up on the court, getting the rebounds, attacking with aggression first, worrying about fouls second. Our power forward jumped on top of the new pile of wood and began cleaning up everyone’s misses as the players hoisted the wood onto the growing pile.  It was like watching his job on the boards as a rebounder.

Next I saw our senior point guard, also a newcomer to the team, begin pointing and directing traffic. At 18, he was a year older than everyone, and having come to us from the acclaimed St. Anthony’s basketball program, he had instant clout. We often referred to him as “grandpa” – because he had his license, was very mature, and provided a lot of advice, sage or otherwise.  He was immediately active, giving commands on how to utilize the wheelbarrow and taking the lead to push it once it was full of wood.  Many of the players fell into line under his lead. They did what he asked and played their roles – much like they do on the court.

My eyes then caught site of our 6th man.  He was picking up the wood that fell out of the wheelbarrow, then asking if he could “sub in” and push the wheelbarrow for a while. Shortly after, I saw him climb up and relieve our power forward so he could get some water.  Off to the side I watched as our managers worked to fix the broken wheelbarrow.  Along with them were our JV players, performing just as they play – hoping to make a difference.

Lastly, I watched our 6’9” starting center, an underclassman, yet the leading scorer and rebounder on the team.  Just like in a game, I saw him step back, observe the situation, make a few calculated moves, and then get to work.  He was used to playing the whole game without a sub, and usually took the last shot if the game was on the line.  Steady and not flashy, he realized that everyone was able to do their job, but it would be slow and tedious with one wheelbarrow.  The second wheelbarrow was needed – and could not be fixed.

I watched as he and a few teammates loaded the broken wheelbarrow, and then hoisted it up in his arms. He carried it, across to the back yard.  He used his advantage of size and strength, while the others supported him with a lot of encouragement.

Our power forward was still working on the new pile of wood, standing on top and accepting logs that fit into a strong square shape. Our point guard was still directing traffic and handing off assists as his teammates delivered the wood to the top of the pile. Our senior captain was still going strong, leading his team, one log at a time. Our 6th man was still subbing in as needed – offering to help carry the broken wheelbarrow or push the working wheelbarrow as needed.

As the final log was perched on top, our center, always strong at the end of games, climbed on top of the wood.  As everyone collapsed on the grass exhausted, he finally pulled the large tarp up and over the pile. Victory. The job was finished – and unbeknownst to the team, the retreat had started an hour ago.

Roles defined and accepted on the basketball court were consistently revealed in this team activity of moving firewood. It was amazing to watch as the players leaned on each other, communicated with each other, played to their strengths, picked up for each other’s weaknesses, and depended on each other as a unified group to complete a difficult and challenging task.  They faced mechanical challenges and had to figure out a way to get it done as a team.  They confronted their own weaknesses and accepted their individual limitations. No one could have done the job alone. At times, it seemed like they could not do it as a team, either.  However, by working together and staying focused, they successfully moved four cords of heavy, prickly firewood into a perfect square within 1 hour – for a little man with a huge heart who simply wanted to help the team bond and grow.

Posted by: jrd34 | October 22, 2012

All of Life Can be Compared to Basketball


By Jeanine Delaney on January 11, 2012 in Articles

My mother’s name was Galina. She was a Russian Ballerina, and so naturally graceful and beautiful, people always looked twice. Small boned, light on her feet, she danced throughout her life. Her posture was always straight, her backbone and core were strong, and so was her incredible spirit. Our moral compass, our Rock, was, and still is in spirit, Galina. Ironically, although our mother was only 5’4”, my brother and I stand 5’11” and 6’3”, and we chose basketball over dance. We trained with weight vests for strength, we did plyometrics for our core, and we ran for endurance. Yet, through it all, Galina was there, to train our mind and spirit, and give us true ”core strength” to carry us through life.

A friend once told me that the exact definition for the term To Thrive; It is “to move forward despite obstacles.” This is what my mother did, it is what she wanted for us, and it is what the game of basketball has trained us to do – as athletes, fans, coaches, parents and professionals.

Galina was born in Russia, to a very educated strong woman, my Grandmother, Irene. As a three-year-old child, my Grandmother Irina and my great-Grandmother, Katerina, put Galina in a horse and buggy as they fled out of Russia ahead of the German’s who were coming to burn down the homes. After sleeping in barns, and fleeing for weeks, they were captured by the Germans and put in displaced person’s camp. Galina’s father, my grandfather, was killed in the war. Irene, Katerina, and Galina spent seven years in the camp, in what many would call deplorable conditions.

Finally, they were rescued when the Americans liberated the camp. Galina spoke Russian, she had learned German, and was then put on a boat to America -where she needed to learn English in order to go to school. She danced on the boat, and she continued to dance with a Russian company as she achieved straight A’s and earned an academic scholarship to nursing school. One can definitely say she thrived!

In 1969, Galina was widowed with two young children. She was brought to her knees by a tragedy that occurred in the air when my father was a marine fighter pilot. She stood up – while grief stricken, and took care of my sister and me. She carried on, and moved forward, and loved us through the adversity, one day at a time. Galina fell in love again, and married the most wonderful man in the world, my stepfather, who is always referred to as my Dad. Never was the word “step” used – he raised us as his own, and soon my brother was born. Not my half- brother, he is my whole brother – our family has always been “whole”.

Galina left this earth far too soon. She had so much more to give and teach – she had many more dances to enjoy. It was not meant to be, and so my sister brother and father escorted Galina to heaven, with Father Mike at our side. It was on her terms, in the end. The disease was not her choice, but she took control and thrived – moved forward to heaven despite the obstacles of the disease. She wrote us each a letter, she planned her mass in Russian, and she left a special gift for each child and each grandchild. She left an indelible impression on each of our souls – and everyday of my life, I feel, hear, and remember Galina.

Less than two years after Galina left this earth, I faced my own tragedy that ripped my family and three children apart, and brought me to my knees. I struggled for months – fighting to breathe, eat, sleep, and take care of my children. Several things helped me get up off my knees, and helped me to thrive: My children, my family, Galina, and Basketball.

I guess anyone reading this would wonder how I could give so much credit to basketball. After all, it is a round orange ball going through a rim… It is a game!

However, a game that bonded, and still bonds my family together. A lifestyle that creates fun, enthusiasm, toughness, resilience, and teamwork, and a game that demands perseverance, focus, respect and dedication.

As a player, I was barely aware of these life -altering lessons. As a coach, I hope to make some of these lessons stick with my players. As a professional educator, I lecture that these are the building blocks of success. As a mother, I know that these are the virtues that I want to leave in my children. To raise happy, enthusiastic, resilient, team oriented kids, who have perseverance, focus, respect and dedication. Every once in awhile, I take my kids or students into the “locker-room” and they have to listen to my pre-game or post game speeches. Most of them begin with “All of life can be compared to a basketball game…”


With lines to keep us in bounds and referees to blow the whistle when you break the rules. There is the ultimate goal of “winning”, but the journey towards that goal is where you will learn the most and have the most fun. The rules are simple: Work together, be prepared and give your best effort. Sometimes the game will be easy, but more often, difficult. You will always have loyal fans and supporters, as well as several critical observers. We have to remember that it is during the lonely times and during failed attempts that we will develop our true character. Often times, players need to labor through a tough stretch, where nothing is going our way, but keep in mind there is a second half to play.


The pressure is on, the clock is ticking, and someone is always keeping score. The challenge is to lead, follow, or get out of the way – knowing everyone has a role to play.


There is nothing more energizing than finding your way – when all of your work has allowed you to thrive despite obstacles and lead the fast break. However, as athletes you must always prepare for the unfair whistle, the bad call that comes and takes the ball out of your hands… It can be excruciating to get up off your knees and move forward. Sometimes all that remains is for you to get up and play tough defense, gather your teammates and move forward with unity, discipline and loyalty in your game. And when the final buzzer sounds, you will know that winning was the goal, but not the end result, and the journey was most important. 

Galina, a petite ballet dancer from Russia taught me what basketball later defined:

Move forward, with teammates, with grace, and despite obstacles.