An Allegany Radio Corporation Sports Column By Mike Burke

ACIT welcomes back its neighbor from the North
MIKE BURKE
Allegany Radio Corporation Sports
The Cathedral High School Gaels, of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, have never been one to miss a party, which is why they have been extended and have accepted an invitation to participate in the 60th Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament, March 12-14, at Frostburg State University.
A tournament favorite since their first ACIT appearance in 1983, the Gaels and their contingent will return to Allegany County with plenty of their customary Canadian Flag lapel pins for the first time since 2010 when they took part in the celebration of the 50th ACIT.
Cathedral will be making its 13th ACIT appearance, first coming to the tournament under Canadian basketball coaching legend Mark Walton, who guided the Gaels for 27 seasons and also coached the Canada Basketball’s National Elite Development Academy girls team when it was based in Hamilton.
Walton is currently the head coach of the University of Guelph women’s basketball team.
In just their second ACIT in 1984, the Gaels reached the final before falling to one of Morgan Wootten’s greatest DeMatha teams, 70-53. That Cathedral team was led by all-tournament selections John Kijonek and Peter Giftopoulas, who would go on to star at linebacker for Penn State’s 1986 national championship football team.
Cathedral has since finished fourth twice in the ACIT.
Cathedral is the fourth team to accept an invitation for the 60th ACIT, joining defending champion DeMatha, host school Bishop Walsh and first-time participant St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes of Alexandria, Va.
Speedy
Philadelphia legend Speedy Morris will retire from coaching after 52 seasons at Roman Catholic and Penn Charter high schools, LaSalle University, both the women’s and men’s teams, and for the last 19 years at St. Joseph’s Prep.
The Prep defeated rival LaSalle High School on Sunday in Morris’ final regular-season game and will now compete in this weekend’s Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs.
The winningest coach in Philadelphia prep basketball history, Morris, who is a member of 11 Halls of Fame, is 77 years of age and is battling Parkinson’s disease.
Morris began his coaching career at Roman where he spent 14 seasons (1968-81) with the Cahillites. His teams there won six Catholic League and eight Southern Division titles and went 347-82.
Morris then moved to Penn Charter for two seasons (41-14) before LaSalle University recruited him to make its women’s program relevant. He did just that, going 43-17, winning one league championship and making an NCAA tournament appearance before he was asked to make LaSalle’s storied men’s program matter again.
Morris was the head coach of the Explorers’ men’s team for 15 seasons, going 238-202 with four league championships, four NCAA tournaments and two NIT invitations. He coached Lionel Simmons at LaSalle when he was the 1990 National College Player of the Year.
As the Philadelphia Catholic League teams now participate in the Pennsylvania state tournament, a Philadelphia team has not made an ACIT appearance since 2008, when Roman Catholic, the team Morris first brought to Cumberland, made its final appearance as defending champion.
Roman Catholic first came to the ACIT in 1969 and fell to Sam Puckett and Hales Franciscan of Chicago, 57-56, in the final, but won back-to-back ACIT crowns under Morris in 1975-76.
Roman and Gonzaga College of Washington, D.C, have both won six ACIT titles, second only to DeMatha’s 25.
Do not be surprised to see the great William “Speedy” Morris in Cumberland and Frostburg for the 60th ACIT. Along with the late Morgan Wootten, Morris is as responsible for making the Alhambra the national event that it is and, just as the late Wootten was, has always been one of the tournament’s most loyal and influential friends.
National rankings
DeMatha (23-2) is ranked No. 2 in the national ESPN Top 25, with undefeated Montverde Academy (Fla.) No. 1.
Meanwhile, with its 80-61 win over national power Oak Hill in the East Coast Bump showcase at UMBC’S Event Center, St. Frances (27-3) of the Baltimore Catholic League, cracked the national top 10 at No. 8.
Oak Hill (20-2) has dropped to No. 11, while Bob Kirk Invitational participants ranked in the national poll are Wasatch Academy, No. 5; La Lumiere, No. 20; and St. Benedict’s Prep, No. 24.
I’ve been told for future reference, we might want to keep our eye on No. 12 Long Island Lutheran, of Brookville, New York, but just sayin’ …
The Washington Post D.C. rankings show 1. DeMatha (23-2), 2. St. Stephens/St. Agnes (23-3), 3. Paul VI (19-6), 4. St. John’s (21-6) and 8. Gonzaga (18-9), who fell to St. John’s and DeMatha last week.
Mike Burke writes about sports for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s County Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984. He was the sports editor of the Times-News for nearly 30 years. Contact him at mike.burke@alleganyradio.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT