The Butler Did It: Risky business for Mary Louis
That's what I pondered when The Mary Louis Academy basketball coach called me to inform me that Friday's highly anticipated first-place showdown with Christ the King has been moved from the Hilltoppers' home court to Carnesecca Arena on the campus of St. John's University.Questioning Lewinger's sanity was my immediate reaction. After all, what coach does this? Who moves an important league game against a heated rival off campus, taking away the all-important home court advantage?And at Mary Louis, that's a big edge. You see, Pitaro Gymnasium is small. Really small. There are only a few rows of bleachers for fans and there's no such thing as a corner three-pointer because the court isn't big enough for the arc to extend there.Visiting coaches constantly complain about the court at Mary Louis, usually after a loss.Yet, here was Lewinger, taking that edge away, putting the game on a much larger, neutral court.The move was surprising and unprecedented. Could you see Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski calling North Carolina's Roy Williams, telling him that because there is such a demand to see the ACC rivals play he plans on moving the game out of Cameron Indoor Arena to the Charlotte Coliseum?Me neither.In fact, more often than not, college programs play on campus rather than a larger, neutral court to gain an extra edge. It was like that for years at St. John's, where a few key Big East clashes would be played at Alumni Hall rather than Madison Square Garden, which houses three times as many fans.But Lewinger went with the other rationale, down the road less traveled. Realizing that the demand was simply too high for Friday's game, Lewinger made the call, one he knew that would be questioned throughout girls' basketball circles.You see, Lewinger has another job at Mary Louis. He's the athletic director, which means he needs to make decisions that benefit the entire athletic program. Citing a safety concern and not wanting to turn anyone away, Lewinger asked about playing at St. John's. Luckily, neither the SJU men nor women's teams were playing that night and he switched the game.Bob Mackey, the Christ the King coach and co-athletic director, said 800 fans packed the gym at the Middle Village school for the memorable first meeting that was won by the Royals in the final seconds.The crowd at Carnesecca Arena Friday was half that, but still more than could fit in Pitaro Gymnasium.The fans who were there saw a determined Christ the King team, fresh off its first league loss in eight years, race out to a 27-point lead. Mary Louis went on a 15-0 run late in the first half, but the Royals proved to be too much for the Hilltoppers again, winning, 66-55.Of course, the change of venue was a hot topic after the game, as well. Had Lewinger cost his team a win? Did he do his team a disservice while doing what was best for girls' basketball?That's open for debate. But two full days after his team's second league loss of the year, Lewinger stuck by his guns."It wasn't a tough decision because there was no decision to make," he said. "I've got no regrets."Lewinger was criticized, but not by his players or their parents. In fact, when the game was over, Mary Louis principal Sr. Kathleen McKinney made her way to the bottom of the bleachers to offer her two cents."You did the right thing," she told him.And for Lewinger, that was the only thing that mattered.Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at email@example.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.
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