by Jim Whelan
ELIZABETH — The St. Patrick Celtics won the 74th Frank Cicarell Union County boys basketball championship on Saturday, Feb. 27.
This will be the only championship the Celtics will celebrate this year as the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association banned the Elizabeth school from competing in the state tournament for conducting illegal practices prior to the prescribed date.
On Feb. 24, St. Patrick defeated the Union Farmers at the Dunn Center in Elizabeth, 64-47, to reach the county final.
After a tight first quarter, the Celtics came out with a man-to-man press which caused problems for Union. Senior guard Kyrie Irving led the Celtics in scoring with 13 points and played remarkable defense in the free-safety style fashion in the press that changed the game for St. Pat’s.
“The seniors came together and we are going to leave with a Union County Championship,” Irving said after the game.
Irving has put together a stellar scholastic career at both Montclair Kimberly Academy and is up for New Jersey State Player Of The Year. He is headed to Duke next year to play college ball.
“I have created so many memories here at St. Pat’s,” said the West Orange native “It was the best decision of my life and I am glad I made it.”
Irving came to St. Pat’s as a 1,000-point scorer already while enrolled at Montclair Kimberley Academy and just missed reaching that mark at St. Pat’s. The question is would Duke come knocking at Irving doorstep if still at MKA?
Irving said, “I ask that question every day. Although, going into the AAU circuit being from St. Pat’s everybody comes at you and if have a name even more so.”
The Celtics, ranked number one in the state, faced off against number five ranked Plainfield who defeated Linden in their semi-final. Plainfield proved no match for the Celtics, who won handily 82-45 to take the county title.
“The Union County Tournament can be arguably the best tournament in the state,” said Boyle. He won the only county crown for Johnson Regional in Clark in 1981 as a player and has won 11 county crowns in 18 years as a head coach.
The past twelve months have been strenuous for Rahway resident Kevin Boyle and his family.
This time last year, the St. Pat’s head coach had to deal with the loss of his older brother Neil Jr. Neil was a union business agent the electrician Local 102 who died after a two year bout with cancer.
Boyle returned to work and orchestrated another county championship for his green and gold Celtic team. The tiny Catholic school from the Elizabethport section of Eastwick-better known as Elizabeth-was crowned as the Tournament of Champions victor.
For the past 22 years, Boyle has molded one of the legendary basketball dynasties in New Jersey history. Coming into this season, it was predicted that St. Pat’s would be favored to win their third T of C crown in four years.
Yet even before the season started, the Boyle family had to deal with the devastating loss of another loved one. This time it was the elder Boyle—Neil Sr. Both “Senior” and “Junior”—as they have been referred to a million times to on construction job sites across Union County—were gone.
Basketball helped Kevin Boyle cope with the reality of dealing with two loved ones in a nine-month period.
“The day after my father died is when we got the notice from the state [about the team’s suspension from state tourney play],” said Boyle. “It is a stressful situation, I am not going to say its not.”
“I made mistakes. I served the punishment, the kids shouldn’t have to pay for it,” Boyle said. “The last five schools have done have not sat out, why should we?”
St. Patrick exhausted its appeals on March 1, so the team will not have a chance to defend their state title.
Jim Whelan can be reached at email@example.com
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