June Volunteer of the Month
Someday, the lessons of Division I St. Joseph’s University Men’s Basketball Head Coach Phil Martelli will be required reading in the NCAA Coaches Manual. And in the best possible way.
“My job responsibilities are to coach my team, recruit future teams and the third thing is just as important - to give back. I give back because that’s where my heart is,” says the 2016 Big Five Coach of the Year and four-time Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year.
Coach Martelli, who gives back in so many ways, has been volunteering for the Chapter’s Billy Lake ALS Basketball Marathon since its inception 25 years ago. And, he’ll be there again as the six high school teams he recruits from his summer camp league take the court for six hours during the Marathon’s 25th anniversary on October 15 at Haverford College. For these high school players, the coach’s presence underscores the importance of not only playing basketball, but supporting their community.
“I’ve known Patti since she played at Prendergast High School (now Bonner Prendergast) in Drexel Hill, PA. Even though I went to St. Joseph’s Prep, we would travel in the same basketball circles. And then, years later, when I was an assistant coach at St. Joseph’s University, someone in the small, yet so powerful, Philadelphia area basketball community reached out to me for help with Patti’s new basketball Marathon. Patti’s husband, Billy, with whom I am sure I played basketball at some point, had just lost his life to ALS when he was only 42-years old. I thought, ‘If people think I can make a different in a small way, I consider it part of my job description.’”
“First I played at Drexel Hill Middle School. Back then, as an assistant coach I was in more basketball shape so to speak and I represented the University on the court. I was there when the event moved to Msg. Bonner and then when it became a fall event at Haverford College. In 1995, when I became the head coach at St. Joseph’s The Billy Lake ALS Basketball Marathon became a priority spring event to have on my calendar,” explained Martelli.
And this is where Coach Phil Martelli’s true character shines through.
“In the earlier days, there was a lot of media present in the “celebrity” game with Coach Fran O’Hanlon of Lafayette College, Coach Fran Dunphy of Temple, other coaches and me and I vividly remember playing with Ukee Washington and Michael Barkann, and the Phillies Wives played their own game. I often thought, ‘We should be celebrating the players who are on the court hour after hour. These players and the volunteers who sell the pretzels and arrange the schedules are the real heroes.’ The same basketball teams came back and played the same time slot year after year,” Martelli added.
“Well, many of these players aged (that is the way of life) so I looked to the high school teams to fill that void. Rob Sullivan, who was my summer basketball camp director, made sure we continued our commitment to the ALS cause. It was a win win. I knew Patti and her committee were always looking for teams. I combined the community service aspect of high school curriculum with the fervor of high school coaches. A lot of the credit goes to Rob Sullivan,” remarks this modest man.
The Hawk’s Coach Martelli gives his praises to Patti Lake Quinn and her husband Dan Quinn for conducting such a well-respected Marathon. “I’ve known Dan Quinn for a long time, and he is kind of a role model for me in terms of his philanthropic nature. I am a huge admirer of Dan's commitment to family and community. I think he is a really, really special man.”
“Every year, when Patti thanks me publically on the court, the expression of gratitude that comes from her heart touches me every single time. When I get next year’s date, I build it into my schedule. But, it’s really Patti and her committee and Dan that do all the work and have put in heroic efforts to make this Marathon a part of the basketball fabric in Philadelphia. I consider what I do for this event to be a drop in the bucket, but Patti, she is so appreciative of every small gesture.”
Phil, a dedicated family man, did the ALS ice bucket challenge with his grandson who was 5 years old at the time. If you haven’t seen it yet, you simply must - in the video, Phil encourages all viewers to support The ALS Association.
Coach Martelli’s volunteering includes more than his work with the Billy Lake ALS Basketball Marathon. Martelli serves as both the Coaches vs. Cancer national council Chair and Coaches vs. Cancer of Philadelphia co-chair. “The American Cancer Society is the charity of choice for the National Association of Basketball Coaches. With the other five Division I coaches it is a very passionate pursuit,” he explains. “I have also worked with Alex’s Lemonade Stands” for pediatric cancer and Jay Scott, Alex’s father actually played in the Lake Basketball Marathon.
“Giving back is so vital. If that means a college commencement, a career day at a high school, or a community endeavor like The Billy Lake ALS Basketball Marathon, I make every effort to help. I don’t do it because it’s a job. If stretching out my hand can touch and make someone else’s quality of life a little better I’m there. I could not put my head on the pillow if I thought I had turned my back on that kind of opportunity. “
In summation, this humble man who is so worthy of his accolades says, “I hope that Patti and everyone involved with the Marathon have the strength to have 25 more years. If she can use my name in defeating ALS, it’s worth everything.”
Phil Martelli is the Chair of this year's Annual Luncheon, celebrating the Billy Lake ALS Community, on November 4 at Loews Philadelphia Hotel.