It was a little more than eight years ago, but Billy McLoughlin remembers it like it was yesterday.
His phone rang, and on the other end was Pat Woods, his friend from their days at St. Margaret of Cortona School. He wasn’t delivering good news.
Earlier that evening, on the night of Oct. 2, 2009, St. Margaret’s alum Pat Joyce — then a 39-year old Yonkers firefighter — was killed in the line of duty.
“It hit you like a ton of bricks,” McLoughlin said. “I had recently seen Pat at a wedding a couple of months before, and we were talking basketball, and it was then I realized how active he still was, playing for St. Joe’s in Bronxville in the men’s basketball league.”
Out of that conversation McLoughlin concocted an idea on how to honor his friend — a memorial basketball tournament in Joyce’s memory.
“After the news had settled in, and after the homily that the priest gave at Pat’s funeral at St. Margaret’s, where he talked about giving back and that being what Pat’s legacy was all about, it just kind of all clicked in my head,” McLoughlin said. “I remembered the basketball conversation I had with him at the wedding, so I just thought it would be a nice way to keep his memory alive through basketball. So I went to Pat and said, ‘What would you think about having the tournament between Christmas and New Year’s?’”
Eight years later, the tournament remains a thriving annual event at St. Margaret’s with this year’s field featuring not only St. Margaret’s varsity and junior varsity teams, but also teams from Bronxville and Yonkers — programs with connections to Joyce.
“St. Margaret’s is where he played as a youth, St. Joe’s in Bronxville is where he played in the men’s league, and Annunciation is a private Catholic school in Yonkers where he was a firefighter,” McLoughlin said. “And then we’ll hold the finals at Fordham Prep, where he went to high school. So the nice thing is it all had connections to his life as a basketball player.”
Woods and McLoughlin usually try to invite an outside team or two every year, but one that has some kind of connection to Joyce. This time around, an invitation was extended to St. Peter’s from River Edge, New Jersey — a team that just happened to be coached by Joyce’s brother, Marty.
“Amazingly we are now in our eighth year, and in that time we have raised over $10,000 for a bereavement center based in Westchester County to benefit children whose parents are deceased,” McLoughlin said.
He is, of course, talking about Tree House, which caters to children between 4 and 18 who have lost a parent or sibling.
And there’s a good reason why Tree House was selected.
“Pat was involved with Tree House,” Woods said. “He would volunteer there, and he was very connected with them.”
On a recent night which saw the temperature in Riverdale sit just above single digits, the gymnasium at St. Margaret’s was full of life, with friends and family of Pat Joyce among the many on hand for the tournament. Out of the tragedy of eight years ago has risen a living testament to a man who made the ultimate sacrifice.
This year’s tournament saw the Annunciation School of Crestwood defeat St. Joe’s of Bronxville 34-27 to win the junior varsity championship, while St. Catherine’s of Blauvelt knocked off St. Joe’s 32-29 to capture the varsity title.
The tournament has become something of a celebration of Joyce’s life with the game he loved so much.
“It’s been a tremendous eight years of participation and attendance.” McLoughlin said. “You’ll still see firefighters just show up to games randomly to show their support, even this many years later. It’s a high-level tournament with a lot of higher- level teams. And we intend to keep it going.
“Let me put it this way, I’ll never be the one that ends this tournament.”