The final fund-raising game for daughter Sarah's college education produced a familiar result.
By BILL SULLIVAN
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Attorney John Denney made his final court appearance a memorable one Monday night, leading a group of his peers to an improbable winning decision.
Not bad for a lawyer who died of brain cancer seven years ago.
The court where this 53-47 winning verdict was rendered is the basketball surface of the Jewish Community Center and it was the spirit of John Denney that made its presence known during the crucial waning moments.
Since Denney's death in 1995 at age 41, a team of lawyers over age 35 have annually played their younger contemporaries in the John Denney Memorial Basketball Game.
The event serves as both a fund-raiser for John's daughter, Sarah's college education, and as a fun raiser for the many lawyers he played basketball with almost daily.
When Jack Savage, a former basketball standout at Liberty High who scored 27 points, hit three consecutive 3-pointers to put the younger players up 26-11, it appeared the veterans had met their match.
In the second half, John Denney, who was well-known for his long jumpers, must have begun helping Randy Rummell of the older team. Back-to-back Rummell jumpers left the senior players trailing just 38-37 at 9:08 to play.
Tom Gacse of the older players scored in the paint at 1:56 to forge the first tie, 47-47.
"Today we were down big at half," Gacse said. "We got a big assist from John Denney.
"We're always undermanned. I know today he was there helping us out with that left-handed jumper from the corner."
His widow, Nancy, could feel John's presence in the gym, and during the game she spoke of his getting up early to go play with his friends. Just like a kid.
"It brought a special bond to them," Nancy said.
Coached youth teams
Sarah Denney, who has decided to attend John Carroll University, remembered her father coaching her youth softball team and basketball team.
"They certainly need him today," she said at halftime when asked if the older players needed John to coach them. It was 27-19 at the break.
Atty. Jim Denney, who was a law partner with John for much of their careers, thought his brother was a good coach because of his patience.
"If he was coaching them right now, we'd be killing them," Jim said when the older players still trailed by 10.
After a final time-out with 1:56 showing, Tim Piatt (14 points) leaned in for a basket that gave his team its first lead, 49-47.
Piatt didn't want to dismiss John's presence in the final time-out. Piatt scored again just inside the 3-point arc, and his two free throws with 10 seconds to play provided the final margin.
There in spirit
"He's helping them win," Nancy said to no one in particular down the stretch, but likely John heard her.
"He was a great guy and tragically he's not with us," game-organizer Mark Belinky said. "He was there in spirit.
"You asked if he was there on the sideline for the old guys. The answer is uncategorically 'yes.' "
In the final game of the series, the veterans went home with six wins in seven tries. And John Denney made his final appearance before the bench one to never forget.