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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Raising money in the name of a coach and a friend

Coach Frank Monahan talks to Bishop Brady basketball players during a December, 1995, practice.

Denise Sanchez/Monitor file photo

Coach Frank Monahan talks to Bishop Brady basketball players during a December, 1995, practice. Denise Sanchez/Monitor file photo

Frank Monahan always kept the gym doors open and the lights on, long after the sun had gone down.

“Players play,” the late Bishop Brady High School boys’ basketball coach, who died from a heart attack in 2000, used to say. And to Monahan, those who wanted to play always deserved the opportunity to do so.

It is with this theory in mind, the let’s-play-basketball-366-days-per-year passion, that two of his former players e_SEnD Marshall Crane and Billy Collins – have joined forces with a few other notable area athletes to create the Frank Monahan Foundation, a charity that seeks to inject money into local school districts while adding a face-lift to the basketball court at White Park.

After all, players play.

“At the end of the day, people just wanted to play for him,” said Crane, a star guard under Monahan during the late 1990s. “On Sunday nights he’d open the gym for them. He’d let everyone in, kids from all over, Concord High kids, everyone for Sunday nights at Brady. Matt Bonner used to come down and run with us.”

Bonner led Concord High School to three straight championships and now plays for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. He and Crane, plus players like Collins and Tom Brayshaw and Matt Alosa

and John Viar and the Friel brothers, were blurs on the state’s high school courts, running and shooting and slashing to the hoop.

Back then, basketball was big in the state, with players often moving on to play college ball, sometimes on the Division I level. But Crane’s research tells him that interest in the sport is down.

Way down.

Crane said the number of participants in the local parks and recreation department’s hoops program is at an all-time low, compared with an all-time high when Crane patrolled the hardwood.

“The highest rate was 1998, our senior year,” Crane said. “Everything comes full circle. You can name on one hand the Division I players that there were last year in New Hampshire that were not prep school players. My senior year and the year after you had a whole bunch of college basketball players. We want to motivate our youth.”

Crane lives in Boston and will move to Connecticut soon to start his new job managing one of Michael Jordan’s restaurants at Mohegan Sun. Collins lives in Bedford and is an executive for a dental supply manufacturer. Both are 33, and both played ball at Boston University.

Head over to White Park and you’ll see how Crane, Collins and others are promoting the sport. Gone are the old wooden backboards and rims, replaced with new rims and fiberglass backboards. The kids are coming back, and the hope is to establish a high school summer program by next year so teams from all over the state can get a jump on the season.

“Every time I’ve driven over there to White Park, there are full games with kids waiting to get on the court,” Crane said. “Kids are coming from other areas of the city to come over to play because of the glass backboards.”

Funding came from donations to the foundation, as well as fees collected for the 1st Frank Monahan Foundation Golf Classic, scheduled for Monday at Concord Country Club. Sponsors have lined up for the event, and nearly all of the 125 slots ($500 per foursome) have been filled.

And college coaches like Bill Herrion, the current coach at the University of New Hampshire, and former UNH coach Phil Rowe, who now coaches Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., have made generous donations.

Such is the power of Monahan and what he meant to the game, in this area and beyond. He led Merrimack College to the top of the national rankings in 1980, then guided Brady to three straight state championship games, with the Crane- and Collins-led Green Giants taking the 1997 title.

Along the way, Monahan built a reputation as a straight shooter, a colorful character who told you that you stunk when you stunk, who treated the 12th man on his team the same way he treated his star and who touched those who played for him in a way that is now paying dividends.

Beyond the work at White Park, the organization will benefit academics and athletics at Bishop Brady.

And other high schools, too.

“We formed the foundation to give back,” Collins said. “We want to give to Loudon and Concord and Pembroke and Penacook and Bow. Coach Monahan always said come on in and play, to everyone, not just players at Brady. That’s what he stood for, and this is a nice way to honor him.”

Beyond Crane and Collins, the board features nationally known ironman triathlete Jeremy Woodward, Brewster Academy basketball Coach Jason Smith and former Concord High softball pitcher and Southern New Hampshire University hall of famer Mel Keeler.

They are local, they are loyal and they are locked in to their effort, which picked up steam last month when the backboards went up. By next summer, the goal is to have new bleachers, more new hoops and backboards, a new cement foundation and a new scoreboard.

Monday’s golf tournament and the luncheon to follow will serve as a financial backbone for the early stages of the foundation. Gov. Maggie Hassan will speak there.

So will Dick Hoyt of Massachusetts, whose son, Rick, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to move around. Together, they form Team Hoyt and run in marathons and compete in ironman triathlons.

Dick pushes Rick in a specially designed wheelchair for marathons. For triathlons, he pulls Rick in a boat and carries him in a special seat for the bicycle portion.

Team Hoyt, in fact, will be honored live on ESPN during the network’s ESPY Awards broadcast. The duo will be presented with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, named for former college coach Jim Valvano, who inspired many before cancer took his life in 1993.

Around here, Monahan did some inspiring in his own right.

“One of the most sincere, outgoing straight shooters I’ve met, and a dear friend,” Crane said. “Not only did he care about you as a player, but he cared more for you as a person. He opened up the gym, and he opened up his heart.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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