Thirty-nine years ago, Tom Connelly played at the Boston Garden for Bishop Fenwick as the Crusaders sought the 1975 state championship. Tomorrow, Connelly and his son, Ryan, Amesbury residents, will both take to the legendary parquet floor in what will truly be a unique family affair.
Ryan is in the midst of his senior year playing basketball for Bishop Fenwick, while his father is now a basketball referee. Ryan will take on Triton at 10:30 a.m. in the first game of The Good Sports TD Garden Invitational Tournament, just some three hours before Connelly takes to the same floor as an official.
“The Garden is the Garden,” Connelly said.
“I think the fact that Ryan is playing in the first game and I’m reffing the third game makes it special.”
For Connelly, it is the fourth time that he will take to the Garden.
While playing in high school, he also has officiated two previous games at the famous arena: the Eastern-Massachusetts Finals and the North Sectional Finals.
Still, the excitement hasn’t wavered.
“The butterflies are just as they were when I was playing,” Connelly said. “That’s the attraction of it all; it’s fun.”
For Ryan, it will be the first time that he has played at the Garden.
“It’s going to mean a lot,” Ryan said. “It’s pretty cool having a father who played there. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
While Ryan is quick to credit his love of basketball to his dad, Connelly credits his son’s dedication and hard work for his success over his high school basketball career.
“My dad introduced me to the game when I was a kid and he has taught me my whole life,” Ryan said. “He knows all the rules so he taught me what to do and what not to do. He gets on my case sometimes if I don’t make a right play.”
While Ryan’s basketball skills have benefited from his father being so involved in the game, Connelly knows how to flip the switch from referee to father.
“When I watch his games I’m not a ref, I’m a father and a fan,” Connelly said. “I yell just as loud as anybody. Ryan puts in the hard work and the hours in the gym. I can’t dribble, shoot or put in the effort for him. Everything he’s got, he earned on his own.”
Because of the involvement that father and son have with Massachusetts high school basketball, one might wonder if they have crossed paths on the court at any time.
“That would never happen,” Connelly said. “I would never accept a game that Ryan would play in. I got a game assignment one time, and I turned it down because I wouldn’t be impartial. I couldn’t ever do a Bishop Fenwick game of any kind: boys, girls, regular season, playoffs or anything like that. The MIAA has very strict rules that govern that.”
Fenwick sits just three games shy of qualifying for the MIAA tournament with an overall record of 7-6.
“I was talking to (Triton head coach David Clay) over the summer, and he said we will be the first ones on that court since the Celtics who played on it the night before,” Ryan said. “It’s a cool thing to think about. We know a lot about Triton. In the fall they invited us to play pickup with them. They don’t have much height, but they’re an athletic team and can hit shots from anywhere.”
Triton will play without its big man, Ellsworth Rogers, who injured his ankle and will be out for tomorrow’s game. Both father and son know that tomorrow is far more than just a game played or officiated. It’s an opportunity for a family to embrace what few families have had a chance to embrace before, and they plan on leaving no stone unturned when it comes to taking it all in.
“We will get the whole family in there and make a day of it,” Connelly said. “This is going to be great.”