Falcons playing to honor recovering assistant coach

Bishop Ford made a detour on its way to Archbishop Molloy for its CHSAA Class AA state quarterfinal game. The team stopped to visit assistant coach Mary Gillespie at her home near the Park Slope school. She was their recovering from a heart arrhythmia she suffered earlier this week and the surgery to deal with the problem. She is considered a grandmother figure to many of the players.

“Mary has been with [Ford] since before all of us were there,” junior guard Diani Mason said. “For her to have a team play in the ‘AA’ state [playoffs] it means a lot and we are kind of sad she is not here with us.”

Since coach Mike Toro told the team of Gillespie’s aliment on Tuesday, March 9, they have been saying her name in every huddle. Even though their coach waited until the end of practice to inform them, the kids knew something was wrong. Because as Mason puts it about the coach of seven years: “Mary never misses a day.”

The players made sure to give Gillespie, who also meticulously handles the team’s stats, their well wishes and plenty of hugs. They said she was in good spirits, but just lacking some of the feistiness and energy she is so known for.

“For her it was to bring her spirit up and let her know that we are here for her,” Toro said. “We always say it’s a family. It was something they wanted to do because they knew she was not going to be there with us.”

Added senior Vanessa D’Ambrosi: “We look up to her.”

Ford dedicated its 51-46 win over Kellenberg to Gillespie, who will miss the remainder of the playoffs. They said the game was about her and for her. Toro had sophomore guard Shanice Vaughan call Gillespie on the bus ride home to inform her of the victory. She was anxiously waiting for the phone to ring.

“She said that she was stressing out because she hadn’t heard from us,” Toro said. “She got a little nervous thinking that we lost. She said when she got the phone call it was a relief.”

Gillespie, the lone woman on the Falcons staff, is one of those invaluable people to a program. She is passionate, knowledgeable, loyal and a role model and confidant to the players. Her energy, wit and caring nature is something the girls indentify with and will certainly miss for however long their playoff run lasts. They play rival St. Michael Academy in the semifinals at 5 p.m. at Christ the King Saturday, March 20.

“Mary to us is like all our grandmothers,” Mason said. “For the people who don’t have grandmothers, that’s our grandmother. I would never disrespect her. To see her not come to my game hurt. I was playing for her.”