COLUMN: Remembering Father Ed Lyons

By TOM WILLIAMS

It was a cold, windy night in January of 1971 when Father Ed Lyons, at his residence in St. Michael’s Rectory, talked about his idea – why not bring some of the top high school basketball teams to Atlantic City for a tournament in what is now Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.

Eleven months later, The Seagull Classic began.

Father Lyons, who died early last week, recruited some special people from the area to help make the tournament a reality – people like his brother, John Lyons; the legendary Boo Pergament; Joe Farley; and Ted Lapres. Then, once the structure of the event was formed, he added the likes of Jay Connell, Bob Derbyshire, Scott Higbee, Bob O’Hara, Dave Pfeifer and Dave Ryan.

Atlantic City High School recached the final in that first Seagull Classic, losing to D.C.’s Archbishop Carroll, led by Eddie Jordan, in the final. Alan Greenman led ACHS with 18 points with Walt Montford and Mark Martin each scoring 12.

The 1972 Atlantic City Vikings

After that, The Seagull moved to Villanova, Penn’s Palestra, Drexel, Camden County College, Holy Spirit High School and St. Joseph University. In the final championship game, in 1990, Atlantic City – led by Lou Roe and coached by Joe Fussner – defeated Episcopal Academy to win the title.

Through the years, teams from New Jersey Pennsylvania, New York, D.C., Florida, California, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland, Georgia, Arkansas and Canada all competed. And some of the top players in the country competed.

Like these guys:

This area has become the home for many outstanding basketball tournaments and showcases. People like Wilbur Banks, Ernie Troiano, Dave Catalana, Karl Geisinger, John Rodio and Scott Betson have used their visions and talents to bring all of us great basketball. But Father Lyons idea and his execution of that idea set a standard that all have sought.

But he did much more than create a basketball tournament. He was a great teacher, published a magazine for five years and his powerful bass voice led to him hosting a local radio show and made his masses extra special. Many people have fond memories of Father Lyons, some about his contributions to basketball and others more personal.

“When I started working on bringing back the Seagull Classic, the one person who always came up in researching its history – even more than any teams or players – was Father Lyons. Once we really got into it, I was amazed at what he accomplished in bringing national talent to our area. He is someone that we always want to remember and honor as we continue to build on the tradition he started.” – John Rodio

“A great contributor to high school basketball. But also one of my favorite teachers at Holy Spirit. He also had a handshake that would almost break your hand, hence the nickname ‘The Crusher’.” – John Leon

“Although I knew Father Lyons from basketball as well, my family was very close to him when he was assigned to Blessed Sacrament in Margate. He married my brothers, conducted my mother’s funeral mass and was a source of inspiration to us in challenging times. He was truly a man of God.” = Bill Hiltner

“If it was not for Father Lyon’s insight to start the Seagull, we may not have as many of these great basketball events today.” – Paul Rodio

“He was a good man. I worked with him a lot during my 10 years coaching at Holy Spirit.” – Frank Tummarello

“The Seagull Tournament predated a lot of today’s high school events. Saw some great players play. He was a great man who made it happen.” Dr. Fred Dalzell

“The Crusher was one in a million.” – Scott Higbee

“He was a great man. He married me.” – Yogi Hiltner

“I have many fond memories of the Seagull Classics he put together. Was an honor to have had the opportunity to coach in both the boys and girls classics. He was a great man and great organizer.” – Joe Fussner

“He was great for basketball and a great person. He taught me literature.” – Gene Allen

“A great man – the funeral home that is handling his services also handled my dad’s services. And his sister, Sister Cecilia IHM, was the convent at St. Agnes, my grade school in West Chester. It’s a small world.” – John Bruno

“He was a great man and a great teacher. He had the great voice in the classroom and, of course, that handshake than earned him the nickname ‘The Crusher’. I remember once when we were returning from the Henley Regatta in England with the Holy Spirit crew. We had to change planes in Boston and airport security stopped him and took him into a room. Turns out, there was a diamond smuggler named Ed Lyons and they thought it was him. He convinced them otherwise, but it took a while. He was a force.” – Jay Connell

But Father Lyons had the final words.

“The games and their competitions,” he said in 2018, “brought outstanding athletes and sports journalists from around the country. Many young, gifted players went on to stardom in college and the professional ranks. Last, but not least, charities to needful schools and institutions benefitted from the Seagull each Christmas Tide for nearly 20 years.”

Father Ed Lyons was 89.

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