For Doyle, Downer hoops help in tough times


Penncrest coach Mike Doyle, foreground, and Lower Merion coach Gregg Downer, background, instruct their players in the second half of Monday night’s Central League semifinal showdown at Strath Haven High School. PETE BANNAN – MEDIANEWS GROUP

By Bob Grotz

There’s a lot more to the connection between Mike Doyle and Gregg Downer than their Penncrest roots.

These capable, ultra-competitive Central League basketball coaches know what it’s like to stare down their own mortality.

Doyle literally, as he’s battling leukemia. In so many ways, every game is a victory, not just a teaching moment for the fiery Penncrest coach.

For Downer, who played on the great Lions team of 1979-80, there is intense grief. Like Doyle, the Lower Merion coach’s world turned upside down in a very personal way when Kobe Bryant, his former player, friend and hero, perished in a helicopter crash.

You wouldn’t know any of that from the way Doyle and Downer got after it in the semifinal round of the Central League tournament Monday evening at Strath Haven High School. For four quarters and 32 minutes, the basketball gods cleansed them of their burdens. It was almost like group therapy.

In the waning moments of the game, the decision all but final, Doyle congratulated each of the Lions as he walked down the sideline. Seconds later his family joined in, the Lions having snapped a 10-game losing streak versus the Aces with a 56-48 triumph.

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