And under the guidance of Hughes – in his 11th year coaching at the St. Johnsbury Catholic school team – Good Shepherd had logged 203 wins and only 62 losses as of Feb. 27.
The coach’s 200th win came Feb. 1 with a win over Concord School, 48-30.
Player Colby Garey-Wright had told the coach the night before the milestone game that it would be a special day: Colby’s birthday and the coach’s 200th win. The seventh grader celebrated his birthday sinking 25 points into the winning effort.
Before each game Hughes and his players pray the Hail Mary. “We pray…so nobody gets hurt and we play a good game,” Colby said. “It’s special. The whole team does it.”
There are 10 members of the seventh- and eighth-grade team this season; they play local middle school teams in the northern Vermont and New Hampshire area as well as St. Francis Xavier School in Winooski.
“Before every game we say the Hail Mary enthusiastically as a team,” Hughes said. “We pray to play the best we can. … I don’t think they’d feel comfortable taking the court without saying the Hail Mary first.”
Principal Lynn Cartularo called Hughes “a great example of faith.” The school has an all-female faculty and staff, so he is a good male role model. He shows his players the importance of prayer, and “they know God is their guide,” she said.
Hughes, a parishioner of Corpus Christi Parish who attends St. John the Evangelist Church in St. Johnsbury, served on the parish council there. He is president/owner of Celtic Marketing Food Brokers, located across the street from the church.
He and his wife, Mary, a teacher at Good Shepherd School and the boys’ basketball team scorebook keeper, have three children and one grandchild.
Hughes played basketball in junior and senior high school in Peru, N.Y., but at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., played rugby while earning a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing. He graduated in 1979.
When his son, Brendan, was a sixth grader at Good Shepherd Catholic School, he volunteered his father to help with the basketball team. Hughes laughed when he recalled that as the assistant coach, he and the head coach had one practice together with the team before the coach told Hughes he had to be away on business for six weeks. When he came back, the team had “become my team at that point,” Hughes said.
Through the years, he has had several assistant coaches, including Brendan when he was in high school.
Many of Hughes’ former players return to support the Good Shepherd team and their former coach. Current and past players signed his 200th-win basketball – about 30 signatures.
“I was only going to coach for a year,” Hughes said. “But I got attached to the kids. It’s very rewarding. They all come with different abilities. For some, this is the highlight of their basketball career in seventh and eighth grade. They don’t play in high school. For others, they’ve done very, very well in high school.”
Hughes began this season with 193 wins. But it’s not about winning. “It has always been about the kids,” he said. “We talk a lot about being a team and not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. They grasp that concept.”
Before each game he tells his players to play hard, play smart as a team and have fun. “You gotta have fun,” he said with a smile.
And he is clear about priorities: “The first priority is God,” he emphasized. Second is family, third is schoolwork and fourth is basketball. …Video games are not in the top four.”
Eighth grader Carter Gingue said not only has he learned about the game of basketball from Hughes but about teamwork and leadership.
“The word is out. Good Shepherd is a [basketball] force to be reckoned with,” Cartularo said. Hughes “is a local celebrity in the basketball world, and he’s a blessing for us.”
- Published in Schools