Ask any graduate what they remember most about their time at NFA and you’re bound to hear about the legendary Snowball Tournament, an annual tradition which brings the entire community together during some of the coldest days of the year. (50th Snowball Tournament information found here).
Open up an old photo album and you’re right back in the stands of Sister James Anthony Hall on a packed Friday night. The smell of pork sandwiches wafts from the snack bar and Tom Utescher is writing up a doozy of an article for The Chestnut Hill Local while Sid MacLeod’s voice is bouncing off the walls in between the ball popping off the floor.
Incredibly, the Snowball Tournament, a basketball tournament for local middle school and CYO teams, will turn 50 this February. While the event itself has changed over the years, its essence is still all about community, fun, and, of course, basketball.
The Snowball Tournament was originally known as the Holiday Basketball Tournament. It was started in 1973 by Pete Mendoza, who was the varsity basketball coach at the time. Mendoza was looking for a way to engage local middle school teams during the winter break. Inspired by the holiday tournaments at The Palestra, Mendoza brought that model to the local youth sports scene.
The 1973 tournament featured NFA, Seven Dolors, Our Mother of Consolation, St. Coleman, Immaculate Conception, Holy Cross, and St. Philip Neri. NFA defeated St. Philip, 58–41, in the final game. Behind the scenes, MacLeod did the announcing and statistics, Bill Buchanan kept the scorebook, and Jim Burton served as the Athletic Director. NFA returned to the final in 1974, but lost to St. Denis, 41–29.
Fast forward to 1983, Chuck Seaton took over the tournament and added a girls tournament to the event. Dedicated to NFA, Seaton ran the tournament for 13 years relying on a faithful group of volunteers.
“It was fun,” said Seaton. “Friday night was always a packed house. The boys and girls teams played back to back and there was never an open seat in the house. The biggest thing about it is being able to compete in front of a lot of people.”
Over time, the tournament dates shifted from the week in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve to the first week of January.
“It was a fun way to spend the week between Christmas and New Year's,” said Anne Porter, a longtime coach and P.E. teacher at NFA. “Celebrating school and community pride.”
The Parents’ Association took over in the early 1990s and the tournament was rebranded as the Snowball Tournament some years later with additional opportunities for JV teams to play as well as for alumni to reconnect and play.
Seaton’s favorite memory is when the Bears won the 2012 varsity boys’ bracket. The team itself struggled during the season and didn’t make the playoffs, but found magic that weekend and defeated Immaculate Heart of Mary in the final to win it all.
“No one expected it,” said Seaton. “The kids went to the foul line and made their free throws.”
And that’s just one of hundreds of stories that will be retold during the 50th anniversary of the NFA Snowball Tournament, which will take place from February 21–25, 2024.