THE DEATH OF HANK GATHERS : High School Mourns Distant Symbol of Pride : Philadelphia: Dobbins Tech, which won a city championship with Kimble and Gathers, has a special feeling of loss.
One graduate called first thing Monday morning to contribute wreaths to be displayed around school.
And a man named Peter Moss, another Dobbins Tech graduate, phoned in the first contribution, on behalf of his company, IBM, to a scholarship fund that hadn’t even been established.
“He said there’s something like an unofficial basketball fraternity,” said Ed Magliocco, Dobbins Tech’s principal.
Twelve hours after Hank Gathers had collapsed on a basketball court 3,000 miles away and died soon afterward, his hometown mourned.
Mostly, people shrugged and shook their heads, really not knowing what to say. The news had spread quickly, but perspective was slow in coming.
At Dobbins Tech, where Gathers and Bo Kimble, his teammate at USC and Loyola Marymount, had gone to high school, classes were in session. But something was different around the vocational school located among the housing projects of North Philadelphia, about a block from where old Connie Mack Stadium once stood.
It’s not every day that someone from the neighborhood, playing for a California school, winds up leading the nation in scoring and rebounding.
That day came last year.
It’s not every day that same player, loved for his bull-headed determination and humor and admired for athleticism, suddenly is gone.
That day came Sunday.
“Today, everything stops,” Magliocco said in the school’s office, not far from where 8 x 10 glossies of Gathers and Kimble, in their Loyola uniforms, hang in the hallway along with other past Dobbins sports heroes. “School will run itself.”
With a few exceptions. At 9:40 a.m., Nicholas Panagoplos, assistant principal, made his usual announcements over the speaker system to students in their homerooms. The morning welcome. The Pledge of Allegiance.
Then, he said, “Now, a moment of silence for Hank Gathers.”
Rich Yankowitz, basketball coach at Dobbins for the last 19 years, fought hard control his emotions while standing in the office. It was not the shock, since he had been aware of Gathers’ death Sunday night. But everything was starting to sink in.
“You come back to school and everything you see and do reminds you of things about him,” Yankowitz said.
Most prominent is the gold basketball-shaped award in the trophy case, signifying the Philadelphia Public League title the Mustangs won in 1985, when they were also ranked No. 1 in Pennsylvania. Dobbins had lost in the final the year before to Pooh Richardson’s Benjamin Franklin High team.
Gathers had felt responsible for the loss. He had misread the clock, thinking there were three seconds to play instead of the 13 that remained, and he attempted a 25-foot shot that missed and left the Mustangs two points behind. Winning the championship immediately became a goal for the next season.
So was having his uniform retired, something Gathers considered the ultimate honor. He and Yankowitz joked about it for years, the coach saying the only way to have the scarlet and gray No. 24 put away for good was to be selected as a McDonald’s All-American, as was Horace Owens of Dobbins Tech in 1979. Gathers never made the prestigious all-star game, but never gave up, taking another run at Yankowitz last summer.
“I led the nation in scoring and rebounding,” he said good-naturedly, trying to sell Yankowitz on the idea. “Retire my number.”
That hasn’t happened yet. Magliocco likes the idea of a scholarship fund in Gathers’ name. Yankowitz said that retiring the No. 24 is a possibility, but he preferred naming an award for Gathers.
“It would have to be something about hard work and dedication,” Yankowitz said. “To someone who never quit.”
As Darrell Gates, the starting point guard on Dobbins’ championship team, headed to Los Angeles for memorial services, school officials also talked of similar memorials in Philadelphia later in the week. Kenya Mobley, a senior center who has received some recruiting interest from Loyola Marymount, said the current Mustangs might also make a special tribute, along with Gathers’ many friends from the playground games that have made Philadelphia basketball legendary.
“Hank was known by all of us,” said Mobley, who knew Gathers and Kimble from their summer visits home and, like many other Dobbins players, was on hand when Loyola played La Salle and St. Joseph’s here in January.
“He was a good kid and a role model to all of us,” Mobley said. “I looked up to him. People noticed him because he was getting all those big numbers at Loyola Marymount. When he led the nation in rebounding and scoring, it elevated the name of Dobbins Tech.”
All of the area was tuned into the shock Monday. Gathers had a pro basketball career ahead of him, but he was a Philly guy. He was a playground regular. He was known.
The city woke up to the news Monday morning. Both major papers, the Daily News and the Inquirer, played the story prominently on their front pages.
“Gathers Is Dead,” the Daily News said in its sports section in 1 1/2-inch bold type.
On WIP radio, an all-sports station, the death of one of their own story dominated the morning and afternoon talk shows.
“It was a troubled sleep,” Magliocco said of Sunday night to Monday. “Very restless. When I woke up this morning, I still couldn’t believe it. I said to myself, ‘Gathers is dead. Gathers is dead.’ My God.”