By BRIAN CUNNIFF
Jim Leahy impacted the players on what eventually became a championship Wildwood Catholic High School boys basketball team before they even reached high school.
“We had guys from all over Cape May County,” Gerry Macfarlane, a teammate of Leahy’s, recalled, “and we went to an open gym our eighth-grade year and we were doing all these drills and Jimmy was the only one who could do them all well. We saw him do all this stuff.
“We thought, If Jimmy can do this, then everybody should be able to do it. So we had all summer to work on our dribbling and shooting and everything and then we came back freshmen year and we were all better. He improved us before we even got to high school because after watching him we knew we all had to get better.”
Leahy, who went on to become captain and leading scorer of the 1981 Crusader South Jersey championship team, passed away last week at the age of just 56 after a three-year battle with cancer. According to his obituary, he had been living in Texas with his wife, Lynn, and two children while running a chain of Catholic thrift stores.
“It’s a shame. It’s heartbreaking,” said Macfarlane, whose father, also Gerry, was Wildwood Catholic’s longtime boys soccer coach.
Leahy was one of four from his immediate family to score more than 1,000 career high school points. His father, Jim, was Wildwood Catholic’s first 1,000-point scorer in 1953. His younger brothers, Dan and John, both went on to score more than 2,000 career points. Dan graduated from Wildwood Catholic in 1988 and John, after playing as a freshman and sophomore at Wildwood Catholic, finished his high school playing career at Middle Township in 1990. John is currently the girls basketball coach at Middle Township.
At the time of his graduation, Jim Leahy was Wildwood Catholic’s all-time leading scorer with 1,345 career points. Dan Leahy now holds that distinction at 2,030.
Jim Leahy guided the Crusaders to three state playoff victories, resulting in the South Jersey Non-Public B championship. The team lost to powerful St. Anthony in the state championship game.
Some of the other top players on that Wildwood Catholic team included Tom Lewis, Dave McCallion, Victor Namiotka and Matt Lowry. Other teammates included Bob DiPeso, Bill Bolle, John Larkin and Ed Whalen.
Macfarlane said Leahy made his teammates better through his athletic and leadership skills.
“We all looked up to him but he treated everybody the same,” Macfarlane said. “We watched him and we all wanted to be like him. He made us all better.”
In addition to his wife and children and his two brothers, Jim Leahy is survived by his mother, Evelyn, and his sisters Eva Marie Perrotta, Christy Marcotte, Katie Davis, Maureen Bassett, Dolores Foreman and many nieces, nephews, cousins, grandnieces and grandnephews. He was predeceased by his father and his sister, Mary Beth Schiff.
Leahy’s funeral mass is scheduled for Friday at 11 a.m. at the Church of the Assumption in Wildwood Crest. Visitation is at 10 a.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requested in Jim’s obituary for friends to consider making a donation to the Special Olympics.