By BRIAN CUNNIFF
There was a time when seemingly every summer basketball league game held in Wildwood Crest ran long.
As a part-time employee at the Crest Pier Recreation Center, Lou Baselice worked the clock for most of the games. Like most summer leagues, the clock is supposed to run throughout, by rule stopping only for timeouts and the final minute or two of each half.
But Baselice stopped it often anyway. If the ball bounced far out of bounds, he’d stop it. If a player was fouled and was due to shoot free throws, he’d stop it. If there was a delay of any kind, no matter how short it might be, Baselice would stop the clock.
When questioned why he stopped the clock so much, forcing subsequent games to start late, Baselice would have a simple answer. “Ah, the kids need their playing time,” he’d say.
To Baselice, it was always about the kids.
Baselice – known as “Mr. Lou” or “Uncle Lou” to the dozens, probably even hundreds, of children and teenagers in the southern part of Cape May County that he touched – passed away earlier this week at the age of 88, surrounded by his family. He endured a difficult time over the last few years of his life, living in various assisted living facilities after eventually losing nearly all of his mobility. But his spirit and love for young people never wavered.
When you visited him toward the end, even though it was obvious he was in discomfort, his questions always ranged from how the local high school basketball teams were doing, to how some of the former players were faring in college and beyond, to how things were going at the Crest Pier. And how much he’d like to get back there to see the kids, even though he knew deep down that he would never do so again.
Born and raised in South Philadelphia and later a resident of Cherry Hill, Baselice was himself a good athlete. He signed a professional baseball contract with the New York Giants in 1953 and briefly played in the organization’s minor league system. Much later, he attended fantasy baseball camps run by the Florida Marlins, where he struck up a friendship with Fredi Gonzalez, a former manager of the Marlins and Atlanta Braves. He’d try to get to at least a game a season when any of Gonzalez’s teams played in Philadelphia against the Phillies, just so he could say hello to his old friend.
In addition to working the clock at the basketball games, one of Baselice’s other duties at the Crest Pier was working as the security officer for the Pier Playmates Day Camp in the summer. It was a role he cherished, knowing he was directly responsible for the safety of the children in the day camp. An unknown visitor would have had an easier time gaining entry into the Pentagon rather than the Crest Pier under Baselice’s watch. And he was rather proud of that.
Baselice was also a longtime respected basketball official. He was mostly finished with working at the high school level by the time he moved to North Wildwood after his retirement from working full time as a commercial printer, but he officiated many youth games in this area in the 1990s and early 2000s, often volunteering his services without compensation.
He also mentored young officials, encouraging them to use common sense to manage a basketball game instead of relying so much on the rules. He often would tell young officials, “The best thing you can do with that rulebook is read it once and then throw it in the garbage can. Just use your head.”
But Baselice is best known for the relationships he built with young athletes. When he was still in full health, he’d often first strike up a conversation with any child in the recreation center with a basketball in his or her hands. By the time that child returned a second time, Baselice would be helping the player with his or her game, often going on the court himself to demonstrate. Even in later years, as his legs gave out on him, Baselice would bring a chair into the gym to sit so he could still encourage the players, giving motivational tips and words of advice. If he was particularly fond of a player, which was pretty much all of them, he’d give him or her one of the trading cards he received after playing baseball in the Marlins fantasy camp.
Baselice had close ties with members of the Al Carino Basketball Club of South Jersey. He often encouraged local players to try out for the organization’s eighth-grade all-star games each year after informing the club that the players in question were talented enough to deserve entry.
His impact was far-reaching. Pretty much anyone currently between the ages of, say, 16 and 35 who played basketball as a youngster and/or in high school in southern Cape May County, and especially the Wildwoods, would have come across Baselice at some point. He’d follow the players closely, regularly sitting courtside at dozens of high school basketball games each season. Following the games, player after player would make sure they’d say hello to Mr. Lou and thank him for attending the game. Sometimes, a player might vent frustration to him about how he or she played that particular evening, perhaps mentioning their turnovers, missed layups and missed free throws. But Baselice would quickly and astutely point out the positive: “But how about that great pass you threw in the third quarter?” And the player would smile, leaving the moment feeling much better about himself than he did before speaking to him.
There’s no question Mr. Lou is among Cape May County’s all-time leaders in hugs received by players following basketball games.
Tributes poured across social media as word traveled of Baselice’s passing.
Stephanie Carideo, a former 1,000-point scorer at Lower Cape May who is now a women’s assistant basketball coach at Division I Penn, wrote the following on her Facebook page:
“When you think of Lou Baselice you think of a man that devoted his entire life to young children! Empowering them to be more (than) they ever thought they could be! A sweet calm voice that made you believe you could be whoever you aspired to be! A Wildwood legend who will be missed by so many! I remember countless nights shooting at the Crest courts tired and feeling defeated but across the street in the lights I would see Lou coming over to say Steph sit down! There we sat on the same bench for hours talking about life, his awesome stories (showing me his trading card that I may have 5 of), and very little hoops because he knew I needed a break. He had a way with his words but more importantly he made you feel like you were the greatest person in the world! I feel so beyond blessed to have known Lou and call him a friend! Thank you to the Baselice family for sharing him with all of us in Wildwood! Thinking and praying for you and your family during this difficult time! I know you are already court side in Heaven Lou!”
Mr. Baselice is survived by his five children, 11 grandchildren and two great grandchildren, among other family members.
A funeral mass for Mr. Baselice is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 19, at 11 a.m. at St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church in Wildwood. Friends may visit beginning at 10 a.m.