Derry basketball coach hits the headlines on and off the court

A Derry man has been hitting the headlines in America after the basketball team he coaches recorded an historic win when reaching the State semi-finals for the first time.

Friday, 17th March 2017, 9:54 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 11:09 am
WCA Spartans. Back row left to right - Kyren Petteway, MJ DeFazio (Assistant Coach), Shakyle Barnaby, Jay Turner, Jessah Doctor, Marquan Watson, Chad McKoy, Noah Anthony, Joe Iannotti (Assistant Coach), Ronan O'Leary (Head Coach). Front row left to right - Jonathan Edwards, Kobi Hunter, Langstun Racine, Jadan Battle, Jalen Edwards, Matt Torres, Jodie Burns (Assistant Coach).

The game was made all the more dramatic because head coach, Derry native Ronan O’Leary, had to miss the game after his wife was rushed into emergency surgery.

Ronan’s team, the Waterbury Career Academy Spartans, won their first round game last Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Ronan’s wife Amy gave birth to their third child, James Thomas.

Ronan said the birth happened on a ‘good day’ as it was “between games.”

He was looking forward to getting back to the sidelines for a match the following day, however, there was complications after the birth and Amy had to be rushed into emergency surgery.

Ronan, who has been coaching basketball in the States for the last decade, has been head coach of the Spartans for the last two years.

The Connecticut school at which he coaches is new and the team has only been in existence for two years.

The team plays in the Class S Division, which is for smaller schools with around 800 pupils.

“We are playing against really good teams and we are doing pretty well at the monent,” said Ronan.

“My wife has been particularly supportive of the team. She played basketball at college - where we met. Amy knows what it takes to be a coach - it’s six days a week and sometimes I don’t get home until 10 p.m.”


Admitting that he experienced a ‘rollercoaster week’ with basketball and the new baby arriving earlier than expected.

When Amy required emergency surgery, Ronan had to hand coaching duties, during the biggest sports moment in the school’s history, over to his assistants.

“At that moment basketball was the furthest thing from my mind, but as soon as I knew Amy was ok I was back to the basketball again. Her first words were ‘did the boy’s win?”

Ronan said he turned his phone back on to discover a stream of messages from the assistant coaches.

Following the historic win, the young players also flooded their coach with messages.

“It was emotional because they were telling me they had won the game for me, my wife and my family. They are really a great team and we linked up via live video from the locker room. There was a team cheer for my family organised by them.”

Ronan explained that sport can open up many doors for young people in America and college coaches have approached him in relation to providing scholarships for players on the back of their performances.

“That is life changing because college in America can cost around $40,000 a year,” he declared.

The heart warming story has been covered by local media in the States.

The Spartans are now due to play their semi-final match this week, with Ronan returning to his role as the loudest coach walking the sidelines.