BY CHRIS MCMANES — Longtime St. Jerome and DeMatha coach Dick Brown lost his battle with cancer in 2006. But his legacy lives on through the Coach Brown Memorial Basketball Camp, organized by two of his assistants, Charley Grau and Joe Sego.
Started by Brown in 1986, the week-long instructional camp is held each August at St. Jerome Academy. Grau and Sego also organize a three-day minicamp, held there the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
“I think it’s an excellent tribute to Dick Brown,” said St. Jerome Principal Mary Pat Donoghue. “His life’s vocation really was to serve children, and he served them as a coach and a teacher. He saw the importance of athletics in the lives of children.
“It’s wonderful to continue the camp here.”
The camp has been staged at other schools through the years and for as many as seven one-week sessions in a single summer. In its heyday at St. Jerome, about 100 campers would attend; nowadays, with more competition from area basketball camps, about half that number enroll.
The children, mostly ages 7 to 14, are following in some pretty big footsteps: Past participants include St. Jerome graduates and NCAA Division I players Quinn Cook, a sophomore at Duke, and Victor Oladipo, a junior at Indiana University.
“Dick was very good at marketing the camp,” Grau said. “Over the years he had a network of coaches and boys and girls clubs that he could get campers from. When he was coaching, a lot of kids came to St. Jerome’s just to play for him. I didn’t realize that Quinn Cook basically came to [the school] because of him.”
“For me and Charley, it’s our way of paying homage to what Coach Brown started,” Sego said, adding that just before he died, Brown “had asked Charley to please keep the camp going, in some form or another.”
Grau, who taught at St. Jerome from 1984 to 1986, worked the first camp and has been at each one since. A former youth, high school and college referee who has also coached basketball, he now primarily handles administrative duties while Sego runs the basketball end. They hire a staff of counselors.
Brown coached the St. Jerome seventh- and eighth-grade boys basketball team from 1966 to 2006, and taught religion and seventh-grade American history. His 1974 and 1985 teams won the Christian Youth Organization (CYO) city championship. He also coached football at DeMatha Catholic High School from 1970 to 2005 and was head junior varsity coach there when he died.
“I think it’s really important to emphasize the years that Dick gave to the children of this community,” Donoghue said. “He was a man of incredibly strong faith, and his faith was strengthened during his cancer ordeal. That was an important part of who he was.”
Big-Time Guest Speakers
Josh Comfort, a St. Jerome eighth-grader, has attended the Coach Brown camp for the past four summers. He said he likes it because of its emphasis on fundamentals, finishing strong, proper shooting form and working hard to improve.
“Everybody here gets respected and treated equally,” Comfort said. “I like the staff the most. They’re nice, and you’re allowed to have fun. Coach Sego and Mr. Grau are pretty nice, too, so that’s why I came back here.”
At the most recent session, part of which was held at Hyattsville Elementary School, Grau’s friendship with DeMatha basketball coach Mike Jones paved the way for three Division I college players to be guest speakers. DeMatha graduates all, they included Oladipo, whose Indiana team is this year expected to be one of the nation’s finest; University of Pittsburgh freshman James Robinson; and Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant.
“It’s kind of exciting that they came here to speak to us and to give us some tips on life and basketball,” Comfort said. “Victor told us that you should never give up and that even though life seems hard, you have to keep pulling through.”
Succeeding a Legend
Sego (pronounced say-go) graduated from DeMatha in 1994 and began working the camp four years later. He coached against Brown at St. Mark’s for 12 years and was an assistant on Brown’s final team in 2005-06. That club featured Cook, Oladipo and Patrick Merkel, a civil engineering major at Catholic University who also played at DeMatha. The team won a CYO division championship.
“Dick was a great man and a great coach,” Merkel said.
Sego succeeded Brown at his request and has added to the Jaguars’ basketball legacy by winning two CYO city championships (2008, 2011). Jaelin Grant, Jerian’s brother, played on the latter team and is now a DeMatha sophomore.
Sego, 2010 local CYO Coach of the Year, can’t praise Brown enough.
“He was one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet – very religious, had a ton of energy and would give you the shirt off his back if that’s what you needed,” he said. “That’s the way he lived his life. He sacrificed everything to teach and coach here when he could have been making more money a lot of other places.”
“He’s a legend here,” Donoghue said. “There are so many stories to tell of his classroom prowess. He really did enjoy the kids a lot. He was very tough on them, but he loved them dearly and wanted the best for them.”
Proceeds from the camp help to fund scholarships for students to attend St. Jerome Academy and for things like new baskets and backboards in the school gymnasium. The next big project is to have the gym floor resurfaced. Free camp registration is also granted to children whose parents can’t afford it. Neither Grau nor Sego benefit monetarily.
And both men are happy to fulfill Brown’s dying wish to keep the camp going.
“Absolutely,” Grau said. “I can’t think of anything else I would have done to pay tribute to him.”
Chris McManes has coached T-ball and basketball at St. Jerome. His three children have attended the camp for the past two years.