By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
It’s always difficult replacing a legend. The clutches of their shadowy fingerprints are constant. It’s something that Tom Heston does not really concern himself with—and he’s replacing the legendary Tony Chapman as the new head coach at Holy Ghost Prep.
Heston is not so much looking ahead at chasing Chapman’s 928 career victories or 45 years pacing the sidelines in the gym at Firebird Fieldhouse, which is named after Chapman.
Heston, 29, is concerned with getting win No. 1 in his first year, while keeping many of the same principles as Chapman, who Heston played for as a 2012 Holy Ghost Prep graduate and coached under for six years.
Tom Heston, Holy Ghost Prep
It’s an interesting journey for Heston, who Chapman recommended as his successor, going from playing for Chapman, coaching with Chapman and now inheriting Chapman’s position, coaching in Chapman Arena.
“These are huge shoes to fill, I would say a little bit,” Heston admitted, laughing. “Coach Chapman is going to be around to help a little over the summer, and once the season starts, he wants to see all the local teams he wasn’t able to see through the years. I’m incredibly lucky, and incredibly blessed to be coaching at the school I went to, where I teach and where I spent half my life. It’s unbelievable that he recommended me. For all the players that he’s coached, for me to have his support was invaluable throughout this whole process.”
Heston, who was recently married this past November and teaches chemistry at Holy Ghost Prep, found out May 5 that he would be Chapman’s successor. Holy Ghost Prep announced it May 10. Chapman made sure Heston was ready and was well versed on how the interview process was unfolding.
In other words, Chapman was still coaching Heston.
“Tony might be retired, but he never stops coaching,” said Heston, who will be joined by assistant coaches Jack Crouse, who teaches at HGP, and Anthony Magallanes. “Tony has taught me so much about basketball, relationships, and being a representative of HGP. I am very excited about this new opportunity and applying what I have learned from him.”
On Friday afternoon, May 5, Holy Ghost Prep athletic director Craig Conlin called Heston down to his office. Heston had a good idea why. He was the favorite for the position. But squeezing the handle to open Conlin’s office door, walking in and actually hearing it was like Christmas morning in May.
Conlin told Heston that they were impressed with his two interviews and would like to offer him the position.
It took faster than a milli-second for Heston to answer. His first call was to his wife Megan.
“I know the program very well, the culture of the school, so I think it’s going to be a really nice transition,” said Heston, who after graduating HGP went on to be a four-year starter at Kings College. “Obviously, the intangibles coach Chapman instilled I want to keep, but our style of play may be a little different. Coach Chapman is a defensive-oriented coach, he focused more on that end of the court. I want to focus more on offense and that side of the court, run a little more than we had in the past.”
Last season, the Firebirds finished 14-13 playing an independent schedule. HGP lost in the first round of the PIAA Class 5A state playoffs to eventual state champion Imhotep Charter after advancing through the District 1 playback round. The Firebirds will be playing an independent schedule again this coming season. HGP has petitioned for entry into the Philadelphia Catholic League recently and was denied. Heston said trying to enter the PCL may have to be put on hold for the time being.
HGP graduated 13 seniors from this year’s season, but the Firebirds have two starters back, rising 6-foot-2 senior guard Gavin McLaughlin and rising 6-3 junior guard Ace Varella.
Heston has already met with the team, and his familiarity has been a big plus. An additional bonus comes with Heston being in the building, which cultivates relationships with players both on and off the court.
“I think Tom is a great choice to be the next coach,” said Chapman, who ended a Hall of Fame career with an amazing 928-351 record, 23 Bicentennial Athletic League (BAL) titles, nine District One championships, and two Eastern state titles, reaching the PIAA state finals in 1999 and 2004. “He has shown outstanding loyalty to the program—both as a player and a coach—and great loyalty to me personally over the years. He loves HGP and I feel will work extremely hard to give the players a great experience.”
One of Heston’s earliest congratulatory calls from Chapman.
“Tony told me congratulations, he felt the school made the right choice and he told me how super happy he was for me,” Heston said. “It all worked out. Coach Chapman will still be coaching me, and I don’t think he will ever be able to stop that—and I wouldn’t want him to stop doing that. I know I could always go to him if I needed advice.”
Heston will be breaking from the gates already going against one tradition: Holy Ghost Prep will be holding a tip-off tournament for the first time in a long time to open its 2023-24 season.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.
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