Joseph Panichelli (@panibull)
At Cheltenham High School, one team stands alone as winningest in school history.
In the 2004-05 season, the Panthers, led by point guard Pat Fleury, broke a school record that still holds true, with 29 wins and only five losses.
Fleury was listed in Montgomery County’s Super 10 -- his Cheltenham teammate Harris Mansell was Player of the Year -- was named MVP of the Suburban One All-Star Game, and also holds the record for most assists in the program’s history.
His past at Cheltenham has cemented him as one of the Panthers’ all-time great players, but his present, and future, will decide if he can receive similar accolades in a different position: as head coach.
“Two years as a starter, never lost a game at home,” Fleury said. “So why not come back?”
Fleury was born in Queens, N.Y., but moved to Cheltenham in the sixth grade, attending Cedarbrook Middle School. His parents, who came to the United States from Haiti, weren’t particularly familiar with basketball, which led Fleury to discover his passion for the sport on his own, with help from his older brother.
“I’ve always loved basketball.” Fleury said. “I was always the youngest kid in my grade, due to the fact that my birthday was in November, so I was always around older guys playing.”
When Fleury finished at Cedarbrook, he transitioned to Cheltenham High School. His success there earned him a spot on the roster at D-II East Stroudsburg University.
As a freshman in 2005, Fleury played in all 28 games for the Warriors. His junior year, he led the PSAC (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) in assists with 5.1 per game. He led the team in steals his senior year with 44 in total.
As Fleury prospered on the court, he was also constantly learning from coaches within the system.
“I was coached by [East Stroudsburg head coach] Jeff Wilson, Anthony Ross, who’s over at Central Connecticut, Shawn Munford who’s with East Stroudsburg, and Justin Potts, who’s over at Moravian College,” he said.
“I had a lot of basketball minds around me while playing in the PSAC.”
Fleury earned his bachelor’s degree in sports management while at East Stroudsburg. Post-graduation, he was immediately given the opportunity to get involved with his former high school, and went on to work as an intern for Scott Layer, Cheltenham’s athletic director at the time. He was then absent from the basketball scene for two years while he was completing a Master’s in special education at ESU.
“As college winded down, I saw a couple of my teammates take the leap into college coaching.” Fleury said. “I’ve always had conversations with coaches, and done work, unofficially, in terms of giving assessments of kids that I’ve seen.”
Fleury returned to Cheltenham, and has been working as a learning support teacher in the project based learning program for grades nine and ten. For the last five seasons, Fleury has been the head coach for the junior varsity team, and for the last three seasons, he’s been a varsity assistant.
He is now taking over a team that’s had some success in the last couple of years within the Suburban One League’s American Division.
Last season, the Panthers finished third in their conference, with a league record of 10-4. The year before that they placed second at 11-3, and before that, second again, at 10-4. The Panthers have made it to the PIAA district playoffs in each of the last four seasons, advancing to the PIAA 6A state tournament in 2017.
In terms of talent, three returning players will lead the charge for Cheltenham: 6-4 senior guard Tim Myarick, 6-6 senior forward Kyin Healey, and 5-10 junior point guard, Zahree Harrison. The two seniors, who both showed promise last season, will assume leadership roles within the team. Harrison, who plays for K-Low in the AAU circuit, transferred to Cheltenham after freshman year from Archbishop Wood.
Fleury will take the collections of experience and knowledge he has gained from being both a player and a coach as he begins to form the structure of this Panthers team.
“Coaching style we’ll be somewhat similar defensively.” Fleury said. “Offensively we will do some things, in terms of getting up the floor, and focusing on the half court sets. We’re going to be an aggressive team, an intelligent team, and a disciplined team.”
In addition to the many great opponents Cheltenham plays every season, Fleury and the Panthers will have to now face neighboring Abington High School, who just recently joined the SOL American. The schools, just ten minutes apart, have a long history of competition and rivalry dating back even before Fleury played. Abington will produce another great team this year, starring 6-7 senior Eric Dixon, who will play his college ball at Villanova next year.
As Fleury is given the keys to the program, he wanted to thank several people who have helped him get to this point, including assistant superintendent Dr. Thomas, superintendent Dr. Marseille, and Arcadia head coach Justin Scott, the godfather to Fleury’s daughter, Myla, and original inspiration for him to pursue coaching.
“It’s been almost 20 years of being around Cheltenham, being associated with Cheltenham.” Fleury said. “To be able to coach here now, and bring back some of the experiences that I’ve had as something that I can bring back to the kids..it’s something that I look to hold for a long time.”