Kings of the court

Mount Pearl Senior High Huskies’ 103-game winning streak likely never to be matched

John Browne
Published on July 5, 2014

They simply couldn’t be beaten in the province and, really, no one even came close.    
Over the three-year dynasty — from 1992-95 — the Mount Pearl Senior High Huskies won a remarkable 103 consecutive games in regular, regional and league play.
On a national level, the team ranked within the Top 10 high school boys’ basketball teams during those three seasons.
No local high school team has come close to matching that record and it’s doubtful if any team ever will.

A bunch of kids who, when they ran out on the floor for a game, already knew the result if not the score. Heaven only knows what the anxious opposition was thinking in those days.

The team’s remarkable accomplishment was recognized in 2012 when it was inducted into the Mount Pearl Sports Team Honour Roll.

Oddly enough, according to coach Gary Sooley, the players didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to their unprecedented winning streak at the time. Probably, in part, because they didn’t know they were making history, and winning provincial championships was the only thing on their minds.

You would have thought that a team that won so often and so easily would have slacked off, at least once.

That’s where Sooley came in.

Sooley said he concentrated not so much on the score but on his players’ effort. He stressed defence and when he felt his team didn’t play up to the standard he’d established, he’d let them know it.

“We played in a lot of mainland tournaments and if you didn’t play defence there you were in a lot of trouble,” explained Sooley.

“But we were always in the mix. A lot of our players were on provincial teams and we won the Eastern Canadian juvenile championship on a team I coached one year.”

Sooley can’t remember winning a tournament outside of the province, but veteran local referee Sam McNeish, who is from Nova Scotia, saw the team play in a mainland tournament at the time of their dynasty and was extremely impressed with the Huskies.

He also saw many of the players when he took a team here for a tournament.

“In 1992-93, I was the head coach of the Nova Scotia Under 17 team which attended the Eastern Canadian championships held at the Torbay Rec Centre,” said McNeish.

“While names have escaped me since, I do remember the bulk of the Newfoundland team being tall, long (wing spans) and athletic, and the talk was, the majority of those players were all high school teammates.

“I felt we had a good team that year, but Newfoundland was a tough matchup as they were bigger at each position, something they took advantage of in the games we played throughout that summer,” McNeish said.

Joe Wadden, who went up against Mount Pearl as coach of St. Kevin’s Mavericks, called the Huskies team of that era “phenomenal.”

“If we got within 50 points that was good, and I’m not kidding. That was a victory for us,” said Wadden.

“I challenged them to put out their best effort no matter who they were playing … to have a good work ethic,” said Sooley.

“There were games that we won by 30 and 40 points where I wasn’t very pleased because of some individual efforts or the defence was lazy.”

He said he wouldn’t let the team get into the trap of believing all they had to do was show up and score points, “because if they get into that trap, then of course, when they get into a game against a good team, you just can’t turn it on. You had to challenge them every game in those terms.”

Sooley didn’t take any credit for the team’s success, but one of his top players says the coach’s contribution was huge.

Huskies guard John Coaker, who went on to have a successful university career with the Memorial Sea-Hawks, said, the real key to his success “was from several things (Sooley) did so well for us. He was an excellent coach. He taught us well and knew how to get the most from us. He pushed us to be the best we could be.”

Coaker said by Sooley making sure the team had tougher competition, it enabled them to improve each season.

He said the high shool team played in the local men’s division in the evenings, and travelled to tournaments in Quebec and New Brunswick, among other places.

“He took us to basketball camps outside the province and we learned,” said Coaker. “And he also learned from these experiences as well.”

Coaker said Sooley would use the information garnered on those trips and reinforce it during the team’s practices.

“He gave us the opportunity to train and, for those who took advantage of that, we found ways to improve and get better.

“There was a core group of guys who benefited much from his program and went on to have successful collegiate careers as well. The foundation we developed in high school can be attributed to our success after we moved on.”

So prevailing was the team’s success that Sooley can’t even remember any close games over those three years.

“We were dominant,” said Sooley, which is an understatement, to say the least.

Of course, all three teams were outstanding and Sooley points out, for example, that the 1992 team had five or six players on the province’s Canada Games squad even though they were underage at the time.

Sooley said the team’s bench wasn’t that deep the first year, but “we were still so strong we never had any trouble putting our bench players in.”

Then, when the two six-foot-eight brothers Tim and Steve Beckett moved on, the team went to more of an outside game rather than a post game.

Perhaps the glue of those teams was Michael Sooley, the team’s point guard who played all three years and who, the coach maintains, gave all three teams stability and consistency.

Coach Sooley said the team didn’t pay much attention to its unbeaten record after the first year.

“The winning record wasn’t something we ever focused on. We sort of had it in our minds, but never really discussed it,” he said.

“Then, after the second year, we acknowledged this was something different, though our priority and focus was always winning the provincial 4As. The winning streak wasn’t a big thing at the time. It wasn’t part of our game plan.

“In the third year we started counting up the wins and noticed that we were close to 100 straight wins.”

Sooley, a retired Mount Pearl Senior High teacher, said he couldn’t single out one player and that everybody had a role to play on those special teams.

“They all contributed and we had good chemistry.”

Several of Sooley’s players went on to bigger and better things in basketball and business.

Tim Beckett of Mount Pearl went to Long Island’s Lutheran High School before going on to star for Hofstra University on Long Island in the NCAA’s American East Conference.

Steve Beckett and Shannon Miller, the latter of whom was from Fogo Island, went to play with New York Institute of Technology, a Division II basketball team on Long Island in the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference (NYCAC). Both Becketts are working in New York while Miller, who went to St. Thomas More School in Connecticut and Brevard College in North Carolina, before joining Beckett, is a pharmaceutical sales representative in Tampa, Fla.

Todd Taylor works for a marketing company in Munich, Germany. Mount Pearl’s Chris Gill, who, like Tim Beckett, played on the junior national team, went on to compete for Simon Fraser University.

When asked if the record will ever be broken, Sooley said “anything is possible,” but he pointed out, “there seems to be more parity now among the teams.”

Ironically, Sooley is now assistant coach at rival O’Donel High under head coach Randy Ash who he coached with at the Canada Games level.

Like all unlikely scenarios that have unassuming beginnings, the improbable streak came to an unlikely end.

The Mount Pearl Senior High Huskies lost the first game of the 1995-96 season to Harbour Grace’s St. Francis High School.