Sometimes the biggest gains are made with the smallest steps, even if they start and stutter many times along the way.
And that would be a good way to describe the re-emergence of the Mission High School girls’ basketball program in San Francisco, which in the space of two years has gone from nonexistence to respectability thanks to the work of one devoted man.
That would be Timothy Halloran, who is traveling the lonely road of trying to give lawyers a good name. Halloran — a highly respected trial attorney at Murphy, Pearson, Bradley and Feeney in San Francisco — discovered that Mission, which his father attended, had not fielded a girls’ basketball team in five years. The program had been dropped due to lack of interest.
Halloran, who had coached basketball at several schools including Convent of the Sacred Heart, called Mission athletic director Scott Kennedy last season and they scoured up five girls who agreed to put on the Bears’ uniforms again — an act of faith that will one day be viewed as a legacy.
The desire of those five girls led to 10 signing up this season, with another nine going out to restart the junior varsity program. Halloran’s team, made up mostly of girls who had no basketball experience beyond middle school, had two wins last season. This season, they have nearly quadrupled that total and are in reach of the Academic Athletic Association playoffs.
“When we first met with the girls, I just tried to describe for them how they could be pioneers for their school,” Halloran said. “The biggest satisfaction for me is that they’re continuing to improve and now they’re taking ownership of the team. This isn’t a reflection of whether I’m a good or a bad coach. I’m trying to help them with coping skills and life skills and trying to let them see how much fun high school basketball is.”
Last week, I saw the Mission team take on a more talented squad from Galileo High School, which presented the rather remarkable pairing of Halloran facing off against veteran coach Don Papa — two St. Ignatius graduates now donating their talents to public schools.
“It used to be back in the days that when we played Mission it was kind of a joke,” Papa told me before the game. “But not anymore. Our girls are actually kind of scared of them now. They’re really improving.”
It was a competitive match, with Galileo’s speed and experience providing the difference. But when you understand where Mission was two years ago — out of the league — it tells you all you need to know.
Halloran has persuaded some of his fellow attorneys to become involved in the program, and in addition to funding practice uniforms and equipment, they have started a college scholarship program at the school for both the boys’ and the girls’ teams. Last year, they awarded $1,500; this year, it is likely to be more.
This is a team more about involvement than interior defense. Most of the girls on the team cannot dribble with both hands. Mission does not have a point guard and appears almost incapable of breaking a press. Turnovers come in droves.
And you know what? No one cares.
“This is not about trying to become the John Wooden of girls’ high school basketball,” Halloran told me. “These are good kids who just need some support. They’re learning to try their hardest even when things aren’t going well.”
The teams in the AAA — the public high school basketball league — will not be matching up against any state powers and are generally fairly scruffy. But that does not apply to Halloran, who shows up at games most days as if he just returned from Brooks Brothers.
Sacrifice is the mainstay of Mission’s program. Halloran said most of the Superior Court judges have allowed him to push his trials back until after the season ends.
“What it means is, after the season is over, I’ll be backed up in court for the next seven months,” Halloran said.
But trial victories are not nearly so sweet. With about two more wins, the Mission girls could be headed to the postseason.
Considering that two years ago they did not have a season, that is evidence of a major turnaround.