DUNGANNON – The 30th annual Tyrone Towers Summer Camp was launched this Monday (13th August) at St Patrick’s College in Dungannon, under the expert guidance of its new coaching director Ed Randolph. Randolph, all-time top scorer at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island, and former player with Sporting Belfast and Killester, has taken over from fellow American Jerome Westbrooks in what is a hugely significant year for the club.
Monday morning was not just a moment of pride for the camp organisers in Dungannon, having successfully reached the 30 year milestone, but it was also particularly poignant that it should take place almost one year after the death of Frankie O’Loane, the man who made it all happen.
When Frankie arrived in Dungannon in 1972, as PE teacher at St Patrick’s College, he was already a gaelic football player of the highest repute, having captained Bellaghy to two All-Ireland Club Championships, and a more than able rugby player, too. However, it was from the basketball court on the Killymeal Road that Frankie would change the sporting landscape of Northern Ireland and leave a permanent, indelible mark behind.
“The College won two All-Ireland titles and countless Ulster Cups during his tenure in the school,” Ronan Campbell, one of the Camp Directors, points out. “Frankie also found time to coach both Ulster and Irish junior international teams throughout the 1980s and 1990s,” he adds. Moreover, as late as 2008, having retired from teaching due to ill-health, Frankie continued to coach the school’s Under 16 girls’ team, guiding them all the way to yet another All-Ireland final.
It was also under the guidance of Frankie O’Loane that the club, too, reached its zenith. In 1982, Dungannon entered the Irish National Basketball League, playing first in the National League Division Two and then quickly rising to join the ranks of the Irish Superleague under Frankie’s stewardship.
As a basketball coach, Frankie enjoyed the highest esteem of his players and colleagues but many people, including TCC’s own Niall McDermott, are quick to point out that Frankie’s legacy extends even further beyond the exploits of his Dungannon teams in All-Ireland competition. “Not many people know that he helped found North Star, Basketball Club” says McDermott, proud to be associated with the man. “Ten years ago, when he was Development Officer, he came to Derry and held a meeting with all the lads up here and helped us set up our own club. Frankie was basketball in the west.”
As Basketball Development Officer with Sport NI, Frankie had a profound impact on the growth of the game throughout Northern Ireland, particularly in the underdeveloped west. The legacy of his work encouraging and supporting basketball around the country is felt not just in Derry, where North Star have competed for ten years with teams in both the Premier League and lower divisions, and now host a camp of their own, but also by the League as a whole.
In BNI’s three senior men’s divisions, well established teams now compete in Omagh, Limavady, Fermanagh, and many others. Frankie’s impact upon the early germination of such clubs may be a distant memory and, in some cases, an indirect one but no-one in Northern Irish basketball would deny that his work west of the Bann helped nourish the basketball renaissance there.
Indeed, Frankie O’Loane was a gifted organiser, recruiter and manager of people, and he used these talents to their fullest in establishing the Tyrone Towers Summer Camp. Frankie travelled to America where he undertook a coaching clinic led by the legendary John Wooden, basketball’s greatest ever coach. Returning with a wealth of new ideas and the most trusted of coaching principles, Frankie launched the first ever camp in 1982.
This year, on the thirtieth anniversary of that first camp, the legacy lives on; every one of the current coaching staff is a disciple of Frankie O’Loane in one way or another, having played or coached for him, while the number of campers has exceeded 100 yet again. Sarah McGahan, camp coach, indicated just how much Frankie has been in the minds of the staff this year when I asked for her thoughts about the milestone anniversary and the large turnout of campers. “It’s just great. To think that it has lasted for so long and been such a success. Frankie started it all. When you look at it this year, I think he’d have been really proud.”
In tribute to their ‘Mr Basketball’ the organisers of Summer Camp 2012 have dedicated this year’s Charity All-Star Game to Frankie’s memory. The game, this Wednesday at Dungannon Leisure Centre (7.30pm) will see a ‘Camp Select’ take on the Tyrone Towers of the BNI Premier League, with the £3 admission donated to the Chest, Heart and Stroke Foundation.