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Bellarmine wins 2015 Division II Award of Excellence

School gave teen with leukemia a chance to star on the court

For other members of the Bellarmine University men’s basketball team, suiting up against Louisville on Nov. 9 was part of their normal routine.

Patrick McSweeney, 15, is greeted by Louisville's Terry Rozier at the start of their exhibition game on Nov. 9.

But when 15-year-old Patrick McSweeney suited up alongside them and started that game for the Knights against the vaunted University of Louisville, the moment stepped straight out from the young cancer patient’s dreams. For creating that opportunity, Bellarmine was recognized with the second annual Division II Award of Excellence, presented during the Division II Business Session on Jan. 17.

The Award of Excellence is presented for an activity or event that exemplifies excellence in any of the areas covered by the six attributes of Division II – learning, service, balance, passion, sportsmanship and resourcefulness.

McSweeney, diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2004, suited up for the Louisville exhibition game at the KFC Yum! Center in both schools’ hometown. The Knights and head coach Scott Davenport adopted McSweeney through Team IMPACT, an organization that strives to improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses through the power of team. McSweeney had been privy to closed-door locker room talks and had attended games, practices and basketball camp, but he had never suited up and played.

McSweeney missed a 3-pointer against the Cardinals but followed with a short jumper to tally the first points of the game.

“Like a true athlete, he was a little bummed that he missed the first shot,” said Bellarmine President Joseph J. McGowan, who accepted the Award of Excellence along with Bellarmine Athletics Director Scott Wiegandt and Associate AD Pam Stackhouse at the 2015 NCAA Convention in Washington, D.C.

“The excellence celebrated by this award reflects the capacity for competitive excellence in the human heart, often against formidable odds, not only within young Patrick McSweeney, but within every person who experienced this event,” McGowan said. “Everyone’s heart soared with joy and compassion when Patrick came onto the court, started the game and scored his basket. At those very poignant moments, Patrick McSweeney became all of us, and all of us who experienced it became Patrick McSweeney.”

McSweeney’s hardwood debut earned local and national publicity, including a spot on a Louisville newscast.

The plan to involve McSweeney began in July. Because he is not a student-athlete, Bellarmine sought and received permission from the NCAA for his participation. Louisville and head coach Rick Pitino, along with both conferences (the Great Lakes Valley Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference), also wholeheartedly supported the plan. 

For winning the award, Bellarmine received $1,500 ($1,000 for winning the award and $500 for being the conference winner).

Point Loma Nazarene was recognized with a second-place award for its initiative titled “Live like a Champion.” The event draws hundreds of young people and their families to interact with and receive hands-on skill instruction from professional and collegiate athletes and coaches. The event encourages a healthy life path and involvement in community outreach. Point Loma received $750 in addition to the $500 conference prize.

The third-place prize went to the University of New Haven, which collaborated with the City of West Haven Public Schools in Connecticut to host a “Class at the Court” event that introduced fourth-graders from traditionally lower socioeconomic backgrounds to the college environment with practical and interactive learning sessions. New Haven received $500 in addition to the $500 conference prize.

The 2015 conference and independent winners can be found here.