Delone Catholic’s Jim Dooley celebrates a 43-49 overtime victory against York Catholic in Friday’s District 3 Class AA championship game at
Delone Catholic's Jim Dooley celebrates a 43-49 overtime victory against York Catholic in Friday's District 3 Class AA championship game at Giant Center. (Daily Record/Sunday News -- Kate Penn)
There was a serene moment Friday night, hidden amongst the mad yells and the seismic release of emotions that accompanied the Delone Catholic boys' basketball team's District 3 Class AA championship victory.

A few minutes after their 43-39 overtime win against York Catholic, Delone's players were called to accept their trophy. The entire team walked to midcourt, gold medals dangling from their necks, each reaching out to touch their prize.

Their coach, however, stayed back and watched. Jim Dooley stood alone, with his hands on his hips and his blue sweater slung over his shoulder. He soaked in the sight. His lips pursed into a smile.

This had been a long time coming. Much too long.

After 46 years and more victories than any District 3 coach still walking the sidelines, Dooley was finally a district champion.

"I feel like a 500-pound gorilla just jumped off my back," said the coach, who was making his fifth district title game appearance, and his fourth with Delone.

For nearly five decades, Dooley has been a fixture in gyms throughout southcentral Pennsylvania. He has coached at schools big and small, public and private. He's won 684 games along the way.

He even coached Iceland's national team for a brief spell.

He's done it all with a trademark style -- who else could pull off those saddle shoes? -- and an ebullient air clear to anyone who watches him bounce around in front of his team's bench.

After all these years, he still oozes enthusiasm for the game -- and for the lessons it can teach.

"It sounds corny," Dooley said Friday, "but when you see a kid get better, it really ... you can't put a price tag on that.

"And believe me, since you work for a Catholic school, there is no price tag."

Which brings us back to that moment, the silent satisfaction on Dooley's face as he watched his players lift the championship trophy.

Certainly, this Delone Catholic team is not without flaws. The Squires (18-8) meandered through parts of this season. On Friday, the two players who carried Delone through the fourth quarter and overtime -- Brett Smith and Seth Bullers -- struggled during the first half. After the game, Bullers spoke about how he was "only a shooter" before Dooley began coaching him.

"I've been on these kids for their mental errors probably harder than any group I've ever had," Dooley said. "Maybe it's because they made the most."

But those players listened to their coach. They kept improving as February melted into March. They saved their best basketball for their season's most pressure-packed stretch.

On Friday, they accomplished something none of Dooley's teams had ever been able to.

"He's been searching for this thing for so long," said Smith, the junior point guard. "He's put in his time, so many hours, to get this. He deserves it more than all of us."

After emerging from the cacophony of the Squires' postgame locker room, Dooley spent more than 10 minutes chatting with a group of reporters. He showcased his usual, Bronx-born wit and humor.

He talked about his conversation Friday morning with former longtime Carlisle coach Dave Lebo: "When you're sick as a basketball coach, you take two aspirin, you drink a warm glass of milk and you call Dave Lebo in the morning."

He talked about Smith: "He's a great player. And thank God he's only a junior, so I know I'll coach again next year."

And he talked about all the close calls, specifically Delone's heart-wringing, 54-51 loss to Hanover in last year's district title game.

"Silly me, I made a vow that we'd win it next year," Dooley recalled. "On the first day of practice (this season), we had a meeting, and that's what we told them. Of course, I'm sure there were times when they didn't believe that."

Yes, it had been a long journey here for all of them -- a fact that probably made it all so much sweeter in the end.

This was the reward, a win none of them could put a price tag on.

John Clayton is a prep sports reporter for the Daily Record/Sunday News. Reach him at 771-2045 or jclayton@ydr.com.

Delone Catholic holds off York Catholic in OT to win district title.

Three district title games, but countless memorable moments.