This has been a year for the former Piqua Catholic High School to both celebrate the 50th anniversary of its most successful basketball team — and mourn the loss of two of its greatest athletes in a six-month period.
John DeBrosse, the star of the 1963-64 Piqua Catholic Final Four team passed away in September, while Tom Bornhorst passed away unexpectedly last week at his residence in Fort Loramie.
I will always remember the first time I met John DeBrosse — and for those lucky enough to have met him, they will understand exactly what I am talking about.
John never lost his love for high school athletics and was a tournament manager of the Division IV sectional tournament for a number of years.
On this particular day, the games were being played at Cloud Park in Huber Heights.
My photographer and I showed our passes at the gate and I was expecting to walk right in — that’s when DeBrosse, with his typical wit — said “I don’t think there is even a paper in Piqua”.
Just as I was prepared to insist that there was, John broke into a grin and introduced himself.
Over the years, I came to learn what a phenomenal athlete he was — and as competitive as they come.
After leading Piqua Catholic to an amazing tournament run, he went to play baseball and basketball at the Citadel Military College. He led the team in scoring and received many honors, including All-South Carolina, honorable mention All-Southern Conference ad Tampa Invitational all-tournament team.
He went on to more than 30 years serving students as a coach and school administrator and the John DeBrosse Renaissance Award is handed out annually to students at Studebaker Middle School.
One of things John always stressed to me was how important it was not to forget history — and especially, where it concerned the 1964 team. He helped me with a story I wrote on the team’s 40th anniversary.
I was so looking forward to seeing him at the 50th anniversary celebration this year — because I knew how much it would mean to him.
That is why there were some mixed emotions when I showed up at the shoot-a-round in January to talk to some of the players on that amazing team.
It was great to get a chance to spend a short time with those guys — and it was easy to why coach Denari referred to them as a “great bunch of boys”.
I could just picture John out there with them — and he would have been competitive as ever, while enjoying the moment.
I am sure he would have had some smart comment for Dave “Pony” Bornhorst when he came walking out in his Citadel outfit.
Jim Hayes told me a story about John that was fitting of the man I knew.
Piqua Catholic had to play Sidney Holy Angels to get into the tournament that year and the two teams had split games during the season. Hayes made a shot in the final 15 seconds to win the game and he said after the game, nobody enjoyed the victory more than John.
“I think he really relished that rivalry and beating them that way,” Hayes said as he described the big smile on John’s face that day.
While I was never fortunate enough to meet Tom “Horse” Bornhorst, I have had a number of people tell me about him — they viewed him as one of the great athletes to ever come out of this area.
To give you and idea of the kind of athlete Tom was, he earned all-state honors in basketball at Piqua Catholic — and All-American honors in football.
Tom went on to receive a football scholarship to Notre Dame and to play basketball for the Irish, playing in the NCAA tournament.
He also was state champion in Florida in handball for many years, just another testament to the kind of athlete he was.
Much like John, Tom never lost his love and passion for high school athletics and kids.
After earning his masters degree in education, he had a long and successful career in Florida as a coach and administrator before retiring in 2007.
Family, church and community were all very important to Tom — he was affectionately known as a “gentle giant”.
I last saw John DeBrosse at the state tournament game two years ago.
With his typical wit, he said you don’t remember me do you?
I wasn’t sure if he was being serious, so I said of course John — you were part of the 1964 Piqua Catholic basketball team.
We talked about doing a story when the 50th anniversary came.
Little did I know he wouldn’t be there — although he certainly was in spirit.
The best way to describe both John and Tom I can think of is, “Great athletes, better people.”
They spent their lives making sure as many students as possible had the same great experiences they had — now they make up a pretty formidable basketball team in the sky.
John was right — these are two guys we should never forget.