Tom was one of my very first interviews and provided more than significant help in contacting other former players and coaches. You’ll get real enjoyment from his remembrances and stories about the series: this is just a taste.
Few people who have played in the Briar Cliff-Morningside series have as much connection to both sides as Tom Betz has. A former Bishop Heelan graduate, Betz was close to heading to BCU. “I went to every Briar Cliff game growing up, and the two biggest rivals were Northwestern and Morningside. Playing at SC Heelan, the natural progression would have been to go to BCU, but things didn’t work out and I ended up at Morningside. No regrets!” Speaking of Bishop Heelan High, Betz went back to his roots and was the head boys’ basketball coach there from 2001 through 2015. His teams went 264-83 (76 percent), won three state titles, and finished runner-up twice. In 2016, Betz was elected to the IHSAA Hall of Fame. He’s now director of advancement at Bishop Heelan.
Tom’s toughest opponent in the series? “Hands down, Fernando Pinillo, probably the most underrated BCU player, just tough as nails. Also, Amado Martinez, BCU post man. Now we’re friends, but back then we had some battles underneath the basket. It’s never been a cutthroat rivalry. After the games in the late ’80s you could find players from both teams at dance clubs. It’s a tough rivalry but once it’s over, you were okay, there weren’t any off the court issues. My son, Jared, says the teams don’t hang out today like we used to. We played twice a year, but being in the same league now, there’s more on the line. The BCU 50th reunion a few years ago was like a reunion for me, too.” So well thought of is Betz that even as a Morningsider, he was the Master of Ceremony for Briar Cliff’s 50th Anniversary of Men’s Basketball, held in 2016.
“One game Mario Galvez—it’s a tight game, I was a freshman, on the bench watching. They threw a long pass to Galvez. As he goes up for the ball, over the out of bounds line, he catches it, turns, and shoots it over the backboard; all net! That’s when you knew how great he was. I’d like to forget that shot, but it’s the best I’ve ever seen in the series.” How did Betz think Briar Cliff could have fit into the NCC when he played? “They would have been very competitive, when they had the talent in the Panamanians they could definitely play with the NCC teams.”