NEW LENOX (January 27, 2023) –On Friday, January 27, 2023, Providence Catholic welcomed boys’ basketball alumni back for the varsity game. It was a special night for one basketball alumnus in particular – Walter Downing, Class of 1981.
“In Walter’s four years as a varsity starter, his team collected 104 wins,” says Frank Palmasani, Junior & Senior Counselor and Walter’s former basketball coach at Providence Catholic. “They won four regional titles, four sectional titles, achieved three super-sectional victories, and had a third place state finish – in addition to a state championship in 1979.” Palmasani coached Downing as the team fought their way to the state championship. (Continued below video.)
During the ceremony, President Father John Merkelis, OSA, Principal Paul Houston, Athletic Director Doug Ternik, and Varsity Basketball Coach Kyle Murphy presented a replica of the jersey Downing wore during the 1979 state championship, and a ball that acknowledges his point totals.
Downing is Providence’s all-time leading scorer and shot blocker, a record he holds to this day. He was the first player in Illinois to win the Mr. Basketball award and was selected as one of the top 100 players to ever play in the state tournament competition. In 1981, Downing was one of only 25 players selected from across the country to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game. Other players during that year included Chris Mullins, Patrick Ewing, and Michael Jordan.
“Walter Downing was the epitome of everything any coach would want from a star player,” says Frank Palmasani, Junior & Senior Counselor and Walter’s former basketball coach at Providence Catholic. “Always humble, always deferring success to his teammates, always interested in the good of the group, Walter’s entire life has been built around serving others. His basketball prowess in high school and college will be highlighted tonight during the ceremony, but his character and the positive influence he has had on young people in his 20+ years of teaching will be his lasting legacy. I have been blessed to call him a friend for over 40 years.
After graduating from Marquette University, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. He played professional basketball in Europe before returning to the United States. Walter retired last year from teaching high school English after a 20-plus year career at Hinsdale South High School.
Downing was joined at the event by his grade school coaches, Larry Wiers and Dan Polley, in addition to his high school coach, Palmasani, and Pat Sullivan, who established a camaraderie with Downing during Pat’s summer basketball camps at Providence. Assistant coaches during Downing’s four years included Dick Mandella, Mike Slovick, Randy Stelter, and Jack McCarthy.
Other Providence Catholic coaches, past and present, were in attendance as well, along with several basketball officials that refereed games during Downing’s four years at Providence.
“Tonight was not only a great night for our basketball program but it was a great night for our school community and anyone who loves and appreciates the game of basketball. Anytime you can honor a legend like Walter, it brings excitement to the community,” says Kyle Murphy, Head Varsity Basketball Coach at Providence Catholic. “We are excited that many alumni, coaches, and supporters of Walter were in attendance tonight as we honored him. There have been many great athletes who have come through Providence, but maybe none more legendary than Walter!”
A man with many achievements needed only a few words to sum up the night – words that show the strength of character of this stellar athlete. “They say give people the roses while they’re alive,” Downing says. “If these are roses, tonight is a botanical garden.”
Photos coming soon at https://burnsphotographystudio.zenfolio.com/pchs.
About Providence Catholic
Providence Catholic is a co-educational, college preparatory high school, based in the Augustinian tradition. It is located on 75 acres in New Lenox, Illinois. A dedicated and caring faculty and staff integrate the core Augustinian values of truth, unity, and love into all dimensions of student life. A demanding curriculum, inclusive service programs, competitive athletics, and comprehensive extracurricular offerings challenge students in a safe and nurturing environment. Our proven success is reflected in our most recent graduates who’ve earned scholarships valued at nearly $52 million dollars. In addition, Providence Catholic has 31 state championship titles. For more information about PCHS, please visit www.providencecatholic.org.
Director of Communications at Providence Catholic High School