Two tales of love and basketball For these coaching couples, hoops, hearts go hand in hand

Posted: February 14, 2004

Valentine's Day is all about hoops and hearts for Brendan and Missy Dougherty, and John and Jackie Mulligan.

Basketball brought both newlywed couples together. And the love for their sport is surpassed only by their love for each other.

Missy Dougherty, formerly Missy Light, is the head girls' basketball coach at Merion Mercy Academy; her assistant coach is her husband. The Havertown couple were married in October, and at least one friend refers to them as "the coaches Doc."

Jackie Mulligan, formerly Jackie Donovan, is the head girls' coach at Sterling High in Somerdale, Camden County; John is the assistant girls' coach at Colonial Conference rival Haddon Township. Residents of Voorhees, Camden County, they were married last August.

Both couples vowed to have and to hold from this day forward . . . in sickness and in health . . . in joy and in sorrow . . . and in victory and defeat.

The 2000 movie Love and Basketball could have been written for the Doughertys and Mulligans.

When Jackie, 31, and John, 33, met six years ago, he was coaching the Haddon Township Junior High team; she was coaching at the Echelon YMCA. Cara Murphy played for both squads.

A 2002 Haddon Township graduate and sophomore guard at Fairfield University, Murphy played matchmaker as well as matchup zone.

"Cara said, 'You guys should go out,' " Jackie said. "We started out as friends, and it blossomed into something more."

Jackie, a 5-foot-9 1/2 guard, scored a South Jersey-record 2,516 points at Sterling from 1986 to 1990 and starred at Penn State. John, a 5-11 guard, started for Paul VI; he continued at La Salle, but didn't play basketball.

Tom Mulligan, the head girls' coach at Haddon Township and the best man at their wedding, acknowledged the difference in their college careers in his wedding-day toast.

"It was kind of a roast," John said of his brother's toast.

Host Sterling (11-6) won the first game between the teams this season, 41-34, on Jan. 20. They will play again Thursday at Haddon Township (11-6).

Missy Dougherty, 27, was the head girls' coach at John Hallahan, and Brendan, 34, was the girls' assistant at Archbishop Prendergast when they met during the 1998-99 season.

After the season, Brendan asked Missy if she'd like to attend a 76ers game. They were a couple by the 1999-2000 season, but still on separate benches.

"I would look over," said Missy, who played at Merion Mercy and Elizabethtown. "We would want to be with each other. I knew so much about his team, and he knew so much about mine."

When one of Missy's assistants stepped down, Brendan suggested he fill the spot for the 2000-01 season, the year the Pandas won the Philadelphia Catholic League title.

"It made sense," said Brendan, a 1987 St. Joseph's Prep graduate. He served as a student assistant for the Hawks after breaking his foot in his sophomore year.

"We put the energy into one team instead of both teams," he said. "It was good to see Prendie win. I had no regrets."

When the head position opened up at Merion Mercy, Missy decided to apply at her alma mater. Brendan was part of the package.

"I teased Brendan," Merion Mercy athletic director Barbara Clarke said. " 'What happens if you don't stay together? What happens to my coaches?' "

In a tale straight from a storybook or playbook, they dated two more years before marrying. The Bears (13-10) qualified for the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies playoffs this season for the first time since 1998.

"I always felt we were co-coaches," Missy said. "Brendan is more an X's and O's guy. I'm more into the philosophy."

On Valentine's Day two years ago, Brendan sent Missy a Golden Bear (Merion Mercy's mascot) bearing balloons as practice was winding down.

"They get along great," senior forward Kathleen Daly said. "They are great coaches."

At their wedding, each table was named after an arena or stadium. Brendan's father, Andy Dougherty, the retired sports information director at St. Joseph's University and Big Five Hall of Famer, sat at the Fieldhouse with former St. Joseph's and Los Angeles Lakers coach Jack McKinney, Brendan's godfather.

The guest list included the Merion Mercy team, and the ice sculpture was shaped like a basketball.

A game, however, did not break out on the dance floor.

Contact suburban staff writer Ira Josephs at 610-313-8002 or

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