Chester High, Big 5 legend killed by car

Alonzo Lewis was the third winningest coach in Chester High School's history. (File Photo)
Alonzo Lewis was the third winningest coach in Chester High School's history. (File Photo)
Posted: February 22, 2012

Local hoops legend Alonzo Lewis, who died tragically Tuesday night after he was hit by a car, still owes old friend John Chaney milk from the days they would bet bottles of it on one-on-one pickup games at the Palestra.

"I wanted to play for sodas, he wanted to play for milk. He was a health nut, you know, always believed in being conditioned," Chaney, who played with Lewis for nearly a decade in the Eastern League, recalled fondly Wednesday night.

Just as the former teammates would tease each other about who was the better player whenever they met, Chaney joked through his sadness Wednesday night: "I would say, after playing him on the court for so many years, that he still owes me some milk, 'cause I won."

Lewis, 77, a star at La Salle University, was the third winningest coach in Chester High School's history, with a 237-67 record from 1985 to 1995. He later coached at Cheyney University.

Lewis scored 1,137 points at LaSalle and played on LaSalle's 1954-55 team, which lost to Bill Russell's San Francisco team in the NCAA Final, 77-63.

In addition to coaching, Lewis taught history and English, and was known for his penchant for using history lessons to encourage his "student-athletes" to excel both on the court and in the classroom.

"He tried to use history as a means of explaining to the kids where they come from, where they're going and how they can get there," said Chester assistant coach Terry Thomas, who began working with Lewis in 1990.

"He had a real passion for the game of basketball and the students that he taught," said Fred Pickett, who became a Chester legend himself after taking over Chester's program for Lewis. "He spent a lot of time talking with the kids about life and everything else. He went to bat for them, and they didn't even know he was going to bat for them."

Though Lewis retired from coaching years ago, his wife, Kathy, said he stayed involved through his daughters, Anastasia, 38, and Alison, 15, who currently plays for Unionville High School.

It was his love of the game that brought Lewis, who lived in Chadds Ford, to East Falls at the time of his tragic death. He was on his way to watch Archbishop Carroll play Neumann-Goretti in a Catholic League girls' basketball semifinal game at Philadelphia University Tuesday night when he was struck while crossing the dangerous intersection of Henry Avenue and School House Lane.

Lewis died shortly after 7 p.m. at Temple University Hospital. Police said they don't expect to charge the driver, who stopped at the scene.

It wasn't the first time Lewis was injured in a car accident.

Lewis suffered a fractured skull in a car accident near Harrisburg in 1961, when Lewis was a 27-year-old player for Hazleton's Eastern League team. Chaney was his passenger that day.

"I used to always tease him about the fact that when ... I went to see him in the hospital there, I gave him some money," Chaney said. "He and I would always argue about how much I loaned to him, and he never paid me back."

Lewis also leaves behind three grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending, but coaches at Chester High are organizing a memorial at the school's gym for the late coach on March 3.

"He was a great basketball player, one of our great players," Chaney said. "He will be somebody that, every time I look over my right or left shoulder, I'll always think that he'll be there."

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