There have been a lot of big victories in the 26-year career of Aces head coach Gregg Downer. State championships, District finals, Central League titles – these are the moments that Aces Nation remembers. The crowning achievements. The loud, bright, sparkling wins in packed gyms and big arenas.
To be sure, these moments have come to define Lower Merion basketball under the direction of Coach Downer. His on-court legacy, however, is rooted in the seemingly more mundane; in games played on dreary mid-winter nights when the crowds are smaller and the stakes are lower.
Great coaches know the importance of these games. They know the importance of winning these games. For without these victories, there is no chance of basketball in March – no opportunity for glitter and gold.
It seems fitting that one of the biggest milestones in Coach Downer's career came on a rainy Tuesday night in December in a victory representative of the consistency and quality of his tenure. Against a dangerous Garnet Valley squad, the Aces took an early lead, fended off a third-quarter comeback and pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 72-55 victory -- the 500th of Coach Downer's career.
Although the bleachers weren't packed and no title was on the line, the magnitude of the moment was evident in those in attendance. Former LM players, coaches and parents had caught wind of the possibility of witnessing history and showed up in droves to support a man who has always put others ahead of himself. They proudly held up their "500" signs and t-shirts. They showered him with water in the post-game locker-room. They recorded videos sharing stories of appreciation and congratulations. They celebrated a man and a program that has brought them together.
There’s a running joke in District 1 that the Aces have a bigger staff than most NBA teams. That may be true. Coach Downer can't seem to say no. From alumni to former rivals, retired Fortune 500 execs to students with special needs; all have held a clipboard, all have made important contributions. All are part of an Aces family that values inclusivity over exclusivity.
That's the Gregg Downer legacy that matters most. Beyond the 500 wins or 3 state titles or 12 league championships, there is a different kind of strength in numbers. The countless lifelong friendships that have been formed, the bonds that have been created on the bench and in the stands; these are what keep us connected and coming back for more -- whether it's the final weekend of March, or a dreary Tuesday night in December.