DILLSBURG, PA. — Somewhere up above, former legendary Livonia boys basketball coach Tom Downey is smiling down right about now.
Kyle McGill, a star player for the Bulldogs during their 1991 state finals run is currently doing his best TD impersonation as the head boys basketball coach at Northern York High School in Dillsburg, PA.
McGill was a member of one of one of coach Coach Downey’s four sectional titles including sectional titles in 1987,1988, 1991,and 2001.
The ‘91 team was the most famous of all the title teams as they made it all the way to the state title game before losing to Watervliet (Sec. II).
The loss came on the heels of a three overtime victory over undefeated Highland Falls O’Neal in what many call the greatest high school game ever played by a Livingston County school.
Livonia finished with just one loss that year and it came in the state finals.
McGill has been a physical therapist for almost 20 year, and currently work as the Administrative Director for Orthopedics & Spine at UPMC Pinnacle in Harrisburg, PA.
His path to becoming a varsity basketball coach simply started by coaching his two sons and a daughter during youth basketball.
One thing you need to know about Northern York High School basketball, where McGill started coaching five years ago, it had never been a hotbed for successful basketball.
Until now, that is.
Prior to McGill accepting the head varsity job, the Polar Bears were 13-30 the two previous seasons.
While his first three seasons led to 8-14 (2015-16), 11-11 (2016-17) and 11-13 (2017-18) a combined 30-43 record, what he has done the past two years has been nothing short of amazing going 24-6 in 2018-19 and 20-7 this past season making the state tournament in both years.
His 24 wins last season set an all-time school mark for victories.
That year Northern York HS also won their first league championship in 20 years and won their first-ever state playoff game.
Both of Kyle’s sons — Ryan and Nate — were a big part of last year’s run.
Much like his playing days in what is now known as the Tom Downey Gymnasium, a tough place for any visiting team, McGill’s Polar Bears have been 24-0 at home over the past two-plus seasons.
This past year they finished the regular season 18-4, and fourth in the District playoffs which qualified them for the Class 5A state tournament for the second year in a row. The Polar Bears lost that game to Pottsville before the tournament was cancelled due to the spread of COVID-19.
Coach Downey, who passed away in 2003 of cancer at the young age of 50, coached 28 years for Canisteo, Dansville and most notably Livonia, where he guided his teams to 437 wins and a 74% winning percentage.
In all, his teams won four Section V championships and 15 Livingston County titles. Downey was named Section V Coach of the Year nine times.
The remining starting five from that ‘91 Livonia team included Jason Dudek, Jeff Myers, Todd Henderson and Steve Napier.
McGill was named to the AGR team that season.
We spoke with Coach McGill recently and wanted to share exactly how he got into coaching and following in the footsteps of someone he had a great admiration for in Coach Downey.
LCN: Can you give us your current path on how you landed where you are coaching right now?
McGill: I started out running the YMCA youth basketball program (K-6 grade) in Dillsburg, PA. when our daughter (Makenna) was in first grade. I was convinced to coach her fifth/sixth grade girls travel team for two years, then our middle son (Ryan) in fourth/fifth grade travel league, and then our youngest son’s (Nate) fourth/fifth grade travel team as well. I was planning to be done coaching at that point and just watch them play. However, they needed an eighth grade boys coach when my middle son was in eighth grade. Since I had coached them all before, and I knew how important middle school basketball is for developing a basketball program, I decided to take the job and we had a very successful season (15-1). At the end of that season, the high school varsity coach resigned, and people asked me if I was interested in the varsity boys position. I had considered coaching as a hobby that I enjoyed, but this would be more of a commitment. After some thought and several conversations with the family, we decided I should to go for it. That was five years ago — and now we are a pretty successful basketball program at a school that is traditionally not a basketball school.
LCN: When did you first decide on being a basketball coach?
McGill: I honestly got into coaching mostly because there was such a need for coaches with basketball knowledge at the younger levels for our kids. Most of the parents who were helping never played and/or didn’t know much about the game. It was actually very fun to teach the game to the young players and see them begin to have success on and off the court. From there it kind of blossomed into more and more of a passion over time.
LCN: How have you enjoyed coaching?
McGill: I have enjoyed coaching, especially the competition and putting together a game plan and strategy to beat the other team. Getting a group of kids and coaches to believe in themselves and see them succeed is just an awesome feeling. I have one of the best and most dedicated coaching staffs in the entire area and we have fun doing it. It really is a brotherhood and we all bring something different to the team that works well together. I can say that I have used the Coach Downey blueprint in my coaching philosophy and it has worked to perfection. Build the program foundation at the junior high and younger levels, invest time with them (we run a Northern basketball camp for grades 2-12 every year with our varsity players as coaches and counselors), get the players to buy in to the culture and set high expectations for them, then help them realize their goals and push them to be great, build hard work and competition into all that we do everyday (we also went into Harrisburg to play summer league against far superior teams to learn how to play at that level), spend time in the gym helping players improve in the off season, learn to win and then build on that success, demand every group that comes through holds themselves to the standards set by the group that came before them. And now at Northern we have built a winning culture similar to what I remember having at Livonia. We have all of the younger kids coming up to our players after games and shaking hands, excited to be part of the program at Northern, fans congratulating us at the grocery store and wishing us good luck while driving around town. The only difference is we are Polar Bears down here instead of Bulldogs.
LCN: Obviously like most former players of Coach Downey, there are a lot of life lessons built in to coming to practice and working hard every day. What are some of the lessons that Coach Downey instilled into your style that you use even today?
McGill: The first thing I realized early on was how important Coach Downey had been in forming my feelings of the importance of being part of a true team. He also helped to instill that drive and competitiveness on the court. He was probably the most competitive man I ever met. He demanded we practice hard and work as a team at all times. Coach Downey was a huge John Wooden disciple and always talked about the pyramid of success and used a ton of John Wooden quotes...
“What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player.”
“Never mistake activity for achievement.”
“It is amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.”
“It’s not so important who starts the game but who finishes it.”
“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”
“The only time success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
LCN: Playing in the Livingston County league, what do you remember about it and the community support Livonia had each and every night?
McGill: Well, I remember growing up watching some classic games as a kid in the gym... Avon vs. Livonia, HF-L vs. Livonia battles. Then we were in 11th/12th grade, I remember we were a very dominant team in the league and everyone came out to see us play. One memorable moment was the home game vs. HF-L my junior year...it had to be postponed until the next night because there was condensation on the floor. The gym was completely full before the JV game and it was so hot in there that they opened the doors to let out some heat. That cold air came in and then the floor became a skating rink. When we made our run to the state tournament my senior year, the fans were out at every game loud and proud. We packed gyms home and away. Tons of fans at the War Memorial for sectionals and then of course we traveled well to Glens Falls. It was an awesome experience and one that you never forget.”
LCN: What do you remember about that state semifinal triple OT win and also the state final game back in 1991?
McGill: That semifinal game was an unbelievable game... we played the top team Highland Falls O’Neal and it was a really hard fought game. It was actually crazy that three teams came into that final four undefeated — which was unbelievable. I’m sure most people remember the three pointer to send it into another overtime, but the biggest play was probably Steve Napier’s free throws to send it to the first OT. Those were pressure free throws for sure. He had to make both which was huge for us.
LCN: And what about your memories of the title game the very next day?
McGill: The championship game still makes me a little frustrated when I think about it. I actually watched it a couple months ago... we found a version of it on YouTube. I think we had one of our worst offensive games of the year and they played a box-and-one on me the whole game. Looking back I think we were probably a better team, but never got it going enough in that game to get that state championship. I also think that semifinal game took a lot out of us — both physically and mentally — which hurt us in the championship game. It was a great experience for us and our fans to get there. Just wish we could have finished the deal.
LCN: What are some of your greatest memories playing for the Bulldogs and some of the coaches/teachers that made an impact on you?
McGill: Obviously, our senior year was a great run to states and was a great lifetime memory for all of us. Donuts on Saturday morning practices after Friday wins (I still carry on that tradition with my team at Northern) was a really fun team building time... singing the fight song on the bus after games with the whole bus going crazy was fun... Coach Downey would stand up and give the cue to the captain and they would begin the sound off lines and we would all repeat back. Coach Downey was a pretty strict and serious coach, but if we were able to work hard enough and execute it paid off with wins... and that winning culture and tradition once started is hard to stop. That’s when the real fun begins. We had a lot of support from our teachers and other coaches...I remember getting crazy detailed scouting reports from Tim Minnehan that were absolutely on the money every time. We knew what the other team was going to do before they did sometimes...Terry Proctor loved talking hoops with our guys and always had great commentary for us before and after games. And of course for me, the guys on the team were what made it fun...we didn’t always get along in practice (we had some very competitive days on the court), but we always had each others backs when we played against the opponent. I also remember the hard fought games in the Rochester Summer League playing against East High, Wilson, McQuaid, Fairport, and wondering why were came up to Rochester to play all of these great teams from little old Livonia. But, each year we got better. We competed harder and learned how to play every possession well enough and smart enough to stay in games with these teams. It really paid off for us as we dominated our league and then in playoffs we felt like any team we played was beatable. We did not fear any opponent after those summer battles. It was one of Coach Downey’s finest strategies and it worked well.
LCN: Talk about coaching basketball for Northern York High School?
McGill: Coaching at Northern York High School has been a good experience. I have used a lot of the strategies and even plays from our high school days under Coach Downey (made a few minor tweaks here and there), but the foundation of our program is built on hard work, team work, and developing great young men along the way. My main goal when I took over the program was to put Northern basketball on the map in the Harrisburg, PA. area. I can honestly say that after five years we have really started to make that happen. Apparently, Northern was always a football, wrestling, and baseball school... but we have introduced the community to winning basketball that is fun to watch. We play up-tempo, pressure defense, and shoot a ton of threes. We have some spectacular plays and win games which keeps the fans coming.
LCN: All three of your kids played hoops, what are they doing now and are they still playing basketball?
McGill: Makenna is a junior at College of William & Mary (does not play basketball at school), Ryan is currently a freshman at Arcadia University and plays on the basketball team and Nate is a junior in HS at Northern and wants to play basketball in college with interest from several schools.