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Mary LaBelle made a basket against Kiki Britzmann as the two friends played one-on-one basketball. LaBelle, who played basketball at St. Joseph’s Academy, will attend Kansas State University in the fall.
Mary LaBelle made a basket against Kiki Britzmann as the two friends played one-on-one basketball. LaBelle, who played basketball at St. Joseph’s Academy, will attend Kansas State University in the fall.

Family ties, sportsmanship rang loud for LaBelle

Point guard at St. Joseph’s Academy showed respect for the game

Mary LaBelle’s embrace of basketball and sportsmanship is a family affair wrapped around St. Joseph’s Academy.

LaBelle’s grandfather, Tom Klees, instilled a love for the game in his children. LaBelle’s mom, Gretchen, and five of her sisters played at St. Joseph’s Academy.

That love of the game was passed on to the next generation. “My mom taught me how to love the game and how to play. She was my first coach at Christ the King in University City,” LaBelle said.

The connection to her grandfather continued for LaBelle at St. Joseph’s Academy. Among the many players Klees coached at Christ the King Parish in CYC ball was St. Joseph’s coach, Julie Matheny, and LaBelle’s aunt was Matheny’s JV coach at the high school. Sarah Dille, LaBelle’s cousin, also played at St. Joseph’s.

For LaBelle, a senior and captain of the team that finished third in the state tournament this past season, sportsmanship means “acknowledging the other team’s success and talent, respecting the referees and the game, and keeping my attitude classy.”

Recently it was announced LaBelle was one of the recipients of the Carl Fricks Sportsmanship Scholarship from the St. Louis Sports Commission Associates. Being recognized was verification that sportsmanship and doing the right thing matters for St. Joseph’s as well as “representing God in all that I do,” LaBelle said.

Her desire to do the right thing came from watching her older siblings play sports and the emphasis on how to present herself on the court. “It’s about how you play and how you’re developing while you play,” she said.

St. Joseph’s was the right fit for more reasons than just family history. “The coaches really do help develop the full person while playing the sport,” LaBelle said. “They represented everything I wanted to be while playing basketball with the class, integrity, respect and compassion for your teammates.”

The athletic program provides the opportunity to achieve at a high level in a quality program, LaBelle said.

She cites other aspects of the school, too. St. Joseph’s, she said, has a balanced approach in developing the students, with a caring and helpful faculty.

LaBelle is headed to Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., chosen in part for its business school where she’ll study accounting and finance. Other factors include the unpretentious people she’s met there and the active Newman Center on campus and its Wednesday evening Masses.

“My faith means sharing God’s love with others and recognizing it in others,” she said. “It’s important to keep Him in mind in your life, He’s the constant who’s always there. When you serve others, you humble yourself. It makes it easier to want to serve more when you are able to see how people in different situations still can share God’s love with you. In college, I want to keep serving others.”

Though she won’t be playing for the university — there’s a family connection, of course, in that two of her mom’s sisters played for K-State — she’ll likely play intramural basketball. “I’m not ready to put the ball down yet,” LaBelle said.

St. Joseph’s head basketball coach Julie Matheny tells of seeing LaBelle after a game at Duchesne High School picking up all the cups from under the bench, putting the chairs back on the rack and making sure the visitors’ area was clean and presentable.

Matheny described LaBelle as competitive, a great teammate, faith-based and a leader who led by example. “She’s loyal in regard to family and her team,” Matheny said. “I know she’s going to be successful wherever her feet land her. She comes from a great family, a big family, a lot of love and people who have trust in God and are conscious that the decisions they make have consequences.”

LaBelle “didn’t have to preach it, she just did it,” Matheny said of her former point guard’s leadership.

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