University City

Countryside Montessori retires basketball jerseys for the first time

When Mary Jo Rigney accepted an invitation to attend the Countryside Montessori School annual athletics banquet May 15, she thought athletic director Nick Nichols was simply inviting her back to visit the school where she starred in sports until her graduation in 2011.

Rigney mingled with the rest of the nearly 300 people in attendance during the two-hour ceremony as 99 Countryside athletes – from fifth-graders to seniors – were recognized for their achievements this year.

She started to cry when senior Nick McCahan was called forward to have his Mustangs basketball jersey retired. Rigney didn’t know she was minutes away from being honored in the same fashion.

Rigney and McCahan both finished their basketball careers at Countryside as their team’s all-time leading scorer. For their efforts, they also became the school’s first athletes to have their jerseys retired.

Coincidentally, they both wore No. 2.

“Retiring someone’s jersey is a milestone in a coach’s career,” said Nichols, who is also the boys’ and girls’ varsity coach. “It sets the standard for your program as well as raises the bar for yourself as a coach. It also humbles me to recognize and realize that I am a part of someone’s life with the ultimate work ethic, dedication and passion to be all they can be.”

Rigney was a member of the first varsity sports teams at Countryside and a member of the school’s first graduating class. She excelled in basketball and volleyball.

By sinking a free throw in a home game against Comenius School on Feb. 25, 2011, Rigney, a point guard, became the first player in school history to score 1,000 points. She graduated with 1,026 points, 523 assists, 383 rebounds, and 404 steals.

“I started at Countryside Montessori with preschool,” said Rigney, who just finished her junior year at Wingate University. “I went all the way through graduation and athletics was a big part of that for me.

“One of my greatest memories was scoring that 1,000th point and the feeling I got when everyone was there cheering for me. It was a personal experience because everyone at Countryside knows each other.”

Before presenting Rigney with her framed Mustangs jersey, Nichols discussed McCahan’s accomplishments. Nichols took a couple of jabs at the spirit and feistiness that served McCahan well as an effective two-way guard.

“The pads on the walls (under the baskets) are because of Nick McCahan,” said Nichols. “He is the only one to foul out of a (youth) in-house basketball game.”

McCahan scored his 1,000th point as a junior and finished with 1,318 for his career. He also recorded 294 career assists, 388 steals, and 448 rebounds. McCahan helped the boys’ team to its first conference championship this season.

Alexis McCahan, Nick’s sister, was also a 1,000 point scorer at Countryside, graduating in 2012. Alexis is a student at Penn State and Nick will attend Penn State-Altoona, a branch campus, where he hopes to try out for its basketball team.

“My family has always been high on athletics,” said Nick McCahan. “I played a sport every season, as well as my sister. … Coach Nick helped me and my sister through many things. My sister has a fantastic shot. It came to her a little more naturally. It’s an honor for both of us to score 1,000 points.”

Mustang Athletic Booster Club president Jim Broome, who is also a Countryside middle school basketball coach, presented the club’s first college scholarships (both for $1,000) this year: one to an athlete and one to a non-athlete.

Jelani Carter, a member of the boys’ basketball team, was one of the recipients. He was also the senior class president and will attend UNC Greensboro. Karli Baumann, who is known for her extra-curricular activities and willingness to pitch in with any project, was the other recipient. She will attend Coastal Carolina.

“It’s extremely important to me,” said Carter. “I was surprised to hear about it. It’s meaningful to me because I’m glad they recognized some of the opportunities they’ve given me at this school. It’s an honor to be recognized for something in sports and academics.”