By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE — When Jim Fenerty was first invited to tour the Fort Washington campus of Germantown Academy, the then head basketball coach at Bishop Egan was a reluctant visitor.
Though not winning much in Bucks County, he was content where he was — often pinching himself that he was a head coach, matching wits against legends, in the storied Philadelphia Catholic League – but still made what he figured was a polite courtesy call to a school whose athletic department had been impressed with his style during a holiday tournament.
But during the visit, something strange happened.
“I felt like I had died and gone to heaven,” said Fenerty, who is going to be inducted into the Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame two nights before Thanksgiving at Westover Country Club (For more information, call 610-279-9220 or e-mail Gordonglantz50@gmail.com or firstname.lastname@example.org).
“There were 10 to 12 in a class. I thought, ‘this would be a great place for my kids to go to school.’”
And in the intervening years – dating from the 1989-90 season to the present, which have netted 13 Inter-Ac League titles in 23 years for a program that was previously often the Washington Generals to the Harlem Globetrotters of the circuit — his initial instinct was correct.
Almost too correct.
In the winter of 2012, Germantown Academy was almost where he died and went to heaven.
And it was his daughter, Erin, who may have saved his life.
Fenerty was teaching his senior-elective class in constitutional law when he went numb on his right side.
“I tried to teach the class,” he said, which is held around a big round table. “We had a big game that day with Malvern Prep. I thought it was just nerves.”
But for those in the class – specifically Erin and fellow history teacher Peter McVeigh, who likes to sit on the discussions for edification purposes – something serious was going on.
“My daughter broke school rules, but if she didn’t, I might not be here,” said Fenerty. “She texted the school nurse, saying ‘something is wrong with my dad.’”
Although some of the feeling had returned enough for Fenerty to finish the class, he found the nurse, Lori Andress, waiting for him at the bottom of a set of stairs.
She took his blood pressure, which was “off the charts.”
Fenerty protested any talk of going to the emergency room, citing the big game with Malvern Prep, but was told the rival school had already been called and agreed to a postponement.
At Abington Hospital, initial suspicions of a stroke were ruled out.
“They said something was wrong with my blood,” recalled Fenerty.
As fate would have it, a specialist Dr. Peter Pickens, was in the building, teaching other doctors about rare blood disorders.
And now they had a live case on their hands.
The diagnosis was Polycythemia Vera (PV).
Fenerty’s blood was tested at 19.8.
“Pickens said that if you get to 20, you’re not going to see the next day,” said Fenerty, who then underwent four hours of treatment and spent four days in the hospital before the wonders of insurance dictated that he then be treated as an outpatient.
At the time, Fenerty’s win total sat at 499.
Obeying doctor’s orders not to coach “under any circumstances,” Fenerty sat behind the bench while loyal assistant, Mike Hannigan, guided the Patriots to a one-point win.
The following day, a Saturday, was Senior Day. Erin, the team’s scorekeeper, was among those to be honored at halftime of a non-league game against the Peddie School.
Fenerty decided to coach.
“The next day, while at church with my family, the same thing happened,” he lamented. “My wife, Mary, and kids knew, right away, what was happening.
“This time, I was in Abington for a week.”
And when he exited the hospital, he agreed to take a coaching hiatus.
“My part of the deal was that I couldn’t coach the rest of that year,” said Fenerty, who has his doctor’s blessing to keep on coaching, as long as he follows the protocol of having his blood checked every week during the season and every two weeks the rest of the year.
He is back in the saddle, back in heaven.
“(God) wasn’t ready to take me,” he said. “I feel very fortunate.”