In his first 51 years as an event volunteer – yes, more than five decades – Frank Crivello delivered countless invitations to teams selected to play in the Padre Serra basketball tournament.

“It’s like the NCAA,” said Crivello. “Everyone’s goal is to make ‘The Padre.’ Once you extend an invitation to these kids, they just go crazy.”

When Crivello went to Holy Family gym in Whitefish Bay to inform the Cyclones’ boys squad that it would play in this year’s event, even he was thrilled. For the first time, a member of Crivello’s family would be on a Padre roster.
Patrick Sherlock, a 5-foot-9 power forward for the Cyclones, is Crivello’s grandson.

“It’s a dream-come-true for me,” said Crivello, his voice cracking with emotion. “It got him, too. They weren’t expecting it, because they kind of struggled in their seventh-grade year.”

Forty boys’ teams and 24 girls’ squads from throughout the archdiocese will descend upon Mount Mary College’s Bloechi Recreation Center for the 55th Annual Padre Serra Invitational Tournament. Games will be played March 7-10, 14-17 and 21-24.

Tournament officials decide annually how many schools will be invited based on the overall quality they see. Scouting begins at the seventh-grade level.

“Ideally, we’d like to have 32 boys teams and 32 girls teams, but because of Select and AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) teams, there aren’t the good girls’ (school) teams available,” according to Greg Sarandos of Wind Lake, who has scouted the talent for the past 12 years.

Who was Padre Serra?

Blessed Padre Junipero Serra (1713-1794) served in Franciscan missions in Mexico. He established the first nine missions in California and was president of 17 others founded by the Jesuits. His beatification ceremony was in 1988.

What is the Serra Club?

Serra International’s mission is to foster and affirm vocations to the priesthood and vowed religious life. Clubs in the U.S. began in 1935 (Milwaukee’s was chartered in 1939) and now total 290.

There are just 10 boys in the eighth grade at Holy Family Parish School, and eight of them are on the basketball team. They had an 8-3 record in the North Shore Catholic League. The Cyclones also placed second in the Holy Family tournament and captured consolation bracket championships in two other tourneys.

“My grandpa has always said the Padre consists of the best teams,” said Sherlock, the son of Lisa and Mike Sherlock of Whitefish Bay.

The tournament began in 1959 and has had several different names and home courts.

Crivello got involved in 1962 when he was a sophomore at Messmer High School. He went on to jobs at Schlitz Brewing and M&I Bank, and spent 40 years coaching at SS. Peter and Paul School, Milwaukee.

Crivello and his wife Nancy raised two daughters, Lori Ann and Lisa, on Milwaukee’s east side and in Shorewood. The Crivellos are members of Old St. Mary’s and St. Robert parishes.

Both Crivello girls played sports, but neither was on a team that was invited to the Padre or the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton archdiocesan volleyball tournament.

“We spent a lot of time in the gyms wherever the Padre was being held,” said Lisa Sherlock. “It was great. It was how my love of basketball grew, and I learned a lot from my dad.”

The day Frank presented the invitation to the Cyclones, Lisa knew about it in advance but didn’t tell her son or his coach, Mark Jelacic. The fact that Frank was at the game wasn’t in itself a hint of what was to come, since he attends lots of games. Jelacic calls him “the godfather of Catholic grade school basketball.”

While Crivello is co-director of the tournament, he gets lots of help. The Serra Club of Milwaukee took over operation of the event in 1983, providing many of the approximately 50 volunteers who work at the tourney.
Serra Club member Tony Gahn of Mequon, a member of Lumen Christi Parish, serves as the other co-director.

“It’s fun for 11 months of the year. March is always a challenge,” he quipped.

Gahn has been involved for about 10 years. Sarandos, meanwhile, has been on the selection and seeding committee for 12 years, but has known Crivello for 38 years.

“It’s a cliché, but he’s one of the nicest guys to work with,” Sarandos said. “He’s so dedicated, and that probably is the main reason the tournament has kept going as long as it has.”

Tom Collopy, a member of the archdiocesan athletic advisory board, is a fan of both the tournament and Crivello.

“I graduated from St. Robert School in 1962, and the concept of the Padre basketball tournament was as important then as it is today,” he said. “I have run the Notre Dame Don Bosco Basketball League for the last 23 years, and when I think of dropping out, I think of ‘Father Frank.’”

When Crivello marked his 50th year of service with the tournament, the boys’ championship trophy was named in his honor.

“I was shocked,” said Crivello. “Nobody’s been around as long as I have. I’ve gone through a whole cycle of guys.”

Thanks to financial assistance from businesses and individuals, the tournament nets $45,000 to $50,000 to support vocations at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary and Sacred Heart School of Theology.

Fr. Luke Strand, director of vocations for the archdiocese, will give brief remarks and lead the opening prayer at the tournament.

“We are all called to promote vocations,” Fr. Strand said in an email to your Catholic Herald. “The Serra Club and those involved with the Padre Serra Tournament take this call very seriously.”

Padre organizers say their tournament may be unique in its longevity, size and the impact it has on participants.

“If there are others, we’re not aware of them, anywhere in the country,” said Sarandos.