Two and a half miles separates Roman Catholic in North Philly from Neumann-Goretti in South Philly, but those miles cannot separate the hate between the two, especially when it comes to Philadelphia Catholic League boy’s basketball.
Just ask Tony Chennault, a 2010 Neumann grad who went on to play for the Villanova Wildcats.
“This is a deep-rooted rivalry. It’s the equivalent to a UNC — Duke rivalry,” Chennault said. “I had good friends at Roman, but when we were on the court, I wanted to kill them. I wanted to do whatever it takes for Neumann to win.”
This rivalry is arguably the biggest and baddest in the city. In 2006, a riot broke out after Neumann beat Roman in the championship game thanks to a buzzer beater three from D.J. Rivera.
“They started throwing things at us. My dad was arrested that night. It was just a crazy night,” Scoop Jardine remembers, a 2007 Neumann grad who went on to play for Syracuse and is currently playing in the Canadian league.
That night made headlines across the country including USA Today, who wrote about the 6 people arrested, and one officer injured after the brawl between the Catholics. The following year, fans were not allowed to attend the Neumann-Roman regular season games.
Courtney Stanley, a 2008 Roman grad remembers that season well, especially since it was his first season playing for the Cahillites.
“It definitely wasn’t the same,” Stanley said. “It was new for me. It was new for everybody, but the competition was still there for sure.”
Neumann’s Jardine thought it was weird to have no family or friends at the two games during the season, but when they met back up for the PCL Championship, the fans were allowed in. Chennault was a freshman during that quiet season between the rivals, and although the games were silent, they were still intense.
Chennault, like the rest of the Saints, hated the Roman boys.
“The uniforms, number one, there was a certain arrogance they played with that I disliked about them,” Chennault said. “These guys were the enemies, these guys would get in our way when it’s time to win the PCL Championship.”
One of the boys in those uniforms was Stanley, who hated the fact that the Neumann boys could wear whatever they wanted to the games.
“We’re an all-boys school too and they have girls,” Stanley said. “So I think that played a part as well. They had girls and cheerleaders.”
Jardine, on the other hand, was so proud to be a Neumann baller.
“Roman is a school where they call themselves the Broad Street Bullies,” Jardine said. “Growing up in South Philly putting Neumann on my back, it was very personal for me.”
Neumann-Roman games are usually packed to capacity. The PCL semi-final between the two last week left no seat empty in the Palestra.
“Ever since the fight went down in 2006, it was like a war between us two,” Stanley said. “People look at Neumann as the South Philly team and Roman as the North Philly team, so the games were always packed with standing room only.”
If you think the hate is only shared between the athletes, think again. Justin Backover, a 2014 Roman grad didn’t play sports in high school, but the rivalry is more than just sports.
“I can’t explain why I don’t like Neumann, it’s just in my blood,” Backover said. “It’s not taught, it just is what it is.”
South Philly kids went to Roman and North Philly kids went to Neumann, so the students usually crossed paths in the subway. Chennault remembers being in the same subway cars as the Roman boys, including Stanley.
“We wanted to speak to each other but we don’t,” Chennault said.
The passion and excitement when talking about their high school rivalry games is obvious when Chennault, Stanley, and Jardine speak. Stanley’s most memorable game was the 2007 PCL championship when Roman was down 10 points with about four minutes left in the game. The Cahillites refused to back down and fought to come back and claim the title.
Unfortunately for Chennault, that game was not a happy memory.
“I remember everyone in the locker room was just crying because you wanted to win so bad for the seniors,” Chennault said.
Chennault promised himself that that loss would never happen again. He remembered thinking, “I’m gonna make sure those Roman players felt this pain.”
And they did, two years later. Neumann crushed Roman by 30 points. That night was Chennault’s most memorable game, which was inspired by the loss to Stanley’s most memorable game two years earlier.
Since 2005, Neumann has won 12 games against Roman while Roman has won 11 games against Neumann, according to Max Preps. Chennault, Jardine, and Stanley were a part of those numbers and the team’s legacies at their respective schools. They may have shed some tears but they will never forget those memories, and this rivalry between them continues to this day.
If you’re a friend of Jardine and a Roman grad, expect a text when Neumann beats Roman. “When Roman beats us,” Jardine said, “I don’t hear the end of it.”
It’s a battle of North Philly versus South Philly. A rivalry that will never die.