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Licatas have a family reunion as Gil, Grace and Joe match wits against each other on the basketball court

PENDLETON – Paula Licata had a tiny dilemma that she handled flawlessly Friday night. She had to split her family loyalties during Friday’s boys basketball games at Starpoint High School.

The mother of four and grandmother to 9-month-old Vinny handled the situation flawlessly.

While cheering for the Bishop Timon-St. Jude junior varsity team coached by her son Joe, she showed her Pride in the Tigers’ Paw by wearing a Timon T-shirt. Once it was time for the varsity kids to take centerstage, Paula calmly took off the T-shirt, neatly putting it away, and sported a maroon-color sweater as a sign of support for the Starpoint Spartans, who are coached by her husband of 33 years Gil and youngest daughter Grace.

Even though each team she rooted for lost, it was still a win-win situation for the Licata family. Everyone got to see each other. Everyone got to see cute-as-a-button Vinny. Basketball on a Friday night – some traditions never go out of style.

“I’m thankful it happened,” Paula said afterward. “It’s very nostalgic. When our kids were born, they came right to a gym to see him coach 20 years ago, 25 years ago. Now they’re all that much older, they’ve all played basketball and they’re coaching.”

“It was a special night for all of us,” added Gil Licata, who returned to coaching this year after a 26-year hiatus so that he could watch his own children play sports. “It’s great to have your kids around you anytime. Being on the basketball court, it’s even more special (Friday).”

Twenty family members gathered in one spot before the Christmas holiday to watch the games, including Vinny, who wore a white shirt featuring a split logo. One half of the crest had a Spartan and the other a Tiger paw.

They came to see three Licatas – Gil, Grace and Joe – spanning two generations match wits and do their best to guide their respective teams to victory shortly after Joe’s alma mater, the University at Buffalo Bulls, defeated Charlotte to win the Bahamas Bowl.

Timon of the rugged Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association had a few more thoroughbreds in its stable than the rebuilding Spartans, rolling to a 74-50 nonleague victory in the varsity game. Starpoint won a hotly contested JV game in overtime, 45-40.

Joe Licata is Timon’s athletic director and an assistant coach on the varsity team coached by Jason Rowe. Gil, in addition to being father of Joe, Grace, Rachel and Claire and husband to Paula, is the longtime principal at Starpoint, who opted to add basketball to his duties once the job came open last spring. Grace is a substitute teacher in the Starpoint district who recently completed her playing career at Buffalo State and joined her father.

When Gil got hired to coach last summer – this was the one matchup folks anticipated being added to the schedule. Luckily, he had an “in” at Timon when it came to giving people what they wanted. The Licatas’ reward: more memories for the family’s scrapbook.

“This was definitely special,” Grace said.

“I think Joey would like to have bragging rights,” Paula said before the varsity tilt.

Of course, he does, but that’s the competitor in him.

Still …

“Once that clock ends, we’re all on the same team,” Joe said. “It was fun seeing my dad and sister over there. It was a great experience.”

On Friday night in the varsity game, Timon (5-3) bolted to an early 15-2 lead and anytime the Spartans (2-6) attempted to make a comeback, it hit a big 3-pointer or found another way to score to blunt their momentum. Kevin Thompson and Jamyier Patton each scored 21 points to lead the Tigers.

While Starpoint is off to a slow start, the experience of working together has been a blast for Gil and Grace Licata.

“Gracie has a doctorate in basketball,” Gil said. “She can see things on the court. … She sees things from a player’s standpoint and relates very well. These kids respect her. They know she’s knowledgeable.”

The opportunity to coach has given Grace a second life in the sport she loves, as she graduated from Buffalo State last spring.

“I didn’t know what to do with myself without basketball,” she said. “When my dad got the opportunity to become the varsity head coach at Starpoint, he kind of asked me to tag along with him.

“It’s been awesome. My dad and I have a great relationship. Getting the opportunity to work with him is just so special. Getting to pick his brain basketball wise has been great. Our brains have been working well together. … I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.”

Much like Joe couldn’t turn down an opportunity to have Timon and Starpoint cross paths on the basketball court.

The teams plan to meet again next year, with the Spartans making the trek to South Buffalo to play in one of Western New York’s historic basketball gyms with the Catholic school’s signature stage serving as the backdrop for the drama unfolding on the court.

That will give folks a chance to see the strides the Spartans have made under Gil, who guided the defunct Turner-Carroll to two Manhattan Cups and a state title during the late 1980s, and his coaching staff, which includes former UB point guard Tony Watson as his junior varsity coach. Former Starpoint AD Tom Sarkovics and ex-North Tonawanda coach Luke Vogel join Grace as assistants on varsity.

“It’s a pretty cool thing,” Joe said. “I’ve been coming to this school for the last 20-plus years, while my dad has been here. I’ve played here (for Williamsville South). We’ve always played against Starpoint, but my dad was on the scorer’s table. Now seeing him on the bench, back doing what he loves to do is a really awesome feeling and to be able to be on the opposite bench is a blessing.”

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