The St. John Vianney of Holmdel girls’ basketball team does more than just win games. It also knows how to honor someone’s memory while simultaneously helping those in need. 

The Lancers tied it all together in their Jan. 31 home game with Colts Neck. On that evening, the Lady Lancers paid tribute to their late assistant coach, Frank Mohler, while raising money for Breast Intentions of Middletown – a crisis intervention charity providing financial and emotional help to Monmouth County breast cancer patients and their families.  

Mohler passed away at age 55 last fall due to multiple medical issues, and it was a big loss for the SJV family. He had been Karpell’s assistant for 12 seasons before giving it up two years ago for health reasons. When he died, this year’s seniors wanted to do something in his honor, since they were freshmen the last season Frank coached. 

“It just ties into our values of Christian service and being Cathletes and all the stuff they try to do,” Karpell said. “When they’re student athletes, it’s hard to find situations for kids to go out and be impactful, especially with the way COVID’s held us back. So, this worked out well.”

Seniors Megan Cahalan, Ashley O’Connor, Madison St. Rose and Paige Knutsen spearheaded the tribute. Each season, the Lancers stage a “Pink Night” to fight breast cancer. Since Mohler’s mom died of the disease, they felt it would be perfect to link this year’s Pink Night with a celebration of Mohler’s life. They chose the Colts Neck game since Mohler hailed from that town. 

“He always took pride in us doing our Pink Night game,” Karpell said. “He was a big advocate of putting it together for the girls each year, making sure we had uniforms and t-shirts. We started working 12 years ago with Breast Intentions. It was founded by students; now the moms and aunts kind of run it because their kids went to college, and they do a great job.”

On Pink Night, the team sold pink t-shirts that said “Always a Lady Lancer, Coach Frank” with a huge V in the middle. A 50-50 raffle was held, and several fans simply wrote donation checks. With the help of former player and current assistant Zoe Pero, the alumni got involved, and the team was able to raise $1,600 for Breast Intentions.

“The seniors did most of it, and a couple of the moms helped with the t-shirts,” Karpell said. “The seniors took hold of it; Zoey Pero was the liaison with the alumni group. She connected with a lot of them as well. … a lot of the alumni bought t-shirts and shared their Frank stories.”  

The stories flowed as the memories of the man who lived for Lady Lancers basketball still burn in the minds of former players. He became famous for calling timeouts to officials with a loud, bellowing voice, making some people think he might be the head coach. 

“He was a gentle giant kind of guy, he wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Karpell said. “But he had that voice.” 

Mohler came to SJV after years of serving as a youth travel coach. During his time with the Lancers, he was the indispensable man. 

“He was a varsity assistant, JV, freshman – wherever I needed him to be, he was that guy for us,” Karpell said. “He was the videographer, he handled stats, and was truly helpful in helping me and my coaches to get the program to run. He was that guy.

“He wasn’t married, and being part of our program, being around the girls each year was really an important part of his life,” Karpell continued. “It really was a big deal for him. The girls all had relationships with him. He always had nicknames for the kids. Some of them would roll their eyes because they didn’t really like them, but they stuck.”

And Mohler kept in touch with the players once they moved on. 

“Some of the stories being told seemed to connect with them when they went to college,” Karpell reflected. “Usually on Facebook, he’d send a happy birthday to a kid. He was that guy that made them feel special. He was there, just that support person.”

The players not only got to feel good about the tribute they paid to their late friend; they were also able to realize just how the money they raised was used to aid four breast cancer patients, as Breast Intentions sent them a letter laying it all out. The letter preceded every explanation with the bold typeface words “Because of you”: 

  • –A single mom with one son will likely never work again due to the severity of her condition; and some of the funds went to pay her cable bill for a month.
  • –A 32-year-old single mother of two who is also unable to work and needs money to support her children, received food cards and had her utilities paid for the month. 
  • –A 70-year-old woman in the process of getting a divorce now lives with her daughter and grandchild, and was given food cards to help contribute to her family. 
  • –A widow and mother of five – three of whom still live at home – was behind on her utilities payments since the summer; funds from SJV’s donation went to make her current with those payments. 

“The kids were super excited when I read the letter to them,” Karpell said. “They lit up, knowing what they did. Kids are … so busy, they don’t always think like that. But in that moment, they kind of had a little realization of how they’re able to help.”

And although Mohler is not with the team physically, Karpell knows his spirit is still there and he is watching and enjoying the fact the Lancers are 29-1 and playing for a state championship March 13; and that they did a good deed in his memory.

“He would love it,” Karpell said. “We acknowledged that he’s super excited to be looking down on what we’re accomplishing and doing. He would love to have a front row seat for this.”