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Just call her Mary ‘Final’ Forr

Niece of Judge Tom Burke walked on to Notre Dame hoops team

Mary Forr boxes out during a Notre Dame basketball game earlier this season. Forr is the daughter of West Pittston native Patty Burke Forr, and the niece of Luzerne County Judge Tom Burke.

Photo courtesy of Matt Cashore

Underdog non-scholarship player walks on to the Notre Dame team and makes the starting line up on Senior Day.

“Rudy”?

No, Mary Forr.

Forr is the niece of Luzerne County Judge Tom Burke, who played basketball and football at West Pittston high school in the 1960s. Forr is the daughter of the Judge’s sister, Patty Burke Forr, a 1965 graduate of West Pittston high school where in the days before PIAA female sports she was a majorette.

After three seasons of trying Forr made the Notre Dame women’s basketball team this year, just in time to make it to the National Championship game, where Notre Dame lost to Texas A&M.

Forr, 5-11, got in 20 games this season, starting one. She averaged five minutes a game and scored 20 points on 14-30 shooting.

Forr grew up in Altoona where she averaged 17.0 points and 6.0 rebounds a game in leading Bishop Guilfoyle to a Class A Pennsylvania state title in 2007.

In a story about her in the South Bend Tribune in March she said, “I had a picture of the 2001 national championship team, autographed, hanging in my room since the sixth grade, and it hangs in my dorm room, now. It’s always been the dream to get here. I wrote a speech in the eighth grade about how I wanted to play for Notre Dame. It’s been a fairy tale for me. It’s been great.”

Last week at the team’s banquet, Forr received the team Spirit Award. She was introduced by Coach McGraw as “a girl who can’t stop smiling even when she’s on the court.”

In her acceptance speech, Forr paid tribute to her family, especially her sister Marita, a Special Olympian whom Mary described as the family’s real champion. She also has a brother Tommy, a 2007 Notre Dame graduate. Her father is R. Thomas Forr, Jr.

In a recent interview, Forr told the Dispatch about her basketball experiences.

What was it like growing up in Altoona?

A lot of fun. I lived in a neighborhood with tons of kids. So, everyday we played kickball, kick the can, flashlight tag, basketball, wiffleball, or football. When I got to high school I went to such a small school that everyone knew each other. The community at Bishop Guilfoyle was awesome. The teachers really cared about the students.

What’s your best memory of winning the state championship in high school?

In the locker-room after the game everyone was crying because that was the last game we would ever play together and because we had accomplished a goal that we had worked hard for since 5th grade. I had played with most of the girls on my team since at least 5th grade. It was so neat to accomplish a goal like that with some of my closest friends.

What were your options out of high school and how did you decide on ND?

I wasn’t really recruited for basketball out of high school. A few schools showed some interest, but I always knew I wanted to go to Notre Dame. I was actually wait-listed here though. I had accepted at Villanova, but I kept working to get off the wait-list. Countless people sent letters, teachers helped me with new projects, everyone prayed, and on May 14 I was taken off the wait-list.

Before making the team this season, did you ever feel like giving up?

I thought of giving up a number of times. It was tough to make the team. It was tough to practice every day and feel like it wasn’t getting me anywhere. My family was always supportive though. They always told me if I wanted to still play they were cheering for me, and if I wanted to be finished with basketball that was ok too.

My friends here at Notre Dame always helped me to stay positive. Guys that I played pick-up with wrote letters to the coaches asking if I could have a try-out. The walk-on football players union, WOPU nation, was incredible through my entire journey. I became close friends with most of the walk-on football players, and they would share their experiences of walking on. That always gave me hope. Lastly, I had one friend here at Notre Dame who would absolutely not accept me giving up. I think I needed someone to push me like that. It helped me to believe in myself.

What was your reaction when you made the team this season?

When I made the team I was so overwhelmed. I called my mom and my sister, then my dad, then my brother. I cried during each phone call.

How do you describe your role on the team?

My role on the team was mostly in practice and on the scout team. I would pretend to be one of the players on the opposing team and try to prepare our team for the game. I would play as hard as I could on every possession to try to make our girls better and to make sure they were prepared for the game. It was also my role to make sure everyone stayed positive. I tried to be encouraging all the time.

What was it like getting in a game the first time and being announced as a starter?

Well the first game was on my birthday. Coach called my name and I ran to the scorer’s table. While at the scorer’s table I started crying. When I stepped on the court I got the chills. I thought, “This is it! This is what I worked for.” Then, the game took over and any nervousness went completely away. It was awesome to play.

When I first heard I was starting, I once again cried. Then coach said that she didn’t know which one of the starters I would be going in for. As soon as she said that every one of the starters volunteered to let me take their spot. I was so grateful that they were so selfless. It was an incredible feeling.

What’s your relationship with your coach like?

I have a lot of respect for Coach McGraw. She really does her best to try to keep the game in perspective. All she asks for is all the effort you can give. I’m also very grateful to her for letting me on the team this year.

Talk about the tournament and Final Four experience.

Going to the tournament and especially the Final Four was really like a dream. The whole time I was there I felt like I was going to wake up and be somewhere else. Before we first stepped out onto the court, Becca, our captain, reminded us that we belonged there. As I stepped out onto the court for the first time in front of thousands of fans it was difficult to remember that. I was constantly in awe. Before our game we practiced at Butler where Hoosiers was filmed. Once again I was in awe. I grew up watching Hoosiers, and now I felt like I was part of the movie.

The actual national championship game was incredible. There were so many ups and downs. Throughout the game the other walk-on kept reminding me, “This is the national championship!” I don’t think the feeling has really sunk in yet, but it was awesome.

Does your Mom or Uncle Tom ever talk about growing up in West Pittston?

Yes, my mom always says it was a wonderful community to grow up in. It was a wonderful school district. She talks about her high school class, 1965, and how much fun it was. She and my Uncle Tom always talk about the closeness of the community, about the enthusiasm for life and the joy that surrounds the community. My mom always talks about what great athletes her brothers were.

Have you ever visited up here and what’s your impression of the area?

I’ve visited every year. It seems like such a nice town to grow up in. People really seem to know each other, care about each other and help one another.

My favorite memories of the area are those that surround visiting my Grandmother, Marita Burke, and the rest of my mom’s family. One thing that sticks out, besides all the family fun, is that when we would go to mass with my Grandmother, everyone would stop and ask her how she was doing. She would hug each person or kiss them on the cheek, and tell them she was wonderful and had been praying for them. You could tell everyone really cared about each other’s well being and really loved one another.

What’s next for you?

I’ll graduate in May with a degree in Political Science and Philosophy.

Next year I will be teaching high school in Atlanta, Georgia. I will also be coaching basketball and tennis.

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