Jerardi: Late SJU coach Boyle's ring comes full circle

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Former Saint Joseph's coach Jim Boyle in an undated photo.

HER MEMORY is that it was just lying there on Church Lane in Yeadon.

"I was going to get some lunchmeat and I saw this big ring," said Leverne Randolph Besnick.

She showed it to her husband, placed it in her jewelry box and forgot about it.

"I'm a hoarder," she said. "I keep everything."

Last October, Saint Joseph's basketball coach Phil Martelli listened to a voice mail when he came off the court.

"The voice was very dignified, thought it was a professor," Martelli said. "I kept waiting for them to say something about the player. She was asking about St. Joe's and a championship from the 1980s."

The voice was that of Evonne Wylie, a retired certified special education teacher for the School District of Philadelphia from Oct. 8, 1987, to June 30, 2015. She taught at Stetson Middle School (1987-2010) and Grover Washington Jr. Middle School (2010-15).

Evonne, Leverne's sister, had heard the ring story for years. According to Evonne, Leverne and her husband Gene, who died in 2006, "argued about that ring so much. They argued about where they found it."

Gene's story was he found it near a diner at the corner of Baltimore Pike and Lansdowne Avenue.

Leverne is not only sure where she found it, she is pretty convincing about when she found it. It was 25 years ago, she said. Her youngest was 5 then and in kindergarten. He is now 30.

So, in 2010, Evonne asked her sister: "Where's that ring you and Gene were always arguing about?"

Turned out it was still in that jewelry box.

"Maybe I'll take it and track down who this ring belongs to," Evonne remembered saying.

She brought the ring to the home in Burlington, N.J., she shares with her husband, William, a retired property manager.

"I put the ring in this little black box in my cedar chest," Evonne said.

And forgot about it.

"I put it in with my sorority jewelry and stuff like that," Evonne said. "Just so happened the last couple months, I said, 'Let me go through this jewelry, see what I have, put things in perspective.' I came across that ring and said, 'This ring has to go back.' "

She was determined.

"I just said to my husband, 'Look this up,' " Evonne remembered. "We need to get this back. Out of sight, out of mind. If I don't do it now, I'm going to forget about it. It's a beautiful ring."

When Martelli called her back, Evonne told him, "The ring talked to me: 'Find my owner.' "

The ring has several inscriptions: "St. Joseph's Basketball 85-86, NCAA, Big 5, Far West Classic, Hawks 26-6, HC Boyle."

The sisters could not figure out what HC Boyle meant until William Wylie got on a computer, saw that the 1985-86 St. Joe's Hawks were the Atlantic 10 champions coached by Jim Boyle.

Boyle, the very epitome of what it means to be a Hawk, played for St. Joe's legend Jack Ramsay before becoming the head coach. He died on Dec. 23, 2005, from lung cancer. He was 63.

When they talked, Martelli remembered Evonne saying, "We would like to return this to his family."

"I was in shock," Martelli said.

He immediately called Boyle's wife, Tess, and his two daughters, Kelly and Tracie.

"It was the strangest phone call ever," Tracie Daly said.

She got her mother on a three-way call with Martelli.

"I pulled up in front of Tracie's house and he starts telling me the story and I'm losing my mind," Tess said. "I'm like, 'What are you talking about? I don't get it.' You know how Phil is, he starts telling the story; he's all psyched up. By the time, he finishes the story, I'm crying. He's crying. The story is unbelievable.

"I'd just been diagnosed with a recurrence of breast cancer. I didn't even know Bo didn't have that ring. I thought he'd given the ring to the two oldest grandsons."

Martelli suggested to Evonne that she mail the ring. She said she was taking someone to Lankenau Medical Center and would drop it off at St. Joe's.

"I said, 'This is too unbelievable,' " Martelli said. "This woman walks in. I am thinking this lady is like an angel."

Tess was undergoing chemotherapy to reduce the tumor in advance of surgery that was performed Jan. 20 at Pennsylvania Hospital.

"My mom had just been diagnosed," Tracie said. "She was so emotional, said, 'I can't go.' "'

So it was Martelli, Thomas Boyle, one of Jim and Tess' grandchildren (and a member of the St. Joe's basketball staff), Tracie, the Wylies and the ring.

"We met the woman, I couldn't even talk," Tracie said. "She walked in and I just burst out crying. She had it gift-wrapped. It was surreal. It was like something you read about or see on Good Morning America. We were sitting there. Phil opened it. Then, I put it on. It was humongous."

Evonne has committed the scene to memory.

"It was beautiful," she said. "We just hugged and cried. She kissed the ring. It was wonderful."

All the grandsons - including Tracie's two sons with former St. Joe's player Brian Daly, Ryan (rookie of the year in the CAA at Delaware and a player very much in Bo's image) and Colin, a senior player at Archbishop Carroll - are "fighting over it," Tracie said.

"I said, 'Just leave it alone for a little while,' " Tracie said.

The ring now resides in the Daly household in Delaware County, not all that far from where it was found.

"He gave all his rings and his watches to my brothers and to the grandkids," Tracie said. "He never kept any of that stuff. He always gave it to somebody."

Neither Tess nor Tracie nor anybody else in the family knew the ring had been lost. "He never wore it," Tess said.

"My mom definitely took the ring as a sign because it was right after she was diagnosed," Tracie said. "She said there was no way that was a coincidence."

The day before her surgery, Tess explained: "I am a huge believer in signs, butterflies. I find a coin. My mom always told us to say - and I told my grandkids - when you find something, 'Pennies from heaven, bring me luck, because I'm the one that picked you up' kind of thing. It's just crazy. I couldn't get my head around it. The woman has sent me gifts. She sent me Mass cards. She sent me notes."

Evonne told Tess she had twice recovered from cancer - bone cancer in 1983, stomach cancer in 2005 - and said, "You're going to get through this."

Tess believes.

"I'm hoping it was a sign from Bo that I'm going to be fine," Tess said. "That's the only thing I can go with."

It just so happened that 1985-86 was Martelli's first season on the St. Joe's staff. He was hired as head coach 10 seasons after that A-10 championship, St. Joe's first. Last March, 30 years after that title, St. Joe's won its fourth. Jim Boyle's ring would arrive on campus seven months later.

"One of Bo's favorite sayings was: 'You can't make this (stuff) up,' " Tess said.

Tess has been the director of concierge services at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for 39 years.

"I'm just as happy today as the day I started there," she said. "I can't imagine working anyplace else, seeing the miracles that happen and the people that I share the hallways with. I'm there to help the families. It's great. It's perfect. I love it."

Tess has not met Evonne Wylie, but they have talked several times.

"She went to a lot of trouble," Tess said. "She followed through. She's been so kind and thoughtful. If you needed to believe there are good people out there, that would have been it."

Tess sent Evonne a gift card that she was going to give back. Tracie, Tess said, "had to force her to keep it."

Turned out Evonne gave that gift card to her sister Leverne, who has been disabled with a heart problem since 2002.

"I was so glad they got the ring back," Leverne said.

How it got to Yeadon (or Lansdowne) or whether Jim Boyle ever knew he lost it will remain a mystery. All those years later, that championship ring is now safely back with the Boyle family, where it will remain as a memory that will never be lost.

jerardd@phillynews.com

@DickJerardi

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