Head Coach Beulah Oseuke of West Catholic High School’s girls basketball team made history last week when she led the Lady Burrs to the Philadelphia Catholic League title, making her the first Black coach, male or female, to take home the top prize.
The championship win was also the school’s first in 22 years.
“I think that it’s just a message to other young coaches, Black coaches that might feel discouraged or feel like they don’t have it within themselves to go chase after their dreams — that they do,” Oseuke said. “I started off in my early 20s and I didn’t know anybody. We didn’t win, now we’re champions. I want to send that message out to other Black coaches, especially to Black women that it is possible.”
Oseuke has coached the Lady Burrs for seven years and remembers literally starting from next to nothing. She said they had a team of girls who wanted to play but didn’t have the best skills. Her early seasons saw more losses than wins. In her first season, 2013-2014, West Catholic finished 0-18.
They also overcame the death West Catholic grad Akyra Murray in 2016, who died in the Orlando Pulse nightclub mass shooting. Oseuke said the tragedy “was a significant loss for our school community and team and sparked a fire in our program to be our best.”
Now, the Lady Burrs hold the Catholic League title, the PIAA City Championship title and are competing for a state championship.
“My first couple of years at West Catholic we were getting blown out by 60 points, 50 points, and 40 points. We had to put our head down and continue working,” Oseuke said. “In order to get the players I wanted, it took a lot of networking and re-building but I worked with people that saw the promise in me and saw promise in the vision I was striving for. With their trust, I was able to build a championship caliber team.”
West Catholic’s two team captains, both of whom have been coached by Oseuke their entire high school basketball career, described their road to the Catholic League championship as an up and down journey that has finally come full circle.
“My freshman year I came in, West Catholic wasn’t known for winning,” said co-captain Destiney McPhaul, a junior. “We made it to the state championship...we lost. [But] we didn’t have the mentality we have right now. It was tough. My sophomore year, we lost quarterfinals in PCL and we lost first round in states. This year, we came back — basically the same team, we lost three seniors — but we the same team. We [are] all experienced. And we just made history. It feels good, man.”
As for Coach Oseuke’s accomplishment, McPhaul said she deserves it and that it makes her, personally, feel like she “can do anything.
“That’s big time. She did a lot to get to this point,” she said, noting Oseuke’s coaching style. “She’s a tough coach. She wants the best for you. She doesn’t care about your emotions. She got to do whatever she got to do to make sure you cool.”
McPhaul pointed to an incident after the PCL championships in which the team had to go to the locker room to store some papers from their sports psychologist. McPhaul said the team was “taking our sweet time,” a pace she said was unsatisfactory for Oseuke.
“[We’d] just won the championship and all that. She told us to go to the locker room to put some papers down. [But] we were all taking our sweet time,” McPhaul said. “She told us to hurry up. We taking our time still. She walk in the locker room — everybody all happy [but] we supposed to be in the gym. We had to run. She doesn’t care we won the championship — we trying to win another one.”
Co-captain, senior Tamiah Robinson, agreed, saying that if Oseuke had not made them run, “we would’ve been comfortable.” She described Oseuke as an all-around coach.
“She wants us to do good on and off the court. She doesn’t only focus on basketball. She focuses on us becoming better women for life. Principles in basketball — she breaks it down [on] how it can make us become better people in life,” Robinson said. “She teaches us that we all we got. It’s a sisterhood.”
In the same way that Oseuke has made basketball a lesson in life for the Lady Burrs, she also stresses the symbolism she feels has come the team’s accomplishment. They’ve made history but she questions why it has taken so long.
“That’s why it felt like we were on top of the world when we won it because it hasn’t happened and it’s white dominated. To see an all-Black team with a Black coach win it — a lot of people were really touched emotionally. Honestly, I got over 200 calls and messages and emails congratulating me,” Oseuke said. “I should not be the only Black [girls’ basketball] coach amongst 13. I want to emphasize a lot of people in the city feel like the PCL has kept a lot of Black coaches out of the ranks. I know I’m the first but I hope to not be the last. I really want this to be a message to young Black people and also to Black women that you’re capable and you should really lean into the community you have around you.”
Oseuke added that she looks forward to winning the state title, as it would “be an even bigger statement if one of the few Black coaches...could sweep all of the championships. I’m trying to focus them on getting it done.”
Jazz Williams, director of student life for West Catholic, said the Lady Burrs’ and Oseuke’s accomplishments are a win for the culture.
“It’s huge for the school, it’s huge for African-American culture, and more importantly it’s huge for her as an individual. As a Black woman, to accomplish what she’s accomplished is remarkable,” he said. “You have to go through a lot being a Black woman in general but being in a predominantly white league and school system, it takes a lot of patience and perseverance to get to the point where you are able to build a championship program. Nothing is impossible with God, with prayer, with hard work and with kids who believe in what adults are telling them. With that, you can achieve great things.”