John C. “Jack” Atchley Jr., a longtime Harahan resident who was one of the few surviving members of a Loyola University team that in 1945 won what is still the only national championship captured by a college or pro basketball squad from New Orleans, died Wednesday at his home. He was 88.
While Atchley went on to become the patriarch of a family as well as the founder of a pair of organizations that helped raise money to research a cure for muscular dystrophy, his fierce pride in being a part of that championship team seemed to grow each day until the end, said his son, Mark Atchley.
“When somebody came by to visit, the first thing he would (say) was, ‘Look at what we did (at Loyola),’ ” Mark Atchley said of his father. “And it was always ‘we’ because he was part of a team — he believed in that to the nth degree.”
Atchley, a Jesuit High School graduate, joined Loyola’s basketball team as a freshman during the 1944-45 season. He would rotate in as a reserve on a team that won 21 of its 26 regular-season games against teams representing universities and regional military bases before beating four collegiate opponents in a row to win the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (now the NAIA) tournament in Kansas City.
Decades later, Atchley recalled how special it was to be on a team that won the biggest prize it could while playing alongside two of his elementary school classmates as well as several other young men he grew up around participating in New Orleans youth sports leagues.
“We were like a family,” he said once. “We would compete against anyone together.”
Atchley served in the Navy for a couple of years shortly after Loyola’s championship season and then worked for a garage door manufacturer until retiring in 1993.
In his free time, he developed a love and talent for pitching horseshoes, establishing associations for fellow enthusiasts of the game in his adopted hometown of Harahan and across Louisiana.
The Louisiana and Harahan Horseshoe Pitcher associations often hosted tournaments that raised funds for efforts to cure muscular dystrophy, from which one of Atchley’s sons died in 1977.
Being involved with that cause was also something that greatly satisfied his father, Mark Atchley said.
“Dad lived a good life,” the son said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Other survivors include his wife of 64 years, Elise; another son, John; four grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Atchley’s funeral will be Monday at Garden of Memories, 4900 Airline Drive, Metairie. Visitation will begin at 8:30 a.m., followed by a Mass at 11 a.m.