Mary Fenlon, the Georgetown men's basketball team's academic coordinator for the past 27 years, will retire July 31, the school announced yesterday.
Fenlon, the first person John Thompson hired after he became Georgetown's coach in 1972, will retire a little more than six months after Thompson's resignation.
"Mary has been considering this for some time," Athletic Director Joseph C. Lang said in a statement. "We are naturally sorry to see her go. The entire Georgetown community has been blessed by her loyal and selfless dedication. . . . Her care for the young men in her charge has always been exceptional."
A former nun, Fenlon taught Latin and English at St. Anthony's High School in the District, where Thompson was the boys basketball coach. She helped monitor the players' academic progress and became a staff member of the urban 4-H program that Thompson also ran.
While Fenlon was at Georgetown, 97 percent of the players who remained at the school for four years graduated, according to the Georgetown basketball media guide.
In addition to her academic duties at Georgetown, Fenlon served as Thompson's administrative assistant, most recently holding the title of assistant to the athletic director for basketball. She screened his phone calls, controlled his schedule and usually was the person who shooed reporters from the Hoyas' dressing room after their allotted time for postgame interviews ended.
She also sat on the bench at nearly all Georgetown games and accompanied Thompson on many trips. When Thompson was chosen coach of the 1988 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team, Fenlon was among his assistants.
During the Hoyas' postseason dinner about a month ago, Thompson announced that the team's award for academic excellence would be named for Fenlon. She was among those who received the warmest praise from athletic director emeritus Frank Rienzo at a dinner Wednesday night celebrating Rienzo's retirement after 30 years at Georgetown.
According to Washington Post sportswriter Leonard Shapiro's 1991 biography of Thompson, Fenlon established strict guidelines for Hoyas players, especially freshmen. They had to log their weekly progress in every course in "Mary's book." They were asked to list their test scores, what they thought their grades would be at that point and the assignments they had to complete.
Fenlon was fiercely protective of the Georgetown players. Once she fussed with an NCAA tournament official after he said stars Eric Floyd and Eric Smith would have to walk several dozen yards out of her sight to get to a postgame news conference. She relented.
Most players appreciated how deeply she cared about them and frequently hugged her before accepting an award.
Intensely private, Fenlon almost never gave interviews -- and was unavailable to comment about her retirement. Occasionally, her views on a variety of subjects appeared in the team's media guide.
In response to the 1998-99 media guide interviewer's assertion that she was a pioneer among academic coordinators, Fenlon said: "What is this `pioneering?' Do you think I traveled in a covered wagon or something? The `system' you're talking about is common sense. We just make sure that because we're asking the students to spend so much time in practice, traveling and at games that we check to make sure how they are progressing academically. . . .
"Definitely, I take great pride in these young people becoming adults. It's very satisfying to be part of the process where someone grows from an unsure, tentative freshman into a confident, responsible man. It makes all of the worry and anxiety worthwhile when you see these young men get their degrees."
CAPTION: Mary Fenlon, academic coordinator for Georgetown's men's basketball, will retire July 31, more than six months after John Thompson's resignation.