“19, 20, 21”: those are the magical numbers that Seton Hall junior Chris Beasley – better known to some as flag man – hopes to hear from public address announcer Tim McLoone before Beasley’s time on the Prudential Center court is up. He has had the honor of racing the 20-foot Seton Hall flag during a second-half timeout of men’s basketball games for a year-and-a-half, and has that same amount of time remaining to write his name into the history books.
The flag has been a part of Seton Hall basketball for at least four decades. Seton Hall University archivist Alan Deloizer can trace back the flag to when the Pirates moved into the formerly Brendan Byrne Arena in 1982, which offered much more space than the team’s previous home on campus, Walsh Gymnasium.
Beasley is chasing the previous two flag men, Anthony Moratta and Mike Mosca, for the record number of laps around the circle of cheerleaders when his time comes to run onto the court during one of the second half intermissions. The number to catch is 20.
Mosca did not want to even go to college at first. He was eventually persuaded to go by his mother, and once on campus in the fall of 2010, the south Jersey kid with a chip on his shoulder – who had swam and played lacrosse in high school – needed something to do.
It just so happened that some of the cheerleaders were those swiping him and his friends into the residence halls, and after constant encouragement, a trio of Mosca and two of his other friends decided to dive into something they had never imagined doing before: cheerleading.
“So, we show up to the tryout and there’s Greg [Gilbert, former cheerleading coach] stunting with some of the girls, and he’s going hard,” Mosca said. “They looked like cirque du soleil, and I’m like ‘What is this? This is cheerleading, this is actually kind of cool.’
“Greg was like that real mentor; always work hard, do-the-right-thing type of guy. So, when Anthony wanted to join the team, Greg coached him as well, so he just kind of fell in line of that good coaching mentality; you know, just do the right thing, work hard and you’re going to get to where you need to be.”
Mosca had walked into a new role that gave him new friendships, while keeping him active and busy. He was not initially aware, though, that his role would stretch beyond lifting cheerleaders into the air – he was going to have to carry the flag.
“When I joined the team, there was a lot of older guys who were still in school, but they all left the team,” Mosca said. “So, I never knew another flag man. My freshman year, the assistant coach said, ‘Hey, you fit the part.’ …So, I was like ‘Ok.’ I was athletic; it just worked out.”
Moratta, the flag man from the fall of 2014 to the spring of 2016, suffered his fourth concussion while playing high school football and quickly came to the realization that his days in a helmet and shoulder pads were numbered.
When he arrived at Seton Hall – his number one choice – Moratta quickly decided that cheerleading was something he wanted to do and quickly met with Mosca.
“Mosca was talking about the flag … I didn’t really think it was a big deal, I was like, ‘Alright, this kid just runs around with a flag, cool, good for him,’” Marotta said. “But when he was running around, people started getting really rowdy for him; that’s when I was like ‘Ok, this is actually a big deal.’”
Mosca and Marotta were a dynamic duo, cut from a similar cloth as both were from south Jersey. The two now share the record of 20 laps, but Marotta’s experience from freshman year where the Pirates had three wins in the Big East, to senior year where the team captured the conference crown, is almost unmatched.
“I went from a couple thousand people to ending my career at the Garden, winning the Big East Tournament in front of 20,000 people, and then flying to Denver to cheer in the Denver Nuggets stadium,” Marotta said. “It was pretty memorable.”
Beasley was on the Madison Square Garden court when the confetti fell down in March 2016. Unlike Mosca and Moratta, though, Beasley is from Georgia, far from the Jersey boardwalk. Adding to the differences between Beasley and his predecessors is that he had experience cheering before coming into Seton Hall, taking part in cheer during his senior year of high school.
“My little brother actually pulled me in to it,” Beasley said. “He did baseball and had shoulder injuries; he wanted to do something else. And then he’s like, ‘Hey, Chris, you should try this out. It’s really fun, you don’t know what you’re missing out on.’ So, I said ‘Ok, I’ll try it.’”
Despite his one year of experience, Marotta says that Beasley had a lot of work to do when he arrived at Seton Hall if he wanted to carry the flag, pointing out that Beasley was “140 pounds soaking wet.”
Marotta, following suit from Mosca, taught Beasley how to prepare with nutrition, weightlifting – and even the dreaded c-word – cardio, so he could handle the burden of running with the 20-foot flag.
Having made just eight laps his first run, Beasley has more than doubled his total, hitting 18 laps during the St. John’s game on Dec. 31. One game prior, Beasley had put together another good run, and got a pat on the back from Desi Rodriguez, with the Pirates trailing late in the game against No. 25 Creighton. Beasley then had a message for Rodriguez.
“I told him ‘Let’s go win this game, we’ve got a game to win,’” Beasley said. “And, he just gave me that same feedback, and he continued to play well.”
The Pirates went on to win that game, 90-84, but Beasley is by no means overstating his role. To him, the flag man duty is not about ego, but instead about connecting several generations of alumni together.
“It’s important that I’m keeping the tradition,” Beasley said. “The flag has been around. So, keeping the tradition alive is pretty important. It’s just a constant reminder that it’s still alive, it’s a part of Seton Hall.”
Still, there is no denying that Beasley wants to push beyond 20 laps into unchartered territory. It’s something that many fans would love to see and something that even the record holders themselves would be happy to hear about.
“Records are meant to broken,” Mosca said. “It’s an old school tradition, go for it.”
“I hope he does [break it],” Marotta added. “That’s my seed, I taught him the ropes, I gave him the throne, and I hope he is the guy to take it over.”
James Justice can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.