Move over Al Oerter. The Long Island Olympic track and field icon will have to share his place in the with another well-known local track figure.
athletic director Don Buckley, whose early days were defined by coaching 25 high school All-Americans in cross country and track at the Catholic school, was among nine inductees into the Hall of Fame on Tuesday in Patchogue.
Buckley, 64, began teaching and coaching in Brooklyn in 1968. He moved to Long Island and St. Anthony's in 1976, where he coached high school track and won state Federation cross country team titles in 1976 and '80. Among his star pupils was two-time Olympian John Gregorek.
“Don is an outstanding track and field coach,” said Section XI Executive Director Ed Cinelli, who was on hand for the ceremony. “We crossed paths in the 1970s and early 80s. Don had some outstanding athletes. He’d be the first to say outstanding athletes make outstanding coaches. But no. He truly was an outstanding coach and got a lot out of his student athletes. And the students learned a lot from him.”
Buckley took the reins as athletic director in 1982. Soon after the school relocated from Smithtown to its current campus in South Huntington.
Over the last three decades, Buckley has presided over the transformation of the athletic program into a force in nearly every sport. Sports Illustrated has crowned St. Anthony's the best high school athletic program in the state several years running.
“It was an all-boys school with 700 students in 1982,” Buckley said. “We were pretty good in a number of sports. We have a history of greatness. But I brought in a different philosophy. My idea is to get more kids involved. And we did that very, very well.”
Today's track program features an unheard of roster of 400 boys and girls.
Under Buckley, the Friars have won 291 team championships and 84 state team titles. That's highlighted by the powerhouse football program, which recently .
In May 2009 the school opened its 120,000-square foot indoor sports complex. The $40 million Student Center, which features a Mondo track, state of the art weight room, massive locker rooms and one of the most spacious wrestling rooms anywhere, was a project Buckley championed for more than a decade.
Buckley has also helped guide the entire state into the modern era of high school sports, serving at one point as president of the state Catholic league and the state Federation.
“What a great move to have an athletic director of his stature our the hall of fame,” Hall of Fame Executive Director Ed Morris said.
But what Buckley remembers most fondly from his time as a physical education teacher, track coach and administrator are the kids. It was a special thrill to see his own children excel. Oldest son Adam was an all-league football player and youngest son Brian was an all-league lacrosse standout.
"That meant an awful lot to me to have that opportunity," Buckley said.
The 21st Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame awards dinner is May 3 at the West Lake Inn in Patchogue. The Class of 2011 includes:
- Eric Brown: Suffolk CC-Ammerman baseball coach for 24 years.
- Don Buckley: St. Anthony’s athletic director and former track coach.
- Frank Catalanotto: Smithtown East grad who spent 14 seasons (1997-2010) in Major League baseball.
- Cathy Gallagher: Former head of Section XI, the governing body of Suffolk high school sports.
- Jesse Jantzen: Shoreham-Wading River grad and the first four-time state wrestling champion.
- Jim Mecir: Smithtown East grad who spent 11 seasons (1995-2005) in Major League baseball.
- Jeff Reh: Former Rocky Point standout in soccer and lacrosse. An Adelphi Hall of Famer.
- Scott Reh: Older brother and former Rocky Point star. Adelphi HOF and athletic director at Mount Sinai.
- Barbara Williams: Power skating instructor for the New York Islanders during the franchise’s Stanley Cup run. First female coach in the NHL.