Tom O’Leary (center) with Carl Manessis and Adam Chefetz after Wantagh won the 1992 Class B state title. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com)
By Michael Lewis
Tom O’Leary, who directed the Wantagh High School boys soccer team to back-to-back New York state championships, has passed away.
O’Leary died at his home in Huntington, N.Y. on Sunday.
He was 75.
O’Leary, who coached the varsity squad at the school for 34 years, also taught driver’s education.
“Mr. O’Leary ‘s a legend,” Wantagh boys coach Tommy Liguori was quoted by Newsday. Liguori played on both championship sides.
“He was old-school. He didn’t demand respect. But the way he carried himself, he got respect.”
He waited some 24 years before his team won its first state title in 1992, before duplicating it the next year.
When O’Leary became head coach in 1968, he remembered how difficult it was to entice players to come out for his team.
“When I first came to Wantagh, we used to only get the kids who were cut from the football team,” he told this writer for a Soccer Week story three decades ago. “That was the way it was. I guess good things come to those who wait.”
Indeed, they did.
Wantagh (20-1-1) captured the 1992 crown with 3-1 victory over East Syracuse-Minoa to capture the Class B title in Oneonta, N.Y. on Nov. 21 that year.
In 1993, Wantagh (16-0-4) duplicated its feat, registering a win by the same score over JFK Somers H.S. at Lewistown-Porter High School in Youngstown, N.Y.
“This is a player’s game,” O’Leary was quoted by Newsday at the time. “It’s not a coach’s game. A coach can practice and teach them but once they reach the field it’s all up to them. We were a talented team that took it one game at a time and stayed focused. It was an impressive group.”
O’Leary also had to deal with adversity.
In 1987, when the Wantagh School District budget failed to pass twice, players on the soccer team had to pay $157 each for team expenses for the season after the high school was placed on austerity.
“They agreed if there was not enough kids [to reach the goal of $3,014], they’d kick in extra money so they would be assured they’d play,” O’Leary told this writer then.
O’Leary felt the budget crisis has pulled the team closer together.
“There’s a little bit more unity,” he said. “There is more camaraderie. I guess … there are several kids on my team who kept their [after-school] jobs because of it.
“The final result will justify the means. Hopefully, they’ll bring themselves a championship in the long run.”
O’Leary attended Island Trees High School, Nassau Community College and Long Island University.