The CHSAA has lost a lifer.
Charlie O’Donnell, who served in a number of administrative roles with the Catholic league across 57 years, died June 28 at the age of 81. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated July 7 at St. Francis de Sales, Belle Harbor.
“He was the consummate Catholic educator, both in the classroom when he was teach- ing and in athletics,” said Brooklyn/Queens CHSAA President Ray Nash. “He was one of the best friends I had, and I am honored to have been with him for all these years, from the time we played against each other in high school starting in 1959.”
O’Donnell’s journey in athletics began as a grammar school student at St. Teresa of Avila, Prospect Heights, where he played basketball and baseball. It was then on to Bishop Loughlin H.S., Fort Greene, where he played basketball and baseball.
Don Kent, the longtime head boys’ varsity basketball coach at Msgr. McClancy H.S., East Elmhurst, remembers being in the fifth grade at Holy Name Elementary School, Park Slope, and attending his first CHSAA hoops game. Bishop Loughlin took on Power Memorial Academy, Manhattan, and leading the Lions out of their locker room was O’Don- nell, the team’s star point guard.
“Before the game, they (Bishop Loughlin) come out of the locker room led by Charlie O’Donnell, this short 5-foot, 5-inch guy dribbling the basketball,” Kent said. “He was quick as a cat, pulling up jump shots and running down fast breaks. He was an amazing player.”
O’Donnell earned a basketball scholarship to the University of Loyola, Baltimore, where he also played baseball. After graduating, he arrived back in the Diocese of Brooklyn in 1964 as a basketball coach and teacher at St. Augustine H.S., Park Slope. After the school closed three years lat- er, he took a job as the basketball coach and athletic director at Bishop Reilly H.S., Fresh Meadows.
Six years later, that school closed, so then it was on to a more permanent stop: Msgr. McClancy. For the next 32 years, O’Donnell served as the athletic director for the Crusaders, at which point he was reunited with Kent.
“Charlie was the friendliest man you could ever meet,” Kent said. “I always looked up to him. He was the greatest storyteller you could ever meet. He always had you laughing in stitches. I couldn’t have worked with a better athletic director and friend.”
As an athletic director, O’Donnell let his coaches be themselves, allowing them to feel supported while being able to seek assistance if needed.
“He always led by example,” said CHSAA baseball chairperson Wally Stampfel, who coached at Msgr. McClancy during O’Donnell’s time as athletic director and delivered the eulogy at the July 7 Mass. “He let you do what you thought you had to do. Whenever you needed anything, he was always there.”
Throughout his years as an athletic director, O’Donnell was also an administrator for the CHSAA, including a 30-year run as vice president. He retired in late 2021 while staying on as a special advisor to Nash.
For O’Donnell, his job never seemed like work, since he was living out his passion for sports. “It couldn’t have been better,” he said about his career in 2021 upon his retirement.
“The CHSAA is the best, most well-run league in the country,” he said as he reflected upon his time with the league. “It has the greatest student-athletes, the coaches are the best, and the championships are tops. The friendships that I made became such a central part of my life.”
We may have lost a friend, but the memories of Charlie and the stories he told won’t soon be forgotten.