When your job is your passion, it oftentimes doesn’t seem like work.
Such can be said for Charlie O’Donnell, who has carved out quite the career with the local Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA).
Recently, O’Donnell announced that he would be retiring from his post as vice president of the league he’s been part of for nearly 60 years. Because he’s so passionate about his work, he’ll be staying on as a special advisor to CHSAA President Ray Nash.
O’Donnell’s athletic journey 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 starred as the point guard on the basketball team and the shortstop on the baseball team. The leadership skills he gained in both sports surely helped him later in life.
He earned a basketball scholarship to the University of Loyola, Baltimore, where he also played baseball. After earning a political science degree, he arrived back in the Diocese of Brooklyn in 1964.
O’Donnell’s first stop came as a basketball coach and teacher at St. Augustin H.S., Park Slope. After the school closed three years later, 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 H.S., East Elmhurst. For the next 32 years, O’Donnell served as the athletic director for the Crusaders while also coaching some baseball.
All throughout these years, O’Donnell was an administrator for the CHSAA, including a 30-year run as vice president. He also spent time as the chairman of the boys’ basketball league for several years.
Looking back on nearly six decades of involvement with the Catholic League, O’Donnell said he’ll always remember the competitiveness of the contests as well as the relationships he made along the way.
“It’s the best, most well-run league in the country,” O’Donnell said. “It has the greatest student-athletes, and the championships are tops. The friendships that I made became such a central part of my life.”
Teamwork is so essential when it comes to success on an athletic field or court. It’s also a key component in the behind-the-scenes organizing of a sports league like the CHSAA. Since its early days, the league’s organization has led to its reputation of being among the best in the country.
“We never changed that much,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve always been well-run. We have great coaches and athletic directors in the league, and everybody contributed. It’s the reason we were tops. We ran a really good sports league in all the sports.”
O’Donnell said the CHSAA’s dedicated coaches truly define the league’s makeup. As is often the case, a student-athlete who excels in the league returns years later as a coach to continue the cyclical process of mentoring young athletes and teaching them sportsmanship, discipline, teamwork and fair play. Over the years, O’Donnell has seen this cycle many times over.
“The coaches are tops,” he said. “They really know their game, and they’re very competitive, yet can get along. It’s a very competitive league. We put out the best, and it’s due to the coaches.
“It’s such a continuous process. You don’t even give it a second thought. We know that there’s going to be a good coach ready to fill in when one leaves or retires.”
As a special advisor to the president, O’Donnell will help out when called upon, especially during the CHSAA basketball playoffs. He said he’s looking forward to a return of as close-to-normal a basketball season this winter.
Only the lucky few can say they’ve enjoyed a nearly 60-year work career living out their passion. O’Donnell is among these lucky ones, since he was able to weave his passion for sports into his occupation.
“It couldn’t have been better,” the CHSAA lifer said. “I was doing something I loved doing since I was a kid, and I continued doing it.”
Congratulations Charlie, and best wishes to you. And don’t worry folks! You’re bound to see Charlie’s smiling face in a high school hoops gymnasium near you this season.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.