Just a few months after the passing of legendary St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows, boys’ varsity basketball coach Tim Leary, the CHSAA is now mourning the loss of another local hoops icon.
Clare Droesch, a former standout on the Christ the King H.S., Middle Village, girls’ varsity basketball team, passed away May 11 after a more than six-year battle with breast cancer. She was 36 years old.
“Tonight we lost a great one,” said Lady Royals head varsity coach Bob Mackey. “Clare put up a great fight. Always a Royal! We will never forget you!”
A native of Rockaway Beach, Droesch was a Catholic Youth Organization star at St. Francis de Sales, Belle Harbor, before bringing her talents to Christ the King.
She was a guard on the Lady Royals team that won a national championship during her freshman year. In all, she was a member of teams that won three straight state titles. Individually, she was a three-time Newsday Player of the Year selection and was named a high school All-American her senior year.
Droesch went on to play all four years at Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass., graduating in 2005. She became one of only two players in program history to appear in four consecutive NCAA Tournaments – two of which included Sweet 16 berths. She was also a member of the school’s 2004 Big East championship winning team.
For her career, she scored 1,136 pts. and pulled down more than 500 rebounds. She is fourth in program history with 158 career 3-pointers made. She was honored as an Atlantic Coast Conference Legend in 2015 and is a member of the Boston College Varsity Club Hall of Fame.
“Clare was one of the most passionate players I have ever coached,” said Cathy Inglese, who coached Droesch at Boston College. “Clare filled many roles for our team, the most important being the ‘clutch’ player when the game was on the line.
“She wanted the ball in her hands for the final shot, which was usually the winning shot.”
That confidence and leadership positioned her well for when she transitioned from a player to a coach. After playing overseas, she returned to coach at the University of Massachusetts, Boston; Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.; St. John’s University, Jamaica; Scholars’ Academy, Rockaway Park; and St. Edmund Prep H.S., Sheepshead Bay.
While at St. Edmund’s in December 2011, she received a diagnosis of stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 29.
“I didn’t know how to feel,” Droesch said at the time. “I was so numb. For the first five months, I couldn’t even cry. Everyone else is crying around me, and I’m the one patting them on the back and telling them it’s going to be all right.”
The cancer spread to her spine and her hip, and doctors predicted that she might only make it another year. However, her never-give-up attitude that drove her on the basketball court also guided her in her cancer fight.
For the next six and half years, she continued setting the example to her players of what it means to have strength on and off the court. She became an advocate for raising cancer awareness, and her battle inspired others to face life’s obstacles head on.
“One thing I express to them (her players) is that you can’t take life for granted,” Droesch said. “You don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. You have to live every day like it’s your last and leave it all out on the court.”
Droesch eventually returned to her high school alma mater Christ the King as the assistant girls’ varsity and head junior varsity girls’ basketball coach. This year’s varsity squad was at one point ranked No. 1 in the country. The team remained undefeated throughout the regular season, diocesan playoffs and state championship tournament before dropping the state federation final matchup to Baldwin H.S., L.I.
There’s no doubt Droesch will be missed by the Christ the King and local hoops communities, but we’ll always remember her fighting spirit, winning attitude and passion for the game of basketball.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.