The GCHSAA has sadly lost a true trailblazer during these already challenging times.
Joe Lewinger, the athletic director and assistant vice principal of student life at The Mary Louis Academy (TMLA), Jamaica Estates, died on March 28. He reportedly had contracted COVID-19 several weeks ago and died from complications due to the virus.
He was only 42 years old and leaves behind his wife Maura, son Jack and daughters Madison and Maeve. For 20 years, Lewinger was a fixture as a teacher, basketball coach, athletic director and administrator at TMLA.
“There will be a time in the future to celebrate all of Joe’s numerous accomplishments,” TMLA Principal Ann O’Hagan-Cordes, ’84, said in a statement. “Now is the time to grieve and mourn our tremendous loss. We pray for the strength to get through this. We pray that others who are inflicted with this disease recover and return to their families.”
Lewinger’s death came as a shock to the TMLA family, which just days before learned of the passing of Dave Edwards, an assistant coach for the Hilltoppers’ varsity basketball team. He was 49 years old and also died as a result of the virus.
Before becoming athletic director, Lewinger served as TMLA’s head varsity basketball coach for 11 seasons. From humble beginnings, he eventually led the Hilltoppers to more than 100 victories, including state championship titles in divisions ‘A’ and ‘D.’ TMLA is now a perennial contender in the diocesan ‘AA’ division.
“Joe was a tremendous man, a loving husband, and father, dedicated to the constant elevation of TMLA, the school, the athletic department and the ladies who walked those hallways,” said JoAnn Pinnock, the current head varsity basketball coach at the school who took over in 2012.
“He was my friend who I had conversations with every day, and most were about what he wanted to do for others, whether his family or the students at TMLA. Our TMLA community is devastated, as this is a tremendous loss.”
Lewinger sought to give as many TMLA student-athletes as possible the opportunity to play a sport — whether they were seasoned veterans or beginners. During his tenure, he oversaw 29 total teams and introduced several new sports programs, including lacrosse and badminton.
His philosophy was simple when it came to starting up new programs: “Our approach has always been to expand as many opportunities for the girls to participate in any sport or club,” Lewinger told DNA Info in. 2013. “We’re very fortunate to have the resources to keep expanding and maintaining such a large athletic program.”
Even while focused on running a successful athletics program, Lewinger was always thinking about the needs of others.
Looking for a way to add a charitable component for the spring 2015 sports season, he teamed up with the athletic administrators at Holy Cross H.S., Flushing, to form the “Win for Cancer” campaign on both the junior varsity and varsity baseball and softball levels.
In total, the schools combined to raise $5,000 for Sunrise Day Camp, a free camp that provides a nurturing environment for children being treated for cancer. In 2008, Lewinger’s twins, Madison and Jack, were both diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor, a form of kidney cancer, and began attending the camp.
“The impact Mr. Lewinger had on TMLA is something that can’t be easily explained,” said Danielle Patterson, a former TMLA basketball All-American who played at Indiana University, Bloomington, this past season.
“When I got to sit and speak with him after my sophomore year, I knew TMLA is where I needed to be. “Everything you have done to help TMLA be the place it is will never be forgotten.”
In addition to his role at TMLA, Lewinger helped shape the current structure of the GCHSAA. His efforts led to the establishment of intersectional play with the Archdiocese of New York, starting with varsity girls’ soccer. Now, all but one GCHSAA sport compete in intersectional play.
“Joe’s impact was felt across diocesan lines,” said Brooklyn/Queens GCHSAA President Denise Hillig. “His passion and vision for the landscape of the GCHSAA was unwavering. Joe’s hard work on behalf of the student-athletes of the GCHSAA was second to none. That steadfastness and vision will be sorely missed.”
Hilltopper Nation and the entire GCHSAA family will never forget Lewinger’s kindness, passion, and dedication when it came to all things TMLA. He even referred to himself as a “Woman of Dignity” — further showing his love for the school.
During this extremely difficult time, we pray for the entire Lewinger family and for the extended TMLA community — all of whom are mourning this tragic loss.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.