Prep Celebrates Legacy of Longtime Hoops Coach

Before taking the reins as coach, Tim Leary was a schoolboy star at St. Francis Prep. (Photos courtesy of Michael Graziano)

For 43 basketball seasons, Tim Leary has been a fixture on the sidelines at St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows.

So it will be quite the different feel next winter when someone else is calling out the plays for the L’il Terriers.

Leary recently announced that this would be his final season coaching at the Prep. He is set to retire as the winningest coach in St. Francis Prep history as well as the active wins leader among Brooklyn/Queens CHSAA boys’ hoops coaches.

The school community gathered Feb. 12 prior to the game against Holy Cross H.S., Flushing, to honor Leary for his years of dedicated service.

Not only has he coached at the school for all these years, but he also attended the school in its Williamsburg location and starred on the basketball and baseball teams.

From his days growing up in Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Windsor Terrace, to playing Catholic Youth Organization basketball at St. Rose of Lima, Parkville, and baseball at the Parade Grounds, sports became a way of life for Leary.

His varsity Prep basketball team went to the city championship final during his senior year of 1963 but fell to Power Memorial H.S., Manhattan, who just so happened to have a star player named Lew Alcindor, aka the NBA’s all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Even so, his teams were among the best in the city each year.

“We didn’t lose more than five or six games in the four years I was there,” Leary said.

In baseball, he was a junior varsity city champion and was named second-team All-City his senior year. He earned an athletic scholarship to continue playing both sports at Manhattan College, the Bronx.

As he was earning his master’s degree from Brooklyn College, Midwood, Leary latched on as the varsity boys’ basketball coach at St. Augustine D.H.S., Park Slope, at the age of 21. While there, he also coached varsity baseball at the Prep.

When St. Augustine closed, Leary began teaching junior high for the New York City Board of Education. He also then began coaching junior varsity boys’ basketball at St. Francis.

In 10 years as varsity baseball coach, he compiled a record of 199-76 while winning five borough titles and a city championship. After four JV seasons, he was elevated to varsity boys’ basketball head coach for the 1973-1974 season.

In 43 seasons, Leary’s teams won over 600 games, 10 division titles, reached the city tournament’s final four five times and won the 1992 ‘A’ division city championship.

He was named CHSAA Coach of the Year numerous times and is a member of the St. Francis Prep Hall of Fame, New York State Coaches Association Hall of Fame, New York City Pro Am Basketball Hall of Fame, CHSAA Hall of Fame and Basketball Old-Timers of America Hall of Fame.

Built Relationships

Tim Leary

All accolades aside however, it’s always been about the relationships he’s formed with his players. He has touched countless lives during his tenure, as evidenced by the number of his former players who showed up to honor him before the Holy Cross game.

“That’s what makes all this high school coaching really enjoyable is particularly when the kids come back,” he said.

Throughout his coaching tenure, he never gave much thought to advancing to the college ranks, since the Prep was good to him and allowed him to raise his family. All four of his children played sports in the local CHSAA.

“I liked the teaching aspect of it,” Leary said. “The type of student the Prep had and most of the Catholic schools had were kids I loved and enjoyed being around.”

As he hangs up his whistle and clipboard, Leary will continue to be around the St. Francis program as much as possible. The Blessed Trinity parish, Breezy Point, parishioner is also looking forward to spending some well-earned time in Florida, especially during the winter.

The scene may be different for the first time in a long time in Prep’s gymnasium next basketball season.

However, the program will continue going strong and producing student-athletes who hopefully will have as much influence on others as Leary had on his players.

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