Coach Dan Buckley Remembered

A while back I was talking to Mr. Buckley about scheduling something when he was in New York. He told me that allocating his time was sometimes difficult because he had 3 families (other than his flesh and blood La Salle, The Merchant Marine Academy and Forest Hills).

Forest Hills, to Dan Buckley, was a little enclave called the Forest Hills Community House.  The Community House was the social center for a group of boys who grew up there in the late forties through early seventies.

Mr. Buckley came to the Community House in the early fifties.  I probably came there, as a 10 year old, a few years after his arrival.  By the time I got there Mr. Buckley, as we all unerringly called him then, had things cracking.

In a short time he turned a floundering pick-up game into a well organized, focused and serious competition.

Mr. B. brought: a practice regimen, Uniforms, actual Plays to run, a method of how the game of basketball is played. He brought outside teams a schedule. He brought structure - A Junior Varsity, Varsity. Then when the program grew, as the result of his attention, the Intermediates.

From November thru May, every year, Friday night and Saturday afternoon games were our "Show Time". With Mr. Buckley at the helm, these games became the center of out universe.

Mr. Buckley ran a crisp intramural program for us, which culminated in a championship game on Parents Night. In these games Mr. B. could take no sides, so he officiated and he did so with precision and fairness.

My greatest achievement as a basketball player was winning a Parents Night as an Intramural Captain, then receiving the championship trophy from Mr. Buckley the next day, at Awards Day.

Mr. Buckley brought an identity and a pride to a bunch of local kids - but I and we realize today, he left a more profound stamp on all of us.

While basketball was at the backdrop, life and how to live it was the message. His message was sometimes subtle; it was sometimes your our face.

To my Forest hills friends he continues to be an example to follow and a source of inspiration. From my own perspective I can't conceive of any one human being to have been the subject of more high school or college essays on "Most Influential Person in My Life".

If you lacked confidence his message in a time out huddle wouldn't be If Philip makes the free throws - it would be After Philip makes the free throws.

There was nothing negative about Mr. B. Another Forest Hills alumni follows his son's high school baseball career closely. He notices the ego factor in coaching, even at that level. He recalls with Dan Buckley, there was Pride, yes but never ego. Rarely does a practice or game go by where he doesn’t think about how Mr. Buckley would handle a situation - On or off the field.

We all will never forget: Driving to Cunningham park for baseball practice in that fabulous VW bus, the summer straw hat, and the great stories. He was a class act.

My friend Henry Hof - who honed his skills under Mr. Buckley and then went on to be an all-Prep High School Player and Captain of the Dartmouth Freshman Team, remembers a casual talk with Mr. B where he discussed taking courses toward his masters. The implied message was clear. Play all the sport you want but value you education. The message was delivered as deftly as one of his passes to the middle for an easy basket for the big man.

His message could be less than subtle, as we learned later - he had over 30 professional fights. He seldom raised his voice. When he did - you stopped and listened.

As life continued after those Forest Hills days, I became increasingly amazed at the scope of the number of lives Dan Buckley touched - I go to California - There's Matt White, Jr., I go to Sunnyside Queens - There's Mike Fullam former NYAC heavyweight boxing champ, I go to Charlotte, NC - There's a concierge whose father played in the Negro Leagues and knew Dan Buckley, I got to Florida where a whole bunch of Forest Hills boys made frequent trips to Bradenton to visit, I go to the west Side docks and talk to the Ward Family, and on and on. Dan Buckley was, is and always will be a common denominator.

Of all the roles Mr. Buckley played during his life, NONE was more impressive to me than the care, love and devotion to his wife Ellie. As illness took its toll Mr. Buckley set up his command post at his wife's side. He lived his life around her needs. It was long and unfortunately painful journey for Ellie - But whatever could be done to lighten the burden, to ease the pain, he did.

I know if no better example of love and caring than what I saw from Mr. Buckley during this time. As we got older - The Forest Hills crew maintained as close a relationship with Mr. Buckley on the adult level. Perhaps some of the boys got a little heady and called him Dan - But to me he was still Mr. Buckley.

His visits to New York became more frequent. He had a network of devoted fans as he worked his way up the Eastern Seaboard. Webb Wade in Jacksonville, Brian & Judy Barry Charlotte, His daughter in Virginia, then on to New York.

The Forest Hills Boys get together annually either in Florida or New York. Mr. Buckley dominated the events - holding center stage. And God forbid you forgot to write him back, or make that call, or attend one of the many functions in his honor - A memory as sharp as a razor. The next time you saw him - whether it be one on one or in a crowd - I'd hear "I'm going to kill you" with the smile and sparkling eyes - followed by a bear hug.

My earliest memories include walking into MSG with Mr. Buckley and his La Salle team and sitting on the end of the bench as they played before an NBA double header. Here are some names - For La Salle: Ernie Morris, Charles Alias, Pros - Gorge Yardley, Larry Costello, Carl Braun. That was a long time ago. I last saw him at out Forest Hills reunion in September.
Along the way my life is dotted with cherished memories of Mr. Buckley.

Dan Buckley - Husband, Father, Coach, Mentor, Surrogate Father, Legend, Hall of Farmer, The best example of a human being I know.

From Forest Hills, NY - Mr. Buckley -
We'll see you later...

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