His job was a labor of love, so when Jack Foley retired 19 years ago as athletic director at Ward Melville High School, everyone knew it would just be a new beginning for the longtime dean of administrators in Suffolk.
Foley, a longtime resident of East Setauket, died yesterday after a long illness. He was 76.
"He never stopped working," West Islip athletic director Wayne Sherrant said. "After he retired, he has better attendance at our athletic director's meetings than a lot of our ADs. He was a very big help to those coming in."
Ed Cinelli, executive director of Section XI, the governing body of high school sports in Suffolk added, "His knowledge, the information he presented, was so helpful to all of us."
That was echoed by Todd Heimer, Cinelli's counterpart in Nassau, who said, "He was the administrator's administrator. He was the answer man. He was someone that everyone young and old would look to."
Foley, never one to be office bound, was present at many high school events.
"I remember being with my dad at all the sporting events at Ward Melville, Suffolk County and across part of New York State," said his son Mick, of St. James. "I thought everybody's father was a beloved fixture of the community. As I got older, I was able to appreciate what a special person my father was."
Mick, a three-time champion in the World Wrestling Federation, now known as World Wrestling Entertainment, was unaware that his father was scheduled to emcee his induction into the Ward Melville Hall of Fame next month. "How lucky we were to have him as our father," Foley said.
Another son, John, of Mount Sinai, said. "My father's biggest thrill was helping people, particularly kids. He would really get excited helping to get them into college or starting out in the education field."
Foley, a former president of Section XI, is perhaps the most honored scholastic administrator in Long Island history with his inclusion in the Suffolk Hall of Fame, the NYSPHSAA Hall of Fame and the National Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame.
Foley essentially started interscholastic athletics at Ward Melville. After graduating from Manhattan College, Foley was hired as a physical education instructor in 1965. He quickly was promoted to athletic director.
"Everything that we have today, he started," said Don Webster, a former athletic director at the school and now interim superintendent of the three Three Village school district. "He was interested in getting as many sports and kids interested as he was in winning and losing. He provided diverse opportunities for all the kids in our community."
Foley also spearheaded modified sports, which are played at the seventh- and eighth-grade level. "He was way ahead of his time in that area," said Nina Van Erk, executive director of the New York State High School Athletic Association. "And he remained involved in that far into his retirement."
Over the last decade, Foley also became interested in athletics at Stony Brook University, where he taught in the school of professional development. "He went to every men's basketball conference championship, be it in Boston or Hartford," said Jim Fiore, the university's director of athletics. "He taught me to never get too high or two low, that there is always tomorrow after a loss."
Foley also is survived by his wife, Beverly, and five grandchildren. A wake will be held at Bryant Funeral Home in East Setauket tomorrow and Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. A funeral Mass will be offered Friday at 9:30 a.m. at St. James Roman Catholic Church. Burial will follow. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson, the Special Olympics or the United Way.