Bob Hodgson was, in the words of one of his coaching peers, "basketball royalty." So it was fitting that his well-attended wake and funeral this past week served as tributes to a king among coaches and, more importantly, a prince among men.
"For me, as a young coach, he was a mentor, always willing to give up his time to talk to you and help you with things. It didn't matter who you were. He never big-timed anybody," Whitman coach Tom Fitzpatrick said. "He was a great guy who will be sorely missed. Bob Hodgson is royalty for Suffolk County basketball -- as a player and a coach."
Fitzpatrick was among the many coaches who joined family, friends, students and players past and present who waited on a line that snaked from the viewing room through the corridor and lobby, down the entry steps, into the parking lot and around the building at the Roma Funeral Home in Shirley on Wednesday.
They were there to pay homage to Hodgson, the beloved 61-year-old coach at William Floyd High School who died March 17 of complications from a heart attack. He won three Suffolk County championships as a coach, one county title as a star player for West Islip in 1967, 265 games at Floyd and countless friends.
Hodgson's son Rob said he greeted visitors from Florida, South Dakota, California, North Carolina, New Jersey and all over Long Island. One former player who became a successful international entrepreneur interrupted a business trip to Australia to fly back for the wake and Thursday's funeral.
"So many people are here who watched me play and watched my father coach," said Hodgson, who scored more than 2,000 points for his father in the early 1990s. "Some of them remembered when William Floyd was an underdog school in sports and my dad put us on the map. The way he approached coaching the program -- spring leagues, summer leagues, year-round basketball -- has been copied all over Long Island. That was nice to hear. It helped us heal, in a way."
Bob Hodgson's last team won the Suffolk Class AA championship Feb. 28 and lost to Baldwin in the Long Island Class AA championship game at Hofstra on March 10. The next day, he checked into Stony Brook Hospital with chest pains and was diagnosed as having suffered a heart attack.
"I can't even begin to tell you how this hurts," said former Lindenhurst coach John Albano, who coached against Hodgson for years. The two were such good friends that Albano said: "He would let me go to his practices and he would come to mine. And we were in the same league! That just doesn't happen. I realize how much he added to the basketball experience for all of the coaches, not just those of us who became his friend. He never excluded anyone."
Hodgson's generosity knew no bounds. Longtime friend and 13-year Floyd assistant coach Jim Casey related how each year, Hodgson took the Floyd players to several college games -- always driving and always paying for tickets and food. Rob Hodgson recalled how his father drove an RV all over the country to watch his sons play college hoops -- Rob at Rutgers, Rex at NYU and Ryan at Army -- and follow the college volleyball exploits of his daughter, Rose, at Merrimack. The RV would be filled with sandwiches, snacks and sodas, and teammates of the Hodgsons would gather there after games.
Others recalled that Hodgson would open the Floyd gym at all hours in the summer. "He invited anyone and everyone, not just the Floyd kids," Albano said. "Some coaches have a tendency to worry about their own kids first and be a little selfish. He was never, ever that way."
As a coach, Hodgson embodied a tough-love approach. "He was always hardest on me," said Anthony White, Floyd's current star.
"I never knew what he saw in me, but he never gave up on me. I'll be forever grateful," said White, who earned a full basketball scholarship to Division I St. Francis (Brooklyn). "He was more like a father figure than a coach. He taught me life lessons that I will carry on."
When a Floyd junior varsity player's house burned down last winter, Hodgson allowed the boy to move in with him rather than be forced to transfer out of the district. That player wore a T-shirt to Wednesday's wake with the words "#1 Coach" on the back and a montage of color photos of Hodgson. "The kid had it made up on his own. He asked me for the pictures right after Coach died," Casey said.
At Thursday's jam-packed funeral, Casey said many attendees were moved to tears when, unscripted, the entire Floyd varsity boys basketball team got up en masse to toss flowers onto the casket
Rob Hodgson appreciated another tribute to his father along William Floyd Parkway this past week.
"As I was driving to the funeral home, I saw a sign outside a shop," he said. "Someone rearranged the letters to read: 'Coach Hodgson, You Will Be Missed.' "