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Remembering Jack Curran of Rye, longtime coach at Queens' Archbishop Molloy
When springtime came and things got slow in Queens Supreme Court while I was covering the place for a New York City newspaper several years ago, I'd walk over to Archbishop Molloy's bandbox of a field to get one more peek at the legend.
There, Jack Curran -- tall and stately as always in a white uniform with blue trim -- would be taking another team of young men into another baseball season, leaving the players with a lifetime's worth of lessons that they wouldn't completely understand until decades later.
By then, Curran, who lived in Rye, was approaching 80, a bit more stooped and slower than I remembered him when my Xaverian High School teams played against his Molloy teams back in the early 1980s. His trips to the mound to change a pitcher stopped around the foul line.
But, as I'd discovered a few years earlier, Curran hadn't lost any of the competitiveness the legions of players who called him "Coach" during his 55 years at the Queens school recalled at his funeral Mass last week.
In 2007, when the City of New York was sued by aluminum bat companies upset with a ban on their product, Curran was among the first to put his name -- the gold standard among New York coaches -- behind the city's efforts to force high schoolers to use only wooden bats.
Curran favored the wooden bat because he knew from pitching batting practice to his team that balls seemed to jump off aluminum bats, giving the pitcher little or no time to react.
Curran, a onetime Brooklyn Dodgers farmhand, had been strafed pitching batting practice with aluminum bats in his teams' hands, and two of his players had been drilled by line drives to the head. "You can't react quickly enough," Curran told me for a 2007 story about a legal challenge to the bat ban by bat manufacturers.
And he confided in me that a bat company had come to him trying to persuade him to change his mind. Curran, politely, shooed him from his office.
He was, after all, a high school baseball coach, whose dedication to the boys he coached meant everything to him -- certainly more than a few extra dollars from a bat company.
At his funeral, former Houston Rockets star Kenny Smith, who played point guard for Curran's basketball teams in the early 1980s, told a story that left everyone roaring. It seems that at Molloy, varsity athletes were exempt from gym class.
So Smith served as Curran's unofficial secretary during his gym time, answering the phone in Curran's office while the coach taught phys ed. When a college coach would call Curran's line asking about potential recruits, Smith would turn in a perfect imitation of his coach.
"And Kenny would say, in Jack's voice, you gotta take a look at this kid Kenny Smith," Tom Magno recalled.
Magno is 49, and, like me, will turn 50 next month. When we were back in high school, we competed against each other in some memorable games. My junior year, Magno's Stanners defeated us in the CHSAA's Brooklyn-Queens championship. Still hurts.
Like Curran, Magno became a baseball coach and girls basketball coach at several Long Island high schools, including Elmont High, where he works today as a guidance counselor.
When a Molloy teacher called him nearly 30 years ago to ask Magno if he was interested in coaching at a Manhasset Catholic school, Magno took a few minutes before agreeing. He'd just graduated from Princeton, where he had played baseball.
"Was I thinking of Jack at the time?" Magno said. "No. But he clearly made an impression on me because I wanted to make the experience for my players as good as mine was."
"You know," Magno added, "I always tried to model myself after him."
He's not the only one.