For John Pfeffer, coaching wasn’t just about winning, it was about the relationships built along the way.
Sure, the longtime Bay Shore High School boys gymnastics and girls lacrosse coach was successful and intensely competitive, but it hardly stopped there. Through his many wins, Pfeffer was able to shape generations of athletes into productive members of society who knew that he always had their backs.
“John Pfeffer was the king of establishing relationships,” said Ted Nagengast, 51, the department chair of athletics in the Bay Shore school district. “Whether they were the gymnasts back in the '70s, '80s, and early '90s or the girls lacrosse program in the '90s and 2000s, those kids knew he was there for them.”
Pfeffer, who lived in Bay Shore for over 35 years, died of congestive heart failure Wednesday at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, his family said. He was 72.
"It was tremendous to watch him coach,” said son Chris Pfeffer, 42, a lieutenant colonel in the Marines. “People trusted him and they would give everything they had to make him happy, to make him smile.”
Pfeffer, who taught physical education at South Country Elementary School and Bay Shore Middle School for 33 years, coached in the Bay Shore school district for 44 years. He led the boys gymnastics team at Bay Shore High School for 23 seasons, leaving in 1992 with a record of 203-60 and two state championships. He also coached wrestling at Bay Shore Middle School for approximately 25 years and finished with a record of 145-44, said Allison Pfeffer, his wife of 29 years and girls lacrosse co-coach.
Allison Pfeffer, a fellow physical education teacher, recruited Pfeffer in 1991 to help her start the Bay Shore girls lacrosse program. The team moved up from junior varsity to varsity in 1992 and the couple coached for 23 seasons, finishing with a record of 310-104-7 and four Long Island championships, she said.
The couple, who married on June 26, 1991, didn’t know much about the sport at first, immersing themselves in books and instructional videos to get up to speed. It didn’t take long for the competition to notice that the Pfeffers were not to be overlooked.
“He just had a calling,” said Allison Pfeffer, 61, of Bay Shore. “To his core, he just loved coaching. He was going to do whatever he needed to do well. Pretty much right away, we did pretty well. I remember Mary Paar from Huntington came and watched one of our JV games in 1991, and she was an excellent coach. She said, ‘Oh, no. I’m going to have to worry about you guys next year.’ ”
Pfeffer quickly built up a reputation around the girl’s lacrosse community as a tenacious defensive mind. “I always wanted to be part of the defense because he created such an amazing culture down there of girls that worked in a system and played for each other,” said former player Alyssa Leonard, 28, of Seattle, Washington. “They were usually the most fit, competitive, and aggressive players on our team. He really was the driving force of the success down there.”
Born on July 24, 1947 in Queens, Pfeffer grew up in Cambria Heights, Queens. He graduated Newtown High School in Queens in 1965 and went to Valparaiso University in Indiana where he wrestled and graduated in 1970 with a degree in physical education as well as teaching certifications in biology and history. He earned a master’s of science from Adelphi in 1973.
Pfeffer was a devout Christian. He was an elder in the Babylon Presbyterian Church and was the memorial Bible chairman in Gideons International, a religious organization that distributes Bibles to various organizations, as well as hotels, hospitals, and prisons.
Pfeffer loved fishing, boating, and water skiing. He particularly enjoyed sport fishing in Costa Rica, where he once caught a 389-pound yellow fin tuna. He and Allison would take trips around the northeast in their boat, aptly named Gym Rats.
In addition to his wife and son, Pfeffer is survived by two grandsons, Blake and Bryson. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will not be a wake or funeral. He will be cremated, Allison Pfeffer said. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations to Bay Shore Athletic Sponsors, P.O. Box 244, Brightwaters, NY, 11718.