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Hall of Fame coach Nancy Cole remembered fondly

Nancy Jean Cole, a Long Island girls field

Nancy Jean Cole, a Long Island girls field hockey coach with the most wins in state history and an outspoken Title IX advocate, died March 17 at her Stony Brook home. She was 67. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The small things Nancy Cole did -- words of encouragement or even a simple phone call -- are lasting memories for her former Centereach field hockey captain Laura Melfi.

But Cole, who died March 17 at age 67, was a giant in the Centereach community, where she coached for more than 30 years, taught physical education and was an advocate for Title IX.

Melfi spoke Sept. 9 before the Cougars' home opener against West Babylon in a ceremony honoring the legacy of Cole. Melissa Hall, another former captain and assistant coach, and Donna Cooke, a longtime scorekeeper, also spoke to a crowd made up of alumni and friends. Centereach sweetened the day with a 2-0 win.

"She made me the person I am today," Melfi said while fighting back tears. She said she met Cole at age 8, played for her from 1983-85 and was her assistant coach from 1996-2001.

"She's taught me to live life to the fullest, nothing's ever guaranteed. She taught me to do everything with passion and commitment. She wasn't just my mentor, but she was a very special friend, so this is a tough day."

Cole had the most wins in state history with 598 between Centereach and Ward Melville. She won multiple league, county and Long Island championships with the Cougars, with whom she also won six state titles.

Newsday's coach of the Year in 2006 also was inducted into the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2001.

"She made me want to be a better coach," said first-year Centereach coach Michelle Cocchiaro. Cocchiaro played for rival Sachem and said Cole's teams usually won the matchups.

She said Cole coached her at field hockey camps, where Cole's ability to unite players was apparent. Hall, who played from 1992-95 and was an assistant coach in 2000, said unity was Cole's signature.

Hall said Cole knew how to motivate her, citing the morning of the 1995 state championship. She said Cole dropped a newspaper clipping about an opposing midfielder in front of her without context during breakfast.

"She just said, 'so what are you going to do about it?' " Hall said. "And that day we won, we closed this midfielder down. She always knew the right thing to say and when to say it. But for her, it was more than a sport, it was molding us as people."

Current Centereach captain Katrina Gangji never met Cole, but said the coach is a legend. She recited facts as if she was reading from a history textbook.

"She got us the team room and stood up for what she believed in women's athletics," Gangji said, referring to the Title IX complaint Cole filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights in 2000. "We all know who she is."

Added Cocchiaro: "She made people love the game. Coaches, players, it's something you can't compare or emulate. There will never be another Nancy Cole. Her passing has brought a lot of tears, but a lot of happy memories."

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