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Iconic Garden City coach Tom Flatley has date with high school Hall of Fame

Garden City coach Tom Flatley stands on the

Garden City coach Tom Flatley stands on the sideline during a game against Elmont. (Sept. 15, 2012) Credit: Steven Ryan

He stands erect, walks with a purposeful stride and has a no-nonsense approach to coaching. He doesn't waste words or time. If Garden City coaching icon Tom Flatley was going to be portrayed by Hollywood, Clint Eastwood would get the part. His last name is a perfect metaphor for his stoic demeanor.

"The kids know that I don't smile a lot. A picture of me smiling is a rarity,'' he said . . . flatly.

He should be beaming on Wednesday, though. That's when Flatley will be recognized for his coaching excellence in football and boys lacrosse at a ceremony in Rochester for his induction into the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame. Long-time Suffolk County sports official Joe Grady of Bay Shore also is among the six inductees in the Class of 2013.

"Awards are nice, but it's the result of working with good people and good kids,'' Flatley said. "There are a lot of people who work harder than me and have not had the success that I've had.''

The 73-year-old retired Sewanhaka social studies teacher -- who still shows up daily in various roles at Garden City High School, where he has been the football coach since 1985 -- enters 2013 with a 246-40-7 record in 28 seasons. His winning percentage of .852 is the highest in Long Island football history and he has won five Long Island championships, four Rutgers Cups and 18 conference titles.

Football is not even his first love. Flatley started his head- coaching career in varsity boys lacrosse at Sewanhaka and, by choice, has been Garden City's junior varsity boys lacrosse coach since 1988, amassing a remarkable 357-31-2 record for a .918 winning percentage.

His enormous success is a tribute to Flatley's knowledge, incisive game plans and efficient time management.

"I'm a firm believer you can only watch film for so long. I'd say 20 minutes is enough," Flatley said. "You preview the film yourself and just skip to the main things. You don't have to beat a mistake to death. If the left tackle takes a wrong step, you only have to show it once."

Flatley's football teams are known for mobile, stingy defenses, expert special teams and precise offenses that don't turn the ball over. The latter also is true of his lacrosse teams.

"It's just awesome to say that you played for this man," Class of '13 defensive back and attack Justin Guterding said. "No one ever messes around in practice because they know he'll put you in your place. There's total respect both ways.''

Ed Blatz, a wide receiver and defenseman from the Class of 2013, smiled knowingly when he said Flatley "is a little stern at times, but everyone loves to play for him. He's tough on us but he's a great guy to be around. I'm going to miss him."

Flatley's football success is even more amazing when you consider that he has had very few major college prospects.

"This is a lacrosse community nine months of the year," he said of Garden City.

"We've only had one really big-time football player in my 28 years, and he's kicking for Syracuse," Flatley said of scholarship placekicker Ryan Norton. "All the games we've won, we've had a lot of good athletes who would rather play lacrosse in college."

Among his favorite moments from a Hall of Fame career he said will continue indefinitely was winning the Long Island championship in lacrosse as Sewanhaka's head coach in 1981 and three football moments: beating West Islip in the second LIC in 1993, rallying to win the 2009 LIC over North Babylon and winning last year's LIC in what many thought would be a rebuilding season.

"Sometimes I remember losses more than wins," Flatley said.

There aren't many of them, especially in lacrosse. His JV teams annually furnish the varsity with ready-to-play talent. Flatley has a close relationship with Garden City lacrosse coach Steve Finnell, who is his top football assistant.

"I'm very happy being the JV lacrosse coach. There's no pressure," Flatley said. "It's teaching and working with kids.''

Those kids occasionally have unearthed Flatley's soft side.

"There's no horsing around in practice. I think we have the shortest practices of any team," said Scott D'Antonio, another football and lacrosse star from the Class of '13. "But we get a smile out of him every now and then -- after a good play or a good joke."

Flatley always has been able to adapt and relate to younger generations. "I learned from every coach, and sometimes it's what not to do," he said. "You keep adding what you think is good and ignore what you think is bad. Most of all, you be yourself. Some coaches are actors. I'm not. What you see is what you get. What I tell you is what it's going to be."

It's going to be a short, to-the-point message -- flatly stated, of course.

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