Karen Andreone spent 33 years at Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset, but her impact on the all-girls Catholic high school will be felt for much longer than that. The lifelong Hicksville resident took her vast knowledge and love of sports and transformed the athletic department into a multi-layered winner.
Along the way, she touched the lives of countless students, regardless of their athletic prowess. She was known as "The Legend," and for good reason. Athlete or not, everyone knew "Miss A."
"I do not have a memory of doing something at Mercy without her in it," said Julie Spencer, 43, of Pennsylvania, who attended OLMA in the mid-1990s and played volleyball and softball for Andreone. "Everything I did and saw success in, she was right there with me."
Andreone, who was the athletic director, a physical education teacher, and coached volleyball, badminton and softball at OLMA, died Aug. 30 at Huntington Hills Center for Health and Rehabilitation in Melville after a battle with breast cancer, said longtime friend Ava Favara. She was 71.
"She was a person who was bigger than life and had a heart of gold," said Favara, 76, of Hicksville. "But she was a very humble person. She never looked for anything or any attention brought to herself. It was all about the students and about the school."
As athletic director, Andreone more than doubled the size of the school's athletic department, orchestrating the start of the soccer, lacrosse, golf, badminton, crew, cross country and indoor track programs, according to Favara.
"She was not only a good coach, but she was respected by every single person at Mercy," said Katie Spitz, 39, of Plainview, who played volleyball and softball at OLMA in the late 1990s and later coached volleyball there. "Everyone knew who 'Miss A' was. It was never Miss Andreone. It was always ‘Miss A.'"
As the badminton coach, she won 14 team league titles, coached 60 individual league champions, and posted a record of 227-41. Her volleyball teams won four state titles, nine division titles, five Nassau-Suffolk CHSAA titles, and went 372-174. She went 275-125 as a softball coach at OLMA, winning two Catholic state titles, according to a press release announcing her retirement in June 2020.
A brilliant tactician, Andreone knew exactly how to get the most out of teams with a vast array of skill levels and expectations. In short, she found a way to win.
"It's like she could see it way before everybody else could," Spencer said. "It was like playing chess. She saw the win before the play even happened. That’s what she did when she put a team together. She really could kind of see how this was all going to work before it made sense to everybody else."
Andreone also was the president of the Nassau-Suffolk Girls Catholic High School Athletic Association for 33 years.
The wins were only a small part of Andreone’s impact on OLMA. She ran the immensely popular "Sports Night," a year-long competition, culminating in a two-night event, that pitted half the school against the other in various activities, such as European handball, a dance routine and an art competition.
Andreone also ran the "Leaders Club," a student organization focused on community involvement. She was the founder and executive director of the OLMA summer sports camps and courses. Her love of musical theater also led her to help resurrect the theater department, and she served as technical director for the school musicals. She once built a contraption that allowed Peter Pan to fly across the stage, Favara said.
"She really took a real interest in, not just the athletic side of us, but who we were becoming as human beings," said Suzanne Skradski, 41, of Virginia, who played volleyball and softball.
Born Dec. 10, 1949 in Manhattan, Andreone grew up in Hicksville and graduated from Hicksville High School. She earned an associate’s degree in physical education from Nassau Community College, where she would letter in six sports – volleyball, tennis, bowling, basketball, badminton and softball. She is the only athlete in Nassau Community College history to accomplish that feat, according to the OLMA release.
She would later earn a bachelor’s degree in education from SUNY Cortland and a master’s degree in education from Adelphi.
After college, Andreone coached basketball, softball and badminton at Nassau Community College. Her badminton teams qualified for the NCAA Nationals and her softball teams won five state championships and qualified for the College World Series twice, the OLMA release said.
Andreone also coached softball at Hofstra from 1978-80, winning the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women state championship in 1979, according to Hofstra’s athletic department.
Before OLMA, she taught and was the athletic director at the now defunct St. Agnes Cathedral High School in Rockville Centre, where she started the girls athletic program in 1973.
Andreone is in three athletic halls of fame – Nassau Community College (twice -- once as a student and again as a coach), Diocese of Brooklyn-Queens Girls Catholic High School Athletic Association and New York State High School Softball. She’ll be inducted into the OLMA athletic Hall of Fame in October, the school said.
The gymnasium floor at OLMA was named in her honor in July.
Andreone was preceded in death by her parents, Alfred and Eileen, and her brother, Robert. A memorial service was held last weekend. She will be buried at the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury on Saturday, Favara said.