Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Two Conversations: Coach Jack Curran

Molloy/St. Annes
One afternoon, late last fall, I recognized Coach Jack Curran in The Smoke Shop in Rye as he chatted with Peggy. Later, when I saw him ambling up Purchase Street in his Archbishop Molloy athletic togs, I introduced myself, mentioning that we had met, briefly fifty years earlier, in spring 1962.

He didn’t know who I was, of course, and probably had had a zillion people like me tell him that they’d met him, but, as always, he was very polite, and seemed immediately interested in what I was saying. Curran had lived in Rye for many years, since 1958, I think, but our paths had not crossed during my thirty years there until that afternoon.

When I was thirteen, in eigth grade, I was invited to tryout for him at Molloy’s gym, pretty hallowed ground as far as Queens basketball went. I’d just completed a great run with our CYO team at a tournament at Holy Child in Richmond Hill. Through his extensive grapevine, he’d apparently heard I was worth watching, along with a dozen other boys. Or, maybe he just read the CYO box scores in the Long Island Press or World Telegram & Sun.

As it happened, everything I did that day worked; I played well above my head. Afterwards, he asked if I’d applied to Molloy. When I said I’d been accepted, he encouraged me to attend. Too late, I told him, I was headed to Xavier. Then, he asked for my permission to call my parents about it. He was completely respectful about that, saying he’d make sure I played, if I came to his school, but there was no pressure at all.

But, I knew what the answer was going to be and should have been. I was going to play tennis at Xavier under Pat Rooney (of US Open ball boy fame), and, as my mother told Coach Curran, Molloy had no tennis team.

Fifty years later, we stood chatting about all of that on Purchase Street. “McDermott,” he said, ”Quick hands, right?” That was Jack Curran. He had no idea, but had figured that a short guy like me, who had interested him must have had to be able to do something well.

He reminded me that Molloy later built their tennis team around Vitas Gerulaitis, with whom I’d played a little (amazing, but true). Then, we chatted a little about how he had finally given up teaching English, but was still coaching basketball and baseball to some extent.

When I looked into writing a profile of him, I learned that he had been ill for a while and recently had some trouble. Maybe in the spring, I thought, around Little League opening.

It was not to be.

Coach Curran had two brief conversations with me, among thousands of others in my life, and I do not presume to have known him well. But, I remember both conversations well, not because of what he said, but because he listened in such an attentive, focused, the way a player he had coached might launch a jumper from twenty feet, or make a perfect peg to the cutoff man.

There was only one Jack Curran; we can only hope to have learned a little from him while he was here coaching us.

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