BY CHUCK SLATER
“I’ve had a love of athletics my entire life,” says Frank Tolan. Indeed, in high school at Manhattan Prep, he not only played sports for four years in all three seasons — cross-country, basketball, outdoor track — but even managed to double up with swimming for two years.
Last term, after a lifetime in education, the 61-year-old was teaching part-time at Kennedy Catholic (public speaking) and Mt. St. Mary’s College when Father Mark Vaillancourt, JFK’s president/principal, approached him. The school’s current athletic director, Father Newcomb, was moving up to Dean of Academics; would Tolan be willing to be the athletic director?
“I was open to the idea,” Tolan said. “When I was the principal of Pawling High School for 23 years (1989-2012), we only had a teacher working as athletic director part-time so I was very involved.”
And, as he said, he loved athletics. So he said yes.
He started on July 1. It’s doubtful any area athletic director in recent years ever stepped into a more difficult and uncertain situation.
Scheduling is, of course, as crucial as anything an AD does. And at JFK it was then as confused as a basketball player shooting at the wrong basket.
Kennedy, after almost 40 years as a member of Section 1, had just switched to the Catholic High School Athletic Association. Section 1 was not pleased. It said some of its member schools had complained that Kennedy was recruiting its athletes, which the Catholic school denied. Section 1 then prohibited its schools from playing JFK teams in the future.
Of course, Kennedy was counting on continuing with some of its traditional Section 1 rivals to augment its games with Catholic schools. In two girls sports, field hockey and lacrosse, the nearby Catholic schools did not even field teams.
Kennedy protested the ban and a hearing was set up with the New York Public High Schools Athletic Association ruling on the barring. But Tolan had to substantially put together team schedules, especially for the fall sports, before knowing if Section 1 opponents were available and, even if they were, would they have schedule openings at this late date.
“”It was already going to be a big transition year,” Tolan said, “going into the Catholic league. I had to make as smooth a transition as possible for all our boys and girls teams.”
And the undecided Section 1 issue?
“That added a wrinkle to it,” Tolan said. “Hopefully, we would include our Section 1 rivals in the future, but whatever, this year our schedules had to be full.”
Working diligently with the private schools, he even put together a respectable field hockey schedule for the girls.
“He’s done a great job,” praised Father Vaillancourt, pointing out there was even a full 10-game schedule in place in field hockey.
“He was the right guy at the right time,” the Kennedy president explained. “He’s a seasoned administrator and he’s done athletic directing before. All of our teams were scheduled despite the differences with Section 1.
“Plus he had two daughters go through Kennedy. He knows our culture.”
Tolan had most of his immediate scheduling in place even before the late-July hearing which resulted in the ban being lifted; it was ruled the recruiting issue was not relevant either way since Section 1 tried to initiate a ban after Kennedy was no longer one of its members.
“Now we can scheduled crossover games as we always planned,” Father Vaillancourt said. “A ban would have hurt our program.”
“I’m trying to fill in our field hockey schedule with some Section 1 opponents,” Tolan said.
It is, of course, up to Section 1 teams whether they wish to face JFK and doubtless some traditional rivals will. But there probably isn‘t much leeway on the already-in-place fall slates.
Incidentally, Tolan himself has seven children, all of whom were active in athletics. His youngest, Moira, played varsity lacrosse, soccer, track and volleyball before graduation from Kennedy.
Yes, Frank Tolan knows how to guide a team of athletes.