After a stellar career as a student-athlete at Archbishop Ryan led Megan Tole to Holy Family University on a soccer scholarship, she knew that she wanted to come back and return the favor.
Back at Ryan as a volunteer assistant coach for the two teams she starred for (soccer and basketball) in high school — as well as recently entering the Philadelphia Police Academy — it’s safe to say that Tole has a knack for helping others.
After all, it was Tole’s high school coaches at Ryan who saw the potential in her, so in her mind, it was the least she could do to help the next crop of female standout-athletes at the school.
“Part of me always wanted to help out or coach in some way, especially at this school,” Tole said during a Sunday chat following a Ryan basketball practice. “I love Ryan, and I love being here. I view it as an accomplishment that they thought enough of me to ask me to come back and help out. It’s just an awesome experience to go from playing here to being on the other side. When my senior season at Holy Family ended, I was done playing and I was kind of upset. Then I got the call that I could come help out with basketball, and my eyes just lit up.”
Tole graduated from Ryan in 2009. As a member of Ryan Haney’s soccer program, she scored 81 goals in her career and was the first soccer player to have her number retired by the school. Prior to this season’s Catholic League championship win over Archbishop Wood (Tole’s first as a volunteer assistant on Haney’s staff), it was Tole’s senior class that had been the last one to defeat the Lady Vikings on the soccer field. Girls on the 2013 team spoke about Tole’s legacy leading up to the title game, wanting to beat Wood the same way she did in the championship in 2008. The feeling was mutual, Tole maintained.
“This soccer season was incredible. I felt like I was still playing,” she said, referring to Ryan’s 1-0 double-overtime victory. “When we scored, Haney and I jumped up like we were still players on the field. We just nailed it, and it was an incredible feeling.”
Though soccer was admittedly her top sport, Tole was also known as a tenacious point guard on the basketball team. Jackie Hartzell became the head girls basketball coach Tole’s senior year, and it was Hartzell who reached out to Tole during her senior year at Holy Family to see if she wanted to help out on her staff. The Ragdolls had a fantastic season, advancing all the way to the Catholic League semifinals before falling to Wood.
“Megan is the best,” said Hartzell, now the head coach at the University of the Sciences, in an email to the Times. “She helped me coach one of my AAU teams in the spring of her senior year at Ryan, and I always knew I wanted her on my staff. I think it’s important to have alum on staff, especially someone who had such a successful career both on the basketball court and on the soccer field.
“She brought energy and enthusiasm, and the players love and respect her. I was so glad to hear that (new head coach) Mike McCusker kept her on staff (as a volunteer) because she is such a valuable asset to the program and such a great role model.”
“Sometimes you just know before they even finish their career with you that they will grow into being a great coach because of the leadership ability they displayed with their teammates,” added Jill Kehan Reeves, who coached Tole at Holy Family. “With the passion Megan had as a player, you could tell she couldn’t wait to share her knowledge with our youth.”
Tole said her role as a volunteer assistant is somewhat specialized. For example, as a former point guard, she focuses a lot of her attention on that position and all that it pertains, offensively and defensively; as a former striker in soccer, she works a lot with the forwards on things like breakaways and footwork. She likes to focus on the “little things” head coaches might miss.
She takes her role very seriously, mainly because as a recent high school and college athlete, she sees herself in these girls and wants to make sure they fully realize their potential so that they can put themselves in a better position to gain a scholarship, be it athletic or academic.
“Firstly, I want to make sure they’re doing good in school,” she said. “I just talk to them and tell them it’s a great thing to go to college, and I want that for all of them. I try to push them to be the best versions of themselves. There are girls here that can go places, and if they get lazy, you have to be hard on them. They’re here to study hard and play hard. That’s what I’m here for, to help make sure they do that. It’s just something I knew I wanted to do when I was done playing … to help other people.”
Tole said that Hartzell and Haney “prepared me to be a better athlete and person, someone that would be ready for college.” Having the structure of a high school athlete helped her with her college responsibilities, and that’s propelled her into the police academy. Tole, who graduated with a degree in criminal justice from Holy Family and still lives around the corner from the campus, is entering her ninth week in the academy. Her class of 52 is on track to graduate in June, when she’ll be given a foot patrol assignment for the first year of being on the force. Eventually, she said she’d like to become a detective, especially after interning with Northeast Detectives during her senior year at Holy Family.
“I’m really enjoying it so far,” she said. “It’s a lot of studying, and the process for getting in was very long, but I just really like to help people. Just to be able to do something small for someone else, that’s a reward that makes me feel good. It’s the type of job where every day is different, always something exciting happening where you have to be on your toes. You don’t have to be chained to a desk, which I like. I want to be active.”
One thing is crystal clear: no matter where the police academy takes her, Tole hopes to continue coaching as long as her schedule allows it. Time may become trickier once she graduates, but her love of the games she played — as well as the school that molded her — will be an urge too strong to resist.
“I’d love to keep coaching here and do whatever I can to help when I have time,” she said. “Even if I have to work around my schedule and can only get here for a few hours, that would still be awesome. Seeing these girls grow from individuals into a team working toward their goals, that’s such a great feeling, to see them succeed in the sport they enjoy.
“It’s pretty cool that I get to see both sides. I understand what the girls are going through as players, and also what the coaches are trying to get them to do. I’m just so glad to be able to help out in any way that I can.” ••