Nearly four decades later, McGroarty is still at it

Mick wants more: St. Hubert head soc­cer coach Mick Mc­Groarty coaches Bam­bies play­ers dur­ing Monday af­ter­noon’s prac­tice. En­ter­ing his 39th sea­son at the helm of the school’s soc­cer pro­gram, Mc­Groarty said he still has a burn­ing de­sire from with­in to coach the game he loves. ED MOR­RONE / TIMES PHOTO

En­ter­ing his 39th sea­son as the head soc­cer coach at St. Hubert, Mick Mc­Groarty in­sists that not all that much has changed.

Well, ex­cept for the ob­vi­ous ones that time de­mands.

“I’m already in­to my second gen­er­a­tion of kids, and I’ve had kids — and still do — whose moth­ers I coached,” the age­less coach said dur­ing a Monday af­ter­noon prac­tice as the Bam­bies pre­pared for the up­com­ing sea­son. “I had a re­union re­cently at Fluke’s on State Road, and 35 girls I coached showed up. Most of them were in their late 40s and early 50s, and now some of them are get­ting their AARP cards. Some are doc­tors, law­yers, nurses … but they all star­ted here, and that’s cool. I guess some things have changed, but the game is still the same.”

Mc­Groarty is known as the found­ing fath­er of girls soc­cer in the Cath­ol­ic League. He ar­rived at St. Hubert in the mid-’70s and re­cog­nized an im­me­di­ate de­mand for the sport. The Bam­bies star­ted as a club team, and gained of­fi­cial varsity status in 1981, one of sev­en found­ing teams of the league that once swelled to 14 teams be­fore nar­row­ing down to its cur­rent state of 12. Mc­Groarty has won over 400 games dur­ing his ten­ure to go with nine league titles, most re­cently in 2002. And al­though it’s been over a dec­ade since the Bam­bies hois­ted a Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship plaque, the pro­gram has re­mained a per­en­ni­al play­off con­tender.

Mc­Groarty, now 71, is show­ing no signs of slow­ing down. While oth­ers his age may have op­ted for the re­lax­a­tion of re­tire­ment by now, he feels im­mense pride in the in­sti­tu­tion he’s re­mained at his en­tire ca­reer. (Mc­Groarty also used to be the head soft­ball coach at Holy Fam­ily, giv­ing that up five years ago while de­cid­ing to re­main on the St. Hubert side­line.)

He’s used to the ques­tion of how much longer he’ll keep at it, and his an­swer re­mains the same: it’s un­deter­min­able. 

“When I had open-heart sur­gery in 2004, the first thing I asked the sur­geon when I woke up was how much longer I’d be able to coach,” Mc­Groarty said. “He asked me how long I’d like to coach, and I told him un­til I didn’t want to any­more. That was 10 years ago, and I’m still do­ing it. I al­ways get that anxi­ety be­fore the sea­son, that feel­ing that I just can’t wait for it to start. I still have that burn­ing de­sire in­side me, and the flame’s still burn­ing.”

Des­pite the loss of 10 seni­ors from last year’s team (and 11 the year be­fore), Mc­Groarty likes the Bam­bies’ chances in what should again be a stacked league. Arch­bish­op Ry­an and Little Flower should be ser­i­ous play­ers, but Mc­Groarty was quick to say people should be care­ful as far as count­ing his own team out goes. He re­turns just two seni­ors — Erin Mc­Carthy and Cas­sidy Ra­jkowski — but also brings back a pleth­ora of play­ers who got varsity ex­per­i­ence as young­sters a year ago.

“Two seni­ors, that’s a low amount,” he said. “I can’t re­mem­ber the last time, if ever, where it’s been that few. That’s new, so there will be a lot more teach­ing. The biggest thing will be get­ting our chem­istry right, which won’t come un­til we play enough so that we all know each oth­er. It will get there. We’ll man­age. We have a good group of kids.”

Watch­ing Mc­Groarty coach a Bam­bies prac­tice is proof enough that the old-school boss hasn’t lost a step. He me­tic­u­lously di­vided the play­ers in­to three groups, then stalked up and down the middle of the field while they scrim­maged. Mc­Groarty is alert and per­cept­ive at every de­tail, stop­ping mid-game to of­fer his play­ers feed­back and en­cour­age­ment:

Fol­low­ing a failed corner kick: Do it again! We have to be bet­ter!

Dur­ing a lapse in cov­er­age that led to a goal against the first unit: That can NOT hap­pen!

When a play­er’s idea of a cross pass didn’t quite ma­ter­i­al­ize as hoped: Hey, that’s a great idea! Just put it a bit stronger across!

Mc­Carthy, one of Mc­Groarty’s most vet­er­an play­ers, soaked it all up and ex­pressed how lucky she felt to ab­sorb les­sons from a coach­ing le­gend.

“He knows every­one and every­one knows him,” the team’s de­fens­ive stop­per said. “He’s easy­going. He’s very old school while be­ing very fair at the same time. He gets right to the point with us. If some­body does something wrong, he knows the ex­act thing to say to help us get bet­ter.”

Dec­ades of ex­per­i­ence will do that to a coach, and Mc­Groarty said he sticks around not to win more league titles, but to help young wo­men use soc­cer as a tool to get them­selves in­to col­lege and fur­ther their edu­ca­tion in be­com­ing pro­duct­ive mem­bers of so­ci­ety. 

“I can’t even com­pre­hend right now how many have gone on to col­lege to play soc­cer,” he said. “I’ve for­got­ten how many, but it’s been a lot over the years. It’s great to util­ize something like this in or­der to get an edu­ca­tion and be­come whatever they go on to be­come. One of the good things is the moth­ers trust­ing their daugh­ters to me, and I think it’s be­cause they know what I am and what I’m about.

“When I star­ted this, I had no idea I’d be here for however many years. To last as long as I have and be suc­cess­ful with the kids, that’s something. You look back on it and you say, ‘You know what? That’s something that I can be proud of.’ ”

Mc­Groarty knows in a league this strong, the Bam­bies will have their work cut out for them in try­ing to win the pro­gram’s first title in 12 years. He poin­ted to the back-to-back titles Ry­an has won, re­ly­ing on a ton of sopho­mores and ju­ni­ors to earn the ul­ti­mate prize.

“We’re kind of in the same boat, and I hope we get the same res­ults as they (Ry­an) did,” he said. “Some­times, you have to re-tool and re-load. We don’t have a choice. But we’ll work for it, and we want it. I’m ex­pect­ing us to be good. How good? That’s to be de­term­ined.”

And if the Bam­bies still need an­oth­er year of season­ing, that’s OK, too. After all, the 2015 sea­son will be Mc­Groarty’s 40th, and he’s not plan­ning on hanging his whistle up any­time soon.

“I hope I stay healthy long enough to go on as long as I can,” he said. “I have no plans on set­ting a num­ber or a year. Someday, I’ll just wake up and say, ‘You know that? I think it’s time.’ ” ••

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