Chuck Dunham left something he loves doing at the end of the fall sports season when he stepped away as Shenendehowa’s varsity girls’ swimming and diving coach after a successful seven-year run.
“You don’t want to get to a point where it’s not an enjoyable experience,” Dunham said. “You don’t want to get burned out. Fortunately, I never got to that point. I felt I left the girls at the right time.”
Dunham is still a busy guy as the varsity boys’ swimming and diving coach at Shenendehowa, as the school’s aquatics director and as the caretaker of the Clifton Park-Waterford Piranhas club program.
For most high school coaches now, one varsity team is enough.
“You ask athletes to give so much, and you want to match that,” Dunham said. “You ask them to put in 100 percent and you have to follow what you preach. That’s difficult to sustain back to back for so many years.”
Phonsey Lambert can relate to that. The Saratoga Central Catholic varsity baseball coach since 1988 also spent nine seasons in charge of the school’s varsity girls’ basketball team ending in 2004.
“With anything, you have to dive into it,” Lambert, Saratoga Catholic’s athletic director, said. “In order to reach the maximum peak with kids you have to give everything you can give. It’s hard to maintain in two sports.”
Lambert coaches the varsity bowling team these days to go with his diamond duties. He is among a select list of two-sport varsity head coaches in Section II, and the list of adults who oversee three is even shorter.
“That’s what the old timers did,” Lambert said. “Not only did they do it, they won. You don’t see that now. They were really dedicated.”
Mike Lilac coached varsity football, basketball and baseball at Stillwater, and his son, Mike Lilac Jr., directed teams in all three sports at Hoosick Falls at one point. The son stepped away as Hoosick Falls modified football coach years ago, yet is still in charge of the Panthers varsity baseball and boys’ basketball teams.
“When my dad said he wasn’t going to do football anymore we couldn’t understand why,” Lilac Jr. said, “Now I do. It takes a lot to coach three sports.”
Two varsity sports can be quite a task as well.
“A lot goes into it,” said Liz Parry, who has led Emma Willard’s field hockey team for 33 years and is in her 32nd season with the school’s varsity lacrosse team. “There’s playing and practices, but there’s more than going out to the field. There’s team bonding. There’s equipment and planning.”
Marbry Gansle is among the area’s few who still coach three varsity sports, directing Shaker’s girls’ cross country, gymnastics and track and field teams. Doug Hadley at Columbia and the husband-wife tandem of Art and Linda Kranick at Saratoga Springs are among the other year-round head varsity coaches in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field.
“First of all, I’m in it for the kids. I love kids,” Gansle said. “I was shy and quiet in high school and sports gave me confidence and a family-type of atmosphere. I had some great experiences. I want to give that back and provide them with memories.”
Gansle is in her 39th year working after school and on weekends with student-athletes. This spring is her 117th consecutive season.
“I have the support of my family,” said Gansle, who is also Shaker’s Ski Club advisor and the Section II and state coordinator for girls’ cross country and gymnastics. “My husband is very good about it. My daughter is good.”
Parry, the Section II girls’ lacrosse coordinator, said four coaches in that sport stepped down before the spring season because they had or are going to have babies.
“A lot of guys have kids and stop coaching,” Lilac Jr. said. “It helps to have a wife who understands you’re not in it for the wins, and that you’re there to help kids.”
Gansle’s daughter, Ashley, has taken after her mom as a three-sport coach, working as a cross country assistant at Columbia and the field events director for the Bethlehem indoor and outdoor track and field teams.
“The running sports are probably where you see the most head coaches involved in more than one,” said Wayne Bertrand, Section II’s executive director. “You see it a lot in indoor and outdoor track.”
More rare is the multi-head varsity coach in other team sports, such as Curtis Snyder at Guilderland (girls’ soccer and boys’ tennis), Greg Giombetti at Albany Academy (girls’ soccer and girls’ lacrosse) and John Striffler at Scotia-Glenville (wrestling and baseball).
“The more years your into it, you get more perspective,” said Lilac Jr., who has coached Hoosick Falls varsity basketball teams for 20 years and is beginning his 26th campaign with school’s varsity baseball team. “I’ve seen guys living and dying with every play. I’ve seen guys get burned out that way. A lot has to do with the way you approach the game.”
Duke Beck at Greenwich, like Lilac Jr., coaches varsity basketball and baseball. John Furey of Niskayuna coaches varsity football and baseball. Michele Venditto and Erin Lloyd coach varsity field hockey and girls’ lacrosse at Glens Fall and Schuylerville, respectively. Elise Britt at Saratoga Springs is an assistant field hockey and girls’ lacrosse coach.
“You’re seeing fewer of them,” Parry said. “People are still coaching two sports, but they’re not doing two varsity sports. There’s a little less pressure at a lower level. A little less time involved. They still want to help kids.”
Many varsity football coaches can be seen assisting other varsity teams or leading lower level squads teams throughout Section II in the winter and spring.
“Taking on head coaching in two seasons, it seems to be trending away from that,” Bertrand said.
Lambert said reasons vary as to why.
“I think it’s the time commitment. I think it’s pressure. There’s more specialization now,” Lambert said. “One sport pulls away from the other.”