Over the weekend, local athletes mourned the loss of a man who decades ago was for many of them not just a coach, but a mentor, a father figure and the reason they found self-worth.
Larry Mulvaney, the legendary football coach at Schenectady’s Mont Pleasant High School who led the school’s undefeated 1967 football team to victory, died on March 26 at age 95.
Mulvaney, who was also an educator at the school for many years, coached and taught until his retirement in 1989. Prior to his work at Schenectady, he served in the United States Marine Corps.
Mulvaney had an illustrious career: he led his football teams to 12 Class A championships, coached three undefeated teams, and also coached a number of state wrestling champs.
In 2007 he was inducted into the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame and the Section II Wrestling Hall of Fame. In 2012 he was inducted into the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame, and in 1998 was a part of the inaugural class of the Schenectady School District Athletic Hall of Fame.
But Mulvaney’s impact was, for many, much more than just a list of achievements on a resume.
Athletic Hall of Fame organizer Bob Pezzano said when reached on Sunday that he regularly has the opportunity to talk to people throughout the country who knew Mulvaney and were influenced by his coaching.
Loved and respected, Mulvaney had a positive effect on the lives of “countless” athletes, Pezzano said. He got to know Mulvaney years ago through a summer sports camp in Schenectady and then later through the hall of fame.
“He’s a very special man and a class act. He was very dedicated as an educator and he was loved and respected by his players,” Pezzano said. While in the middle of a game, Pezzano said, Mulvaney was there for his players.
But once the game was over, his mentorship and respect extended to everyone, including the students at Linton High School, the rivals of the Mont Pleasant team. To find more proof of Mulvaney’s influence, Pezzano pointed out that people need look no further than the name of Schenectady High School’s football field, the “Larry Mulvaney Field.”
Ron Page, a star running back for one of Mulvaney’s teams, said on Sunday that he knew of Mulvaney as a legendary figure before he actually played football on his team.
“You knew of him, you heard of him and his reputation,” Page said. “He was a guy who really cared for his players, really cared for the school, and really cared for us learning the game the right way. You had an understanding of who he is.”
During a point in time where Mont Pleasant was essentially a theater for football, the place to be if you wanted to play, Mulvaney believed in his players even if they didn’t always believe in themselves. Page said that his father wasn’t around when he was in high school, but Mulvaney stepped in to fill that role, refusing to let him fall by the wayside.
Mulvaney held him responsible for being a good and responsible player, lessons that led directly to success in his college career as well as his life after school, Page said.
“He didn’t want you to settle. He wanted to keep improving and being the best you could be,” Page said.
Al Aldi, was co-captain of the undefeated 1967 Mont Pleasant football team under Mulvaney. Later, Aldi taught at Mont Pleasant and was an assistant coach to Mulvaney. Getting to know Mulvaney in various roles was a privilege, Aldi said, but having him as a coach as a teenager was particularly poignant. Mulvaney kept in touch with his athletes during the summertime, and all of his players trusted him implicitly.
“Coach Mulvaney was so important to so many of us coming through Mont Pleasant at the time because he was so stable and consistent and such a role model at a time in our lives where we needed that,” he said. “He wanted to make young people realize that they could really reach for the stars.”
Gale Knull, a senior All-American lineman in 1967 who will be inducted into the Schenectady Athletic Hall of Fame himself in 2019, said on Sunday that Mulvaney was responsible for avoiding the likelihood of a “dead end kid” from a low-income area. Mulvaney not only served as coach, Knull said, the coach served as chauffeur and mentor by driving him around to college visits.
“He was probably the biggest influence in my life and the reason I had success both in life and athletics,” Knull said.
Knull recalled one day, after the football season had ended, when Mulvaney pulled him aside and asked him what he was planning on doing during the winter season to stay engaged. Knull told Mulvaney he had plans to play basketball.
“And he said, ‘No you’re too short for basketball, you’re going to wrestle,’ ” Knull said. “Here’s god telling you you’re too short for basketball and that you’re going to wrestle. You just said, ‘Yes, coach.’ He was always in your corner, and always looking out for you. He kept me on the straight and narrow.”