On Monday, we posted a story of Matt Payamps, a standout of Saint Anthony's High School. We detailed how he was dedicating his Season to an ailing assistant coach, Bob Higgins. Later that evening, Coach Higgins passed away.
For a Friar
They were among the first friends I made when I arrived on the Marist College campus in August of 1982, a scared and skinny 115-pound distance kid from New Jersey. They talked in reverent tones about guys like Gregorek and Centrowitz and Petersen, names that meant nothing to me at the time, as a relative newbie to the sport of distance running. They would become lifelong friends. And then, when I started coaching here in 1991, before long my roster was littered with them, young men (and later, women) who carried the same proud high school tradition as my teammates from the mid-1980s. You can still find many of them on our current roster, and now there are parents as well, and of course an ever-growing legion of proud Forever Fox alums. The bond is strong, and it predates even my time as an athlete at Marist. I'm referring, of course, to the indelible, unique and special connection between the running programs at St. Anthony's High School on Long Island and Marist College in Poughkeepsie.
Once Tim Dearie, a St. Anthony's and Marist alum, became coach of the Friars many years ago, that bond and connection became even stronger, if that is possible. And then our good friend and teammate Ken Bohan, also a St. Anthony's and Marist alum, started coaching the young Friars. This, of course, gave us very valid excuses to go visit the Friars whenever they would make their annual treks to Bowdoin Park for the Federation or other cross country meets. We'd see Tim, Bo, Brother Antonio and whatever iteration of the black singlets were there that year. Almost always, we would be recruiting one or more of the Friars. Because, well, that's what we do here at Marist. And oh yeah, their teams are ALWAYS good.
During the last several years, we got to know another member of the Friar Family, a coach who always seem to have a smile on his face. Without fail, Bob Higgins would greet me warmly and by name. We had a running joke about who had the most out-of-date phone. For a quite a while, it was a good contest - me with my absurd flip phone, he with his ridiculous slider phone. Eventually, I "graduated" to a smart phone, but his ascension to 21st century technology took a bit longer (he did, eventually, get a smart phone!). I would bust his chops good naturedly because he would be wearing a Harvard sweatshirt instead of a Marist sweatshirt - as though pride in being an alum of one of the best colleges in the world were a bad thing! I'll admit that I never really got to know Coach Higgins that well, other than these brief encounters at cross country and track meets. He was just another friendly face in a sea of friendly Friar faces.
As of last month, he could still be spotted at track practice, cracking corny jokes (my kinda guy!) and inspiring his athletes in his low-key, unassuming way. Then I heard from Bo and Tim that something was wrong, maybe a cyst needed to removed in his head. It sounded concerning. It turned out to be far, far worse, an inoperable brain tumor. And on Monday, Coach Higgins - a proud Friar athlete, alum and coach -- was gone, way too soon at 57. I tell my athletes all the time, "hey guys, we're all day to day." They think I'm joking. We're not. Bo filled in some blanks about Higgins for me last week at BU. Higgins was a great member of some of the greatest St. Anthony's track relays back in the late 1970s. They did everything together back then. Higgins went to Harvard, had a successful career, came back to the island to coach at his alma mater, where he inspired so many Friars - including many current Red Foxes and recently graduated Forever Foxes. Tim and Bo and Higgins, reunited after all these years, doing something they loved at a place they most definitely loved. And now he's gone. Poof. Like that. I've read a few social media tributes to Coach Higgins. His athletes adored him. They were inspired by him. They put up with his trademark -- horrendously corny jokes. One of our current athletes texted me: "He inspired me to be a better runner and to work hard on and off the track." If that doesn't encapsulate everything we as coaches want out of our runners, I don't know what does. Life ain't fair.
Rest in peace, Coach Higgins. Long may you run.
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Track and cross country, head coach
Track and cross country, head coach