For many, the thought of becoming a professional in the Track and Field sphere starts and ends with "Professional Athlete." In a new monthly series, MileSplit NY will be shining light on the broad spectrum of possibilities our sport provides, outside of competing as an athlete. We'll be meeting New Yorkers who have made their way in the sport, utilizing their own unique strengths, to bring the sport to the high level it sits at in the Empire State. Check out prior entries here.
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Dan Doherty doesn't quite know what to do with himself.
He's spent nearly all of his adult life coaching track/cross country, officiating and working as a track administrator at the state level. His springs are usually filled with meetings and meets, planning sessions and trips to various points in the Northeast where he works as an official. Yet, this spring Doherty, like much of the country, finds himself at home and more than a bit bored.
"In the winter and spring I officiate every day, sometimes a couple of meets a day," said Doherty, 64, who is the New York State girls outdoor track chairman, a position he has held since 1987. "I've gone from being very busy every day to doing nothing. It hasn't been easy. I was actually sick for a couple of weeks but I never got tested [for CoVid-19].
"A few weeks went by and I have since gotten better but the boredom is killing me. Right now I should be on my way to The Penn Relays but here I am on the phone [doing an interview]. Mentally it hasn't been easy."
Doherty, who has also been the Section 1 girls cross country chairman since 1993, has been coaching at Pearl River High School, his alma mater, for 42 years. He has guided the Pirates through some legendary seasons, ones that included 33 consecutive sectional titles and a dual-meet victory streak that reached 221 consecutive wins before it came to an end in 2017. That streak began in 1990 and the amazing part about it is that the Pirates had won 86 consecutive dual meets before the loss that sent them on the bigger streak. The streak is believed to be the current Girls National Record for Cross Country.
Doherty speaking on his first streak, in 1988
Pearl River cross country has won eight state titles under Doherty and a pair of Federation championships, all of which have Doherty very proud. All the titles and wins, however, won't get him out of the house any time soon and back to doing what he loves. Coaching and helping organize and run track meets around the state.
While every coach/official/player in every sport continues to struggle with what certainly seems like a lost spring season, Doherty is one of the people that has to work on helping make a season happen, should all the social distancing restrictions be eased sometime next month.
"We didn't have a contingency plan," Doherty said. "Until the NBA canceled its season, I don't think anyone had any thoughts about it. The indoor nationals were supposed to start that Friday and they didn't get canceled until Wednesday night. That's how close they were to staying on track.
"We won't know anything until May 15. On May 15 if they decide, we can have practices and that kind of stuff. With each passing date, though, it's less likely to happen."
Doherty said that all the spring sports chairpersons had a conference call earlier this month and will have another one before the end of April. It may just be wishful thinking but he and his colleagues have been trying to come up with plans should a shortened spring season ever start.
"One of the ideas we came up with was instead of a state meet we could go in a different direction and keep everything local so a larger majority of athletes have fuller seasons instead of just the elite kid," Doherty said. "That's probably the way things will go if we start up near the end of May. I don't know if we can fix it, though. It's a very, very sad situation. Personally, my times as a senior in spring track [at Pearl River] improved dramatically and set me up for college.
"What would have happened if I didn't have that spring track season? My whole life could have been different. I'm not looking for any changes in my life but when you look at it from that aspect, you feel so bad for all these seniors."
Doherty is wearing his coach and Section 1 coordinator hats when he says he is also concerned about what will happen in the fall if the spring season doesn't play out and the restrictions aren't lifted until deep into the summer. How he will help put together a fall season in the section, and how he will prepare his own team remain pertinent questions.
If teams can start practicing in July, then there will be a two-month buffer during which he can plan. If the restrictions last until the opening of school, however that scenario plays out, then the start of the season may be in jeopardy.
"One question will be what if the kids haven't run for three or four months," he said. "That's one of my concerns and the adjustments we would have to make because of that. We have had a set thing [at Pearl River] for 40-plus years. Most of the kids usually come into the summer off months of running upon running. The worst part of all this is the unknown."
The unprecedented nature of the current situation is unlike anything Doherty has experienced as an administrator, coach or athlete. And, Doherty has seen much. He's witnessed the state meet grow into an enormous operation and undertaking, going from Class A, B and C to Division 1 and 2. Doherty also helped introduce the steeple chase as an event in New York State.
Doherty built Pearl River into one of the most dominant cross country programs in state history. This after he almost didn't take the job as coach.
"I was running at Montclair State and when the [Pearl River] AD called me in September of 1978, I gave him a million different reasons why I didn't want to take the job," said Doherty, who was Pearl River's "dean of discipline" from 1985 until he retired in 2011. "Every excuse I would give him, he would say yeah but do you want to do it? I did it [coached] for one season and it became hundreds of seasons. In that first year, as the girls got into it, that's when my interest started shifting from running [to coaching]."
While he has had unparalleled success as a coach, Doherty said he doesn't really place one team over another. He appreciates his coaching history but has instilled in his teams the need to look forward not back.
"I've always been fortunate," Doherty said. "I don't know why what we do works. The parents turn their kids over to me and the kids listen and try real hard. They have a strong desire to do great. You put all those things together and you build on it.
"The past means nothing, though. There is no season that is more important than the one that's coming up. I live more in the present than in the past."
Doherty added that the team he had in 2019 was his favorite. It didn't win the counties and it finished second in the state but there was something about the group that energized him and had him looking forward to this fall.
"They were a very special team and it will hit me hard if I'm not able to be with them in September," Doherty said.
Note: We recently featured Doherty's Brother, Tom, in an earlier piece on our "Prose" series. You can find that entry by clicking here.