Joan Neuendorf straddled two distinct eras in Rockland County athletics. She swam for Tappan Zee High School in the late 1970s, when Rockland schools competed amongst themselves in the Rockland County Public School Athletic League and represented Section 9 along with Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties. During her 18-year tenure as swimming coach at Suffern, she experienced the Rockland schools’ realignment and fullfledged membership in Section 1, joining Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties.
There is little doubt, however, where her allegiances lie. “Rockland County is very tightknit ,” says Neuendorf, a 1979 Tappan Zee alumna. “I’m honored and gratified I had the opportunity to play sports in the county and work with some great coaches here,” she says.
“I learned a lot from them. They’re a special group.”
Neuendorf’s days at Tappan Zee were filled with athletic involvement. She remembers taking part in AAU club swimming workouts in the morning Ð her father would drive her and her younger brother, Robert, to Westchester for the sessions Ð then practicing with the Tappan Zee basketball team in the afternoon. She also remembers the TZ girlsÕ swimmers training with the boys’ team
“I’d be swimming with guys in my lane” and she especially relishes the memory of the close and exciting rivalry with Suffern.
“We had to sell tickets for the meet,” says Neuendorf, whose older brother, Billy, and older sister, Diane, also swam for TZ. “They were sold out. The boys’ and girls’ meets would be held at the same time, and we would alternate boys’ and girls’ events. I remember we [Tappan Zee] won both meets by a very close score.”
Neuendorf played a major role in the Dutchies’ success. Over a sterling four-year varsity swim career, she won seven Rockland County and seven Section 9 titles, in individual or relay events; was undefeated for three straight years in the 100-yard backstroke, setting a school record that lasted 15 years; set school records in the 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, and as a member of the 400 freestyle relay and 200 medley relay; and twice swam on 200 medley relay units that finished second in the New York State championship meet. She made All-County and All-Section all four years.
Spearheaded by Neuendorf and a solid nucleus of versatile swimmers, Coach Sarah DeZago’s Tappan Zee squad swept the Rockland County title all four years and won the Section 9 title in 1976, 1978 and 1979.
Swimming was Neuendorf’s best sport but not her only one. In softball, she was the first-team All-County center fielder in her junior and senior years, and batted .513 as a junior. Tappan Zee shared the County title that year with three other teams, and lost the Section 9 championship game to Suffern by one run. Neuendorf also played three years of varsity basketball, earning honorable mention All-County her senior year and serving as team captain.
At the State University of New York at Cortland, Neuendorf spanned the transition from the AIAW to the NCAA as the governing body for collegiate womenÕs athletics. In her four years at Cortland, Neuendorf earned All-America honors each year, in a total of 11 events. She competed in the last AIAW national championships and the first NCAA Division III championships; held eight school records, two of which still stand, the 100 individual medley and 800 free relay; earned SUNY athletic conference gold medals in the 100, 200 and 400 individual medley and in various relays; captained the team her junior and senior years; and helped lead Cortland to three SUNYAC team championships.
After graduating from Cortland in 1983, Neuendorf embarked on an 18-year coaching career at Suffern. Her girls’ swimming teams established themselves as a perennial power. Under Neuendorf’s guidance, the Mounties won the Rockland County championship eight consecutive years, 1985 to 1992; captured three Section 1 crowns, and five Divisional and League titles each; compiled an overall dual-meet record of 122 wins and 34 losses; and ended the 1992 season with a No. 2 state ranking, the highest ever attained by a Rockland girls’ swim team. Neuendorf was tabbed as Coach of the Year in Rockland County eight times and in Section 1 twice.
In boys’ swimming, Neuendorf led the Mounties to an overall dual-meet record of 75 wins and 28 losses; five Divisional titles; and 11 consecutive runner-up finishes (behind Tappan Zee) in the Rockland County championships. She also coached Tate Blahnik, a national high school champion and record holder in the backstroke.
Neuendorf continued her own athletic pursuits beyond college, channeling her energies into a successful recreation softball career. She was a slugging center fielder on the Avon teams that won Ramapo Women’s Softball league championships each year from 1984 to 1990, and also starred in the Bergen County and Hoboken womenÕs leagues. Her swimming background helped prepare her for the endurance challenge of finishing a marathon, which she did, in the 1995 New York City Marathon. SheÕs also completed a few triathlons, and still plays golf with many of her longtime friends from the Rockland County athletic community.
Neuendorf, who is 43, is currently director of physical education at Suffern High School. She was named to the WhoÕs Who of AmericaÕs Teachers in 2000 and was also named to the Wall of Tolerance national campaign for teachers in 2001. In addition, she is the incoming president of the Rockland County Coaches Association.
Neuendorf lives in Valley Cottage with her partner, Dawn Sugrue, and their three children:Aedan, age 2; and twins Hunter and Jack, 5 months.