The route from the playgrounds of Pearl River to the Rockland Sports Hall of Fame has been a journey to remember for Joe Clinton, who starred on the hardwood basketball courts at Albertus Magnus and Union College and has gilded his legacy with more than a quarter-century of success as basketball coach and athletic director at Dominican College.
The five Clinton boys – all Albertus grads – were encouraged by their parents, Edward and Frances, to pursue their interests wholeheartedly, whether it be in school, drama, athletics or other pastimes. Joe became enamored with basketball after his dad erected a basket in the family’s backyard on Graney Court – coincidentally, the same street as the home of his future coach at Albertus, Tom Collins. “We played a lot of games on that court,” Joe says. Pickup football, hoops and baseball games occupied much of Joe’s free time with buddies from the neighborhood like Tom and Pat Gavigan, Don Hafele and Mike Kolor.
After getting a taste of organized competition in CYO ball at St. Margaret’s, Joe moved on to Albertus, where Collins had built a high-octane basketball program in the ultra-competitive Rockland PSAL prior to Joe’s arrival in the mid-1970s. The program found another gear under Joe’s floor generalship as starting point guard in the 1977-78 and 1978-79 seasons. The Falcons won the Section 9 championship both years and, with Joe captaining the squad in 1979, advanced all the way to the New York State Class B championship game before bowing to undefeated Malverne in overtime. No other Albertus boys’ team has gone as far as that one.
“Joe was small in stature but big in heart,” Collins said. “He played every game like it was the NCAA final. He could shoot, pass, handle the ball, direct the offense – everything you needed out of a point guard. On teams that I coached, it didn’t matter who scored – they all had a piece of the pie. But Joe was the catalyst on that team, no question.”
Joe, along with teammates like Terry Kelly, Chris Sullivan, Mike Rizzo and others, benefited from a first-class program that instilled the fundamentals at the freshman level, under Mike Rotundo, and perfected skills under the demanding Collins. “I loved playing at Albertus and for Coach Collins,” Joe says. “To this day he’s the best coach I ever had. He always had us well prepared.”
The Falcons had to be well prepared to stave off the tough Rockland teams of that era. It’s hard to overstate the electric
atmosphere in the sold-out Albertus gym when teams like Pearl River, Nanuet, Clarkstown South and North Rockland came a-calling to try and knock off the Falcons, who finished a perfect 14-0 in the RCPSAL in Joe’s senior year en route to a 22-3 overall mark. The individual accolades came pouring in for Joe at season’s end. He was named the Rockland County Player of the Year as well as a 1st team Daily News All-Star and 3rd team New York State selection, encompassing all schools regardless of enrollment class. The All-County berth was his second such designation in two years.
Lest we forget, Joe was not a one-sport wonder. He also sparkled on the baseball diamond, twice claiming All-County laurels and helping the Falcons capture the 1978 Section 9 title. Joe was a reliable right-hander in Coach Jim Spearman’s rota- tion for two years and patrolled center field during his three- year varsity tenure. With Spearman’s blessing, he joined the track team in the spring 1979 season and, when there was no conflicting baseball activity, got to compete in a few dual meets and one invitational. At the Arlington Relays, Joe’s excellent split of 24.0 seconds on the second leg of the 880-yard relay helped the Falcons finish in second place with a school-record time of 1:34.1. He was joined on the relay by leadoff man Rick Teetsel – the son of track coach Dick Teetsel – third leg Ed Lynch and anchor leg Paul Fanelli, the County 440-yard dash champ.
“It was pretty impressive for a guy with no training or experience running on a cinder track in Converse basketball shoes,” Rick Teetsel says of Joe. “If Joe had been a track guy all through high school he would have been outstanding. I think he enjoyed running and I know we enjoyed running with him. And I am 100 percent certain that my father enjoyed coaching him.”
After a decorated career at Albertus, Joe headed upstate to take his roundball talents to Union College, a Division III school in Schenectady, N.Y. To say he made his mark on that program would be an understatement. He shattered the school assist record in just three years and was the only guard in school history to amass more than 1,000 points (1,270) and 500 assists (556). His four-year career culminated in an NCAA bid – the first in school history – in the 1982-83 campaign. Joe was recog- nized with 2nd team All-East honors for that memorable season.
Over the past 26 years, Joe has become synonymous with Dominican College athletics. He has served as athletic director for the Orangeburg, N.Y.-based school since November 1989 and has been the head coach of men’s basketball for 24 years, after two years as an assistant. His overall career record is 362 wins, 341 losses, but his record within the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) is even more stellar: 239-168. “We always played a strong non-conference schedule to get ready” for CACC competition, he says.
Strength of schedule also paid dividends beyond the confer- ence level. Joe engineered three national tournament bids for
the Chargers: twice when Dominican belonged to the NAIA, 1999-2000 and 2000-2001, and once in NCAA Division II, 2012-2013. Joe’s teams have captured the CACC regular- season crown four times and he has reaped the individual hon- ors that accompany such success, notching CACC Coach of the Year plaudits four times and twice being named All-Met NY-NJ Writers Division II Coach of the Year.
Dominican has been good to Joe, and vice versa. He’s coached countless high-caliber players, guys like Corey Fleetwood, Leon Porter, Mike Parchen and Ramon Wiggerton, to name a few. Coaching his son, Joey, a junior on the 2014-2015 team, has been “an awesome experience,” he says proudly. Sharing the sidelines with assistants such as Tony Toapha, Joe McGuinness and Pat Buckley has been equally rewarding. And interacting daily with the athletic staff at Dominican “has been fantastic,” he says. “I have had some great people working for me over the years.”
Growing up in Pearl River left such a positive impression on Joe Clinton that he has continued to make it his home. Joe, who’s 54, and his wife of 24 years, Mary Beth, are the proud parents of five children: Tara, 23; Joey, 21; Laura and Kelly, 18; and Erin, 14.