Pearl River High School Class of 2006
During an initial conversation about being honored by the Rockland Sports Hall of Fame, Michael Coffey allowed that “it’s a really big surprise, especially that it would happen at this time.”
It was only in a second conversation that he let on why the timing was so important.
He had just learned that a friend with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy had been put on a ventilator because of a respiratory issue. The friend, Michael explained, has since passed away, just three days short of his 31st birthday.
“Most of his life was a struggle,” Michael says of his friend John, “which he went through without complaining.”
His friend’s passing, he decided, was a time for introspection in that Michael Coffey, who will be 28 in August, also has Duchenne’s, a progressive form of muscular dystrophy caused by a defective gene. It blocks production of an enzyme needed to keep muscles healthy. There’s no cure, but medication, ther- apy and medical advances have lengthened life expectancy.
Michael says the timing of the Joe Holland Lifetime Achievement Award put things into perspective for him.
“I realize I’m really lucky that I get to do what I do,” he says. “It also puts me in a position to raise awareness of Duchenne’s and be able to inspire others.”
Still mobile as a youngster, he was registered for T-Ball, but by 14 he was having trouble with stairs. That’s when he slipped and fell on a ramp at home and sustained five compression fractures in his back.
He decided then that it would be safer for him to use a wheel- chair to get around.
That hasn’t kept him from building on experiences at Pearl River High School to earn a position as an assistant basketball coach and assistant sports information director at Dominican College, where he earned his B.A. in Biology and teacher certification in 2010. He also earned an M.S. in sports management from Southern New Hampshire University in 2014.
At Pearl River High School, partly to earn service credit, Michael assisted the baseball team at home games and then started working with the football and basketball teams, grow- ing into an assistant role with Coach Jerry Houston. His duties included operating the clock for timed practice drills, keeping score at scrimmages, recording stats at games and even scouting opponents using game films and reporting his findings to Coach Houston. By his senior season, Houston says, Michael was able to offer valuable observations about individual players, fulfilling the role of an assistant coach.
After his 2006 graduation from Pearl River, Michael was manager of the Dominican men’s basketball team until his 2010 graduation.
That year, he was honored by the Pearl River High School Sports Hall of Fame with the Tom & Priscilla Lanks Community Service Award, bestowed on the person who has contributed the most to the school’s athletics program.
Dominican graduation brought a tough decision – he had to choose between being an assistant at Pearl River and the same role at Dominican.
The offer of a full-time position from Dominican Coach Joe Clinton made the decision easier. Michael has just completed his sixth season as an assistant coach and third as assistant sports information director.
Joe Clinton, himself a Hall of Fame honoree, says Michael does valuable work contributing to defensive game plans for the team. “Mike has been around the game all his life and has a good basketball mind.”
There’s a lot of hard work behind that, Clinton says. He puts the time in, breaking down opponent tapes, analyzing offenses and contributing to the defensive game plan.
“He comes up with good ideas,” Clinton says, adding that al- though Dominican doesn’t play much zone defense, if Michael thinks it’s the best way to stop an opponent, it goes into the mix.
Although his wheelchair keeps him from going on the court to demonstrate what he’s installing, Clinton says Michael’s knowledge of the game has earned the respect of the players. “He’s smart and knows what he’s doing and he catches their attention.”
Michael says he’s a constant student of the game. “You have to know and understand what you’re talking about before you can pass it on,” he says, adding that he wants to learn and digest different coaches’ thoughts about the game.
Being able to write and type and use a cell phone and other technology has undoubtedly unlocked opportunities for Michael, who has another role at Dominican he couldn’t have at Pearl River.
He reviews tapes submitted by recruits and makes recruiting calls, trying to convince promising talent to come to Blauvelt. Michael Coffey credits Pearl River coaches Jerry Houston Jr. and Sr. with teaching him the value of game preparation.
Now he says, Coach Clinton has given him the opportunity to put that work ethic into practice at Dominican, the oppor- tunity to grow as a coach and inspire others in doing so.