Successful high school athletic programs are built upon many pillars. Chief among them is continuity in the coaching staff. Without a dedicated coach to anchor a program through its growing pains, long-term prosperity is difficult to come by.
At Nanuet High School, that anchor is Rich Conklin. For 29 years – the past 24 as head coach – Conklin has molded young football players and wrestlers into fine athletes and finer people. In the land of the Golden Knights, Conklin is the weathervane: he sets the direction of his programs and follows through with a winning formula patented over nearly three decades of sustained excellence.
A home grown product and 1967 Nanuet graduate, Conklin bleeds Black & Gold. The pride of the Nanuet uniform that he instills in his athletes is evident on the gridiron every autumn Saturday and in wrestling arenas/ school gyms in the winter.
Conklin is Rockland’ s all-time winningest coach in wrestling dual meets, having accrued 200 victories in 24 years, while losing just 74 with 3 ties. His teams won the 1981 Rockland Public School Athletic League and 1995 Rockland County championships, as well as nine league titles. Individually he has mentored 25 Sectional champions and 15 New York State place winners (top six finishers), including state champion Paul Georgeades and state runners-up Paul Pietropaolo and Matt Roth.
Conklin has also had the good fortune of coaching his four sons, each of whom made a mark in their sports. The oldest, Chris , once held the county record for career wrestling victories with 137. Brother Sean is right behind with 136, while the youngest Conklin sibling, Ryan, is a three-time sectional champ.
The wrestling resume alone would be enough to ensconce Rich Conklin into the Hall of Fame. But his football dossier is just as impressive. His 155 career coaching victories ranks him second in Rockland annals; his overall mark is 155-52-2. Under Conklin, the Golden Knights have won 11 league titles, five sectional crowns, seven bowl victories and one regional. In 1994 he was named Coach of the Year by the state football association.
But Conklin’s ultimate coaching achievement – the feat that put Nanuet athletics on the national scholastic map – was guiding the 1989 Golden Knights football team to 10 straight shutouts in 10 games. Nanuet scored 239 points and allowed zero.
Undefeated, untied, unscored upon – the only such prep team in the country that year, according to USA Today. That shining season rates as one of the greatest in the history of Rockland County team sports. More impressive is the fact that, because of a major renovation project at its home field that year, Nanuet played every game on the road and practiced at the Don Bosco Marian Shrine in West Haverstraw.
“It was a unique situation,” Conklin said . “We needed something to motivate us, to pull us together, and traveling back and forth to practice each day did that. The bonding that took place was something special.”
Conklin developed his passion for athletics during his school years. He attended Albertus Magnus for two years, then transferred to Nanuet for the last two. In 1966 he was an All-County third baseman in baseball and a New York Daily News All-Star end in football. At Southern Connecticut State College, he earned Little All-America and All-East honors in football in 1970.
Conklin, who is 50, has taught at Nanuet High School since 1971 and currently teaches health. He and his wife, Don- na, have been married 27 years and have four children, all boys: Chris, 25, a physics and chemistry teacher at Nyack High School; Sean, 23, a recent graduate of Bloomsburg University; Derek, 21, a senior at Bloomsburg, and Ryan, 17, a junior at Nanuet.