GILBERT, Ariz. — Catherine “Cathy” Neary McGuirk, long-time head coach of the Branford High School field hockey team, will be inducted into the National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) Hall of Fame this year.
“Cathy McGuirk brings an outstanding 41-year coaching career at Branford High School. She recorded 558 career wins and 10 state championships making her one of the premier high school coaches,” noted NFHCA First Vice-President and Chair of the Hall of Fame and Awards Committee, Julie Ryan. “We are thrilled to recognize Cathy’s contributions over the last four decades.”
“The phone call from Marybeth was surprising,” McGuirk commented on learning about her induction from NFHCA President, Marybeth Freeman. “I have been an NFHCA member for a long time — I did whatever I could do for my players — so I know the caliber of people I am joining in the Hall of Fame and to be counted among them is an honor. I never thought I would be included, and I am very humbled to be a part of such a prestigious group.”
McGuirk graduated from Central Catholic High School in 1963 where she played field hockey, basketball, tennis and softball. She was named the high school’s Best Female Athlete in 1963. In high school, she was encouraged and inspired by her physical education teacher, Loretta Pizzella, to pursue physical education at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU). At SCSU, McGuirk competed on the field hockey team, where, as a goalkeeper, she went all four years without being scored on once (McGuirk is quick to comment that she had a great team in front of her). After graduating with her undergraduate degree from SCSU, she earned a master’s degree in elementary education from the same institution.
For such an accomplished field hockey coach and athlete, it is surprising to learn that McGuirk was not interested when the head coach position at Branford first opened in 1977. She was beginning her tenth year as a teacher when the position became available — her husband, John McGuirk, thought his athletically accomplished wife should seriously consider it.
It took some convincing from John, but eventually McGuirk relented and took the job. And she hasn’t looked back. This fall will be the first in 41 years that she’s not on the Branford sideline.
In her four decades as the head coach of the Branford field hockey team, McGuirk amassed an impressive 558-129-64-12 (wins-losses-ties-overtime losses) record, over that time averaging only three losses a season and touting three undefeated seasons. Her team reached the Connecticut state tournament an unprecedented 40 years in a row, Branford field hockey was named Connecticut state champion 10 times. The players she coached accumulated so many accolades, it’s nearly impossible to keep count. McGuirk, herself, has been named to six separate halls of fame, the NFHCA being her seventh.
But with all of these accolades, when asked about her proudest coaching moment, she still thinks back her first state championship in 1985 — she remembers that team as being special and the journey to their first championship an important learning experience. “From 1977 to 1985, John and I learned a lot,” McGuirk reminisces. “We learned a lot about how to get the kids engaged and what we wanted to do on the field while contending with some outstanding teams.”
McGuirk’s coaching philosophy centered around kindness and fun. Her mission was to treat her players fairly and make sure they enjoyed themselves because as she notes: “if you’re not having fun, you won’t want to work hard.”
Her team’s success led McGuirk to be named the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Region I Coach of the Year in 1993, the Connecticut Field Hockey Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 1987, and the “Special Sports” National Coach of the Year in 1994.
For 32 of her 41-year coaching career, McGuirk was a physical education teacher in the Branford school system, following in the footsteps of her role model, Pizzarella. And for 38 years alongside her on the field was her husband and assistant coach, John, the person who first encouraged her to lead the Branford program.
“The joy was working with the kids and seeing them improve, that’s why I did it,” said McGuirk. “And working as a team with John for 38 years was an incredible experience.”
McGuirk still resides in Branford, Connecticut. She plans on spending her retirement traveling with her husband and enjoying field hockey from the opposite sideline.
McGuirk will be officially inducted into the NFHCA Hall of Fame at this year’s NFHCA Awards Dinner sponsored by AstroTurf which will take place on Thursday, January 17, as part of the NFHCA Annual Convention in Lake Mary, Florida.
(Image credit: John Steady)