Tennis in North Jersey lost one of its biggest advocates last week when former Hasbrouck Heights tennis coach Neal McCarthy passed away on the eve of the Bergen County tennis tournament.
McCarthy won an incredible 837 matches for the Aviators between the boys (434) and girls teams (403) from 1979 through 2013. He led the Aviators to 25 total league titles (16 girls, nine boys) and five sectional titles total (three girls, two boys).
His final sectional title came last spring in his last full year as a coach when he led the boys to the North 1, Group 1 state sectional title. It was the first sectional title in nearly 20 years for the boys, who were scheduled to host Cresskill on Thursday in the sectional semifinals as they push to repeat as champions.
But it was about more than wins and trophies for the longtime coach, who also taught music for 50 years in the Hasbrouck Heights school system.
“He loved the kids, and he loved teaching them about tennis,” Hasbrouck Heights athletic director Mike Scuilla said of McCarthy, who hid his age like a state secret. “He wanted them to love tennis.”
“We’d sit out here after practice and he’d suddenly say ‘Isn’t this great.'” said Suzanne Kos, who took over as head coach when McCarthy retired last fall, after the Aviators’ victory in the North 1, Group 1 state sectional quarterfinal Monday. “He had an incredible ability to just enjoy it.”
And he wanted to share that enjoyment with everybody. Kos said he would go through his music classes asking which kids weren’t playing a sport and then cajole them to come out to the tennis courts behind the high school.
Scuilla said McCarthy regularly would have as many as 30 or 40 kids trying out to play tennis despite coaching at a Group 1 school.
“He created a place for kids who wanted to come,” Kos said. “He taught a lot of music students how to play tennis out here on these courts.”
It’s that dedication to the sport that even had some coaches throwing around the idea last week of possibly naming the Bergen County boys tennis tournament in McCarthy’s honor.
“He loved that tournament,” Kos said.
Maybe as much as he loved teaching the game of tennis.