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Joseph Hyland, 92; athlete, coach triumphed over polio

Joseph Hyland in 1977, the year he retired. He was also inducted to the Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame that year. Joseph Hyland in 1977, the year he retired. He was also inducted to the Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame that year.
By Marvin Pave
Globe Correspondent / February 1, 2009
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Joseph M. Hyland, affectionately called "Uncle Joe" by his colleagues and student-athletes in Manchester-by-the-Sea was a hands-on coach and athletic director who could often be found chalking the foul lines on the baseball field or sweeping out the gymnasium after a basketball game.

Respected as a gentleman on and off the field, Mr. Hyland, who never let the polio he contracted as a child keep him from the activities he enjoyed and the job he loved, was the high school's first athletic director and a three-sport coach whose 1962 baseball team won the state championship.

Mr. Hyland, a 1977 inductee to the Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and a resident of Hollis, N.H., for the past eight years, died Thursday of an aneurysm at Elliot Hospital in Manchester, N.H. He was 92.

His career spanned 40 years and was highlighted by the high school football field being named for him upon his retirement in 1977. Last fall, he was honored at halftime at the final game at Hyland Field, which will be rededicated in his memory when construction of the new Manchester-Essex Regional High School and athletic field is completed.

"At that last game, Joe had 39 family members and friends with him. He was introduced at halftime and was given a standing ovation," recalled current Manchester-Essex athletic director Hardy Nalley, who played baseball on Mr. Hyland's teams from 1958 to 1962. "He was a man of great character who tried to set the right example and was always positive, upbeat, and fair."

"Joe's entire life was a miracle," said Mr. Hyland's son-in-law, Frank McDonough of Hollis, N.H. "Everything people told him he couldn't do, he did and did well. He met life's challenges with determination and will. He contracted polio at age 6 and his mother, Catherine, would take him on the train to Boston and literally carry him into Children's Hospital, where he had unsuccessful experimental surgery on his legs to improve the muscle tone.

"Although he wore braces for a while, he learned to walk through constant repetition. He developed his upper body and could swim from Singing Beach to Misery Island off the coast and back. He was innovative and creative throughout his life, even making his own garden tools so that he wouldn't have to overly exert himself."

A lifelong Manchester-by-the-Sea resident until moving to New Hampshire, Mr. Hyland graduated from Story High School (later Manchester Junior-Senior High School and now Manchester-Essex Regional) in 1934. Three years later, he began his coaching career at the high school where he also taught physical education.

"Mr. Hyland had a huge impact on every student from my generation," said Nate Greenberg (Class of 1967), former public relations director and special assistant with the Boston Bruins. "He represented everything that was good about high school athletics and he stressed sportsmanship over everything. It made no difference if you were a college-bound scholarship athlete or a sub on the junior varsity - he showed the same caring for everyone."

John Burke, a former assistant managing editor at the Boston Globe and now a consultant to Boston.com, said he was given his nickname "Finney" by Mr. Hyland, who was his mentor.

"Mr. Hyland referred to me as Finney in a writeup that he submitted to the Manchester Cricket newspaper about a midget baseball game in which I had been moved from right field to first base," recalled Burke. "It was the same day that Red Sox right fielder Lou Finney made the same move. We both went 2-for-4 at the plate and that nickname has stayed with me for almost 70 years.

"What always impressed me about Joe Hyland was although he had trouble walking, he was determined to play baseball, basketball, and tennis and he excelled in all three sports."

The son of a landscape gardener and one of nine children, Mr. Hyland starred as a catcher in baseball at the high school and the local town team. While at bat, Mr. Hyland was allowed a courtesy runner if he put the ball in play. It was called "The Hyland Rule."

And when it came to sports rules, no one knew them better than Mr. Hyland, according to his close friend and colleague, Herb Schlegel.

"He knew all the nuances of the rule book whether it was football, basketball, or baseball," recalled Schlegel, a full-time teacher-coach at the high school from 1957-95. "I learned just about everything from Joe and he was the greatest coach I've seen at any level. He was always capable of handling people without expressing anger, and if he went out to talk to an umpire about a call, he'd always put his arm around him and have a nice, soft conversation. And he could hit fungoes [practice fly balls] as good as anyone I've ever seen except for Johnny Pesky."

Mr. Hyland was also a founder and innovative coach of the North Shore six-man football league, which included teams from Manchester (coached by Mr. Hyland), Hamilton, Georgetown, Essex Agricultural School, and Topsfield. His teams were undefeated at home for eight consecutive years.

A founder and longtime supporter of youth sports in Manchester, Mr. Hyland was inducted into the Manchester branch of the National Honor Society in 1976 and given the Slade Eaton Citizenship award by the Manchester Elder Brethren in 1994. He was recently awarded membership in the newly founded Manchester-Essex Gridiron Club.

In addition to his son-in-law, Mr. Hyland leaves his wife of 66 years, Virginia (Crosby) of Hollis, whom he met at church when she came to work in Manchester; three sons, Joseph Jr. of Concord, N.H., Peter of Baytown, Texas, and Edward of Bennington, N.H.; two daughters, Sally McDonough and Catherine Roukas of Hollis; 18 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said Tuesday at 10 a.m. at Sacred Heart Church in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Burial will be in Pleasant Grove Cemetery in Manchester-by-the Sea.

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