North Andover boys basketball coach Mike McVeigh was not always just a coach. For a long time, he was Mr. McVeigh, history teacher. His goal was to be sure the youth of North Andover understood the world as it was before them and how they came to be.
After all, those who ignore history are bound to repeat it, right? Heeding this adage, a step back in time offers a little history lesson.
Simply mention the name “McVeigh” in these parts, and the immediate response draws one word: passion. McVeigh recalls that Frank Monahan, the former Merrimack College head basketball coach, recognized his passion when McVeigh played as a Merrimack Warrior. Monahan later hired McVeigh as an assistant coach.
When North Andover’s coaching job became available in fall 1982, McVeigh saw it not just as an opportunity to be a head coach in the game he loved, but also as an opportunity to do what he did best. Very quickly people started realizing that “Mike McVeigh, basketball coach” would be more properly recognized as “Mike McVeigh, life coach.” All he ever wanted to do was make a difference in young peoples’ lives, whether basketball was a part of it or not.
As senior tricaptain Alex Gorgoni loves to point out, that’s one of the best parts about playing for McVeigh.
“He cares about us as kids, not just basketball players,” Gorgoni said.
McVeigh’s son John, currently the coach at Brooks School and now entering his 10th year as a head coach, reflected on his father’s early coaching days.
“I remember being in seventh grade,” John McVeigh said, “and telling my dad how excited I was to be able to play for him and he just looked at me and said ‘oh boy, I’ll probably be long gone by then.’ ”
That was 20 years ago. Now entering his 31st season as head coach at North Andover, Mike McVeigh, 64, has never taken anything for granted, whether it was one lesson in the classroom, one defensive stop on the court, or how lucky he is to go to work every day.
McVeigh credits his teams — “a hard-working group of players with a lot of talent’’ — and also his predecessor as coach, Bob Licare , who coached at North Andover from 1960 to 1982.
“A lot of the culture that we have now and the tradition we have, it started with Bob. He was a terrific coach in every way,” McVeigh said.
But his players and colleagues see McVeigh as a unique motivator.
“Mike’s the most energetic and passionate coach on our staff. The kids recognize that and respect it,” said North Andover athletic director Jon Longley. “He has a lot of goals and the ability to achieve them.”
And he never stops teaching.
“Here, I feel like I’ve learned the game better. Coach McVeigh taught me the game and my IQ on the court just went way up,” said senior Chris Bardwell, a newcomer to McVeigh’s squad after transferring from Central Catholic.
It is a good thing he has not stopped teaching either. Now that North Andover has moved into the Merrimack Valley Conference, the team’s preparations require an entirely new set of lesson plans.
“This league we’re in is certainly a challenge,” said McVeigh. “We went from being the second biggest school to the third smallest. But we weren’t worried.’’
The Scarlet Knights are coming off a 20-2 season that saw them fall to Wakefield in the north-semifinals. With the transition into a league before them, where they will face arguably the best competition night-in and night-out that McVeigh has seen in his 31 years, there might be cause for worry.
But for McVeigh, the transition is simple: Don’t think about the past and don’t think about the future. Focus on today.
“I tell them to have goals,” he said. “My goal is the next day’s practice.”
But the team is also motivated by last year’s loss to Wakefield.
“It definitely pushes us, makes us work harder in practice, makes us want it more in games,” said senior tricaptain Derek Collins, who missed all of last season due to back surgery.
Almost on cue though, Gorgoni chimes back in: “[But] our main goal is to just win the next game.”
A final history lesson: North Andover has never missed the MIAA postseason tournament in McVeigh’s 30 previous seasons. In fact, the school has never missed the tournament, the only team to do so since the tournament’s inception, a Massachusetts record. Off to a hot 5-1 start this season, the chances the Scarlet Knights will keep that streak alive are pretty good.
Typically, the goal is not to ignore history in order to avoid repeating it. In this case, however, the coaching prowess of McVeigh takes precedent. Ignore the history and maybe you will be fortunate to repeat it. For 30 years, and counting.
Playing a winning tune
A few weeks ago, the North Andover girl’s team had a radio interview in the studio at local station WCCM. The girls ended up singing Christmas carols on the sports talk show, much to the delight of host Frankie Benjamin, who told the team he expected them to go out and win the Christmas Tournament.
Last weekend, the North Andover girls’ squad fought its way from a late 10-point deficit to win its first Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament Championship since 2004.
A 19-point MVP performance from senior tricaptain Morgan Lumb still left the Scarlet Knights short in the championship game though, as the team trailed by seven late in the third quarter after being behind most of the game. It would take a last-second runner in the lane as time expired from sophomore Megan Collins to get them over the top and give North Andover a 45-44 victory over Central Catholic, regarded by many as the best team in the state.
On her expectations for the team, Lumb said: “Well obviously we’re really confident, but what’s going to help us the most is staying humble because now the target’s on our back. Our work ethic is better than it’s been before. We work harder at practice.”
“That wasn’t the best game we ever played,” said senior tricaptain Pam Coufos, “so that just shows we can still beat a good team when we’re not at our best. On our best day, we can beat anyone if we really put our minds to it.”
“And we’re trying out for X-Factor now!” said excited senior tricaptain Michaela Mello.