By Joseph Saade, Globe Correspondent
Jane Heil announced Wednesday afternoon that after 33 seasons with the program, she was stepping down as varsity girls' basketball coach at Peabody High.
"It's with some sense of regret, but mostly joy," said a somber Heil, who was surrounded by family, friends, staff, and her players in a press conference at the school. You just know...you'll know when it's time."
Heil, 66, admitted that while she pondered the idea of retirement back in the summer, she did not made her final decision until about a week ago before her final home game, the 700th of career, against Reading in the first round of the Division 1 North tournament. Peabody finished 16-6 overall, losing to Central Catholic, 59-41, in the North quarterfinals.
"Half of my life has been given to this program," she added. "What this program has given to me, I couldn't tell you or put it into words or a sentence.
"My life has been made better and richer because of this program."
Peabody High principal Eric Buckley(cq) recalled when Heil handed him her retirement letter last week.
"She came up to me and told me, 'Honest to God, I just wrote this last night, and I didn't think it would be this hard'," Buckley said.
The legacy Heil leaves behind is unmatched.
Her journey started during the 1977-78 season before she briefly retiring after the 1994-95 season. She came back four years later during the 1999-00 campaign.
In 33 seasons, Heil compiled a 528-173 record. The Tanners made 27 appearances in the D1 tournament, captured 17 Greater Boston League titles, one Northeastern Conference title, two D1 North titles, and one state title.
She was inducted into Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Nov. 23, 2013.
"It's not about the records," Heil said. "Winning is what you're there for, but it's about the friendships that you make."
"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my players," she continued. " I don't think anybody can love this program more than me. I am about the happiest person on the planet right now."