Field Hockey Alumni, Families Honor McGuirks

All photos by Bill O'BrienA large number of former players and many parents recognized legendary coaches Cathy and John McGuirk at a casual get together at the Branford Yacht Club recently for their years of dedicated coaching of the Branford field hockey teams.

Cathy McGuirk is the longest serving head coach in Branford sports history, according to co-athletic director Jake Palluzzi She coached the Hornets continually for 41 years. Her husband John is close behind, assisting his wife for 38 years.

Cathy McGuirk had coached field hockey at Branford since 1977, succeeding Virginia Moessmang. She was inducted into the Branford Sports Hall of Fame in 1994 with husband John joining her in 2011. She accomplished a remarkable 558-129-66-12 record achieving the most wins in history of Connecticut high school field hockey. The McGuirks won 10 Class M state titles. Their clubs qualified for the state tournament for 40 consecutive years advancing to the semi finals 29 times and to the state finals 14 times.

Among the memorabilia were team programs from the early years.

Andrea Kenney, a member of the ‘83, ’84, and ‘85 teams and an All State selection, with her former coach Cathy McGuirk.

Parents of former players in attendance included Jeff Klarman (left), Liz Integlia, Lexie Klarman and Steve Chamberlain.

“It’s been a great run,” said Cathy. “John and I spoke about it after last season, and we decided it was time to retire.” We loved working with Jake (Palluzzi) and Sav (Synodi), the schools co-athletic directors, but especially loved the great group of young girls who have played for us over the years. Robin Axtell, a member of the McGuirks firs team at Branford, served as an assistant for the past 18 years. The Hornets finished last season with a record of 17-3-0-2.

The open house for Cathy and John was held at the Branford Yacht Club from noon to 4 p.m., co-chaired by Rachel Chamberlain (2006) (left) and Jamie Mendillo (1994). Both were members of a championship team under the McGuirks and both served as captains of the Hornets.

“I’ve known Cathy and John since I was 5 years old when my oldest sister went out for the field hockey team,” said Rachel. “They were like family, and you would be hard pressed to find a more dedicated pair of coaches. I think the way they prepared us for life off the field was really transformative.”

Jaimee added, “I’ve been fortunate to know Cathy and John for the past 28 years. They espoused a saying that ‘tradition never graduates,’ meaning that everyone who has been part of their teams is part of their legacy. It felt important to honor that legacy over the years.”

According to Jaimee’s dad, local dentist Dr. James Mendillo, who wrote in a note, “My three daughters, Courtney, Jaimee, and Hillary all played for Cathy and John.” 

Hillary and Jaimee Mendillo shout out an old field hockey cheer to Cathy and John.

He added, “Way beyond the wins, losses, ties and many championships, the true value of the 40-plus years of McGuirk field hockey was the lessons of commitment, hard-work, dedication, teamwork, and self discipline which was the core of their program. Priceless.”

Together for a ‘family’ photo are (from left) Dr. James Mendillo, daughter Jaimee, John McGuirk, daughter Hillary, Cathy McGuirk and the girls’ mother Roberta Mendillo.

He added, “This is the end of an era, which can never be duplicated or replaced. They are a true Branford treasure.”

The McGuirks with members of the Kelley family whose daughter Kathleen (left) played on three championship teams.

During a brief program, the McGuirks were presented with certificates from state Rep. Sean Scanlon and First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove and for their many years of coaching success.

And, a delicious cake was decorated to show the years coached and the total wins.

The program ended with some reminiscing by the McGuirks about their years of coaching.

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