As the coaches surveyed the talent in front of them, the long-term future of the Bishop McGann-Mercy baseball program came into focus. In early March, the 2018 team convened to begin the season with a roster featuring talented underclassmen who had the coaches thrilled about the possibilities for upcoming years.
“We said, hey, we can compete this year, but we’re going to be really good in the next two years,” said varsity assistant coach Jeff Doroski.
Before the season’s first pitch was thrown, however, that optimistic outlook got thrown into disarray.
On a Monday in mid-March, players were alerted that the afternoon practice had been abruptly canceled. An email soon followed explaining that the Catholic high school in Riverhead would close its doors for good at the end of the academic year.
Suddenly the players on the 2018 team were about to begin the program’s final season ever.
“We wanted everyone to be all in, because we knew it would be the last time we’d be playing together ever,” said Allan Zilnicki, who was a senior first baseman and pitcher.
Leading the players into that final season was a coach who took the news as hard as anyone. For Ed Meier, Mercy green ran through his blood. His parents graduated from the school. He attended as a teenager, playing on the school’s baseball and basketball teams, and was a standout cross-country runner. He became a physical education teacher at the school and coached multiple sports, including his biggest passion of baseball. He hoped to see his three young children one day earn diplomas from Mercy.
“He puts his heart and soul into everything he does,” said former Mercy athletic director Melissa Edwards.
For his leadership during a time of crisis, his commitment to the values of McGann-Mercy and the lasting legacy he leaves behind, the News-Review selects Mr. Meier as its 2018 Educator of the Year.
Facing an accelerated timeline, the baseball team regrouped with a focus on making the final season as great as it could be.
“We’re trying to use it as a rallying cry: the last team in 50 years to go through here, so let’s win it all,” Mr. Meier said in March.
The Monarchs went on to post a 14-6 League IX record, finishing behind only Pierson/Bridgehampton.
It could have been easy for players to lose motivation, even give up on playing that spring, knowing there would be nothing else once the season ended. Mr. Meier wouldn’t let that happen.
He helped the kids focus on the game and use baseball as an escape from all the other complications that suddenly emerged in their lives.
“Under a lot of stress and uncertainty, where the kids really needed some direction and something positive after the announcement was made, for him to bring that group to the playoffs is a real credit to him and his leadership,” Mr. Doroski said.
Mr. Zilnicki, who now attends Sacred Heart University, said he knew Mr. Meier not only as a baseball coach, but a physical education/health teacher. He was also one of his basketball coaches. Whether it was athletics or the classroom, Mr. Meier was a great teacher, Mr. Zilnicki said.
“He’s always able to help me improve on my flaws and whatever I’m good at he’s able to make me excel in,” he said.
As a teacher, Mr. Meier always worked on his craft and strived to find new activities to introduce into the physical education program, Mr. Doroski said.
As much as Mr. Meier, who now teaches at Riverhead Charter School, helped guide the students through a difficult time, they also helped him.
“When you’re in education and things get tough, sometimes the kids act as a Band-Aid in a way to help you get through things,” Ms. Edwards said. “I think that’s what the team did for each other and they had a phenomenal season. I tip my hat to what those kids were able to do.”
In the playoffs, the Monarchs won a thriller against The Stony Brook School as Andrew Smith hit a two-run walk-off home run in extra innings to lift the Monarchs to a 10-9 victory. It set the stage for a semifinal game against Southold, where the season ultimately came to an end. The First Settlers broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh to win by one run.
“I just remember a lot of tears, a lot of hugs,” Mr. Doroski said. “It was a tough way to end, but I got to give credit to Eddie and to the kids for the way they fought through the adversity and were able to play and represent Mercy for all it has been.”
Photo caption: Ed Meier coached the Bishop McGann-Mercy team for more than a decade and guided it into the playoffs this past spring as the team played its final season. (Robert O’Rourk file photo)
2017: Felicia Scocozza
2016: Melissa Haupt
2015: Robert Shilling
2014: Greg Wallace
2013: Keri Stromski
2012: Jeff Doroski
2011: Jim Schaefer
2010: Stacy Tuohy
2009: Laura Grable
2008: Vincent Nasta
2007: Marion Dorman
2006: Theresa Drozd
2005: Frank Rotenberg
2004: Kevin McAllister
2003: Leif Shay
2002: Bob Jester
2001: Jean Lapinski
2000: Pat Rose
1999: Pat Snyder
1998: Carol Masin
1997: L. Custer, J. Greenberger
1996: Terri Peters
1995: Jim Roth
1994: Tim Hubbard
1993: Dot Moran
1992: Dorothy Lipsky
1991: Willie Patterson
1990: Audrey Stupke
1989: Ray McKieghan
1988: Stanley Krouse