Mickey McGroarty thought he was just there to watch his daughter play soccer.
McGroarty joined his wife Beth at a Mayfair soccer game where he was there to watch his daughter, who was about 12 at the time. The longtime soccer player knew right away the girls on the team weren’t playing up to their potential. He told his wife, and she made the executive decision to get the team some help on the sidelines.
“She brought me over to the woman who was in charge and introduced me,” McGroarty recalled. “She said, ‘This is my husband and he would like to coach.’ I said, ‘What?’ She was the one who did it.
“I started with soccer, then it went into basketball, then into softball. I was playing a lot at the time, either playing softball or reffing or umpiring. I didn’t have a day off at all, I didn’t get to many games, but after that, I started going.”
Beth might not be much of a sports fan or a coach, but she’s a heck of a general manager because she found a coach who would patrol sidelines for many years.
But this year seems to be the final one.
McGroarty, who spent 43 years as the head coach of the St. Hubert High School soccer team and won nine Catholic League championships, retired from his position.
The 75-year-old McGroarty wants to focus on his health and spend time visiting friends and family. He’s going to miss the post that he actually started.
‘I was coaching the girls in Mayfair, and I told them that some day girls would be playing in college, in the World Cup and in the Olympics,” McGroarty recalled. “And one of them said, ‘Coach, that’s great and all but we don’t even have a team in high school.’ The next day, I went over to St. Hubert’s and met with the person in charge and said I wanted to start it.”
At first, the Bambies put together an intramural team that competed against other players in the school. But McGroarty wasn’t satisfied and he reached out to other Catholic League schools. By 1981, girls soccer became an official Catholic League sport. After that, teams from the suburbs contacted McGroarty and asked for help in starting leagues.
For McGroarty, who was a star soccer player at Cardinal Dougherty before going to the Air Force, he never thought he’d be the father of Catholic League girls soccer, and it’s not even something he thinks about. But he is happy it gave female athletes a place to ply their sport in order to get opportunities.
“The best part about it is to think about how many girls went on to play college soccer and got an education,” said McGroarty, who was a mailman before retiring 20 years ago. “I don’t think about it too often, but when I was inducted in the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame, I thought about it and it’s great because those girls deserved an opportunity.
“The Catholic League has been great. It isn’t as strong as it used to be overall because of charter schools and so many teams, but there is still a lot of talent. It’s a great league with a lot of tradition.”
McGroarty is proud of all the schools and all of the girls who compete in the league, but he’ll always be a Bambi. Ever since he walked through the doors when he was 32 years old, he became a Bambi and it’s something he’ll remain for the rest of his life.
“The building is so special to me, I’ve been there for more than half of my life,” McGroarty said. “It was my home. I’ve had so many special relationships with the players.
“I’ve coached a lot of daughters of my players. That’s special. Even after Cardinal Bevilacqua started with the open enrollment, we would get those players. I think it’s because I’ve always tried to treat the girls well and be that father figure as a coach.”
As much as Hubert meant to McGroarty, he might have meant even more to the school.
“What can you say about the man who brought (girls soccer) to the PCL? A huge ‘thank you,’ that’s what!” said school president Lizanne Magarity Pando. “I remember when soccer became available to girls high schools and it was a really big deal. There is so much work in putting an initiative like this together, but that never deterred Mick. He has been a leading force in soccer in every aspect of the game since then.
“There aren’t enough words to thank him for all he has done for women, women’s soccer and his beloved St. Hubert! We are blessed to have had him all of these years.”
“His love for the game is beyond reproach,” said Hubert athletic director Ed Evanitsky. “Even this year with the terrible weather, he was out there, lining the field. He would always line the field and if he could have gotten a lawnmower, he would have cut the grass. He always wanted the girls to have a great field to play on. He cared so much.”
He still cares.
Last year, the only coach the Bambies have ever known underwent his first losing season. Losing 23 talented players to graduation can take its toll, and in the preseason McGroarty knew it was going to be a rough year. But he wanted to help the novice players get experience and hopefully help the Bambies get back atop the Catholic League. Overall, McGroarty had won more than 450 games at the school.
“This was a tough year, but I’m very proud of what the girls have done,” McGroarty said. “Not just here but in college. We’ve had some great players who never went on to play in college because they wanted to focus on school. That’s great.”
McGroarty knows giving up the sport will be tough. It’s not the first time he has walked away from a team he loves.
He also coached the Holy Family University softball team for 19 years before stepping away in 2009. That was different, but still hard.
“I loved coaching them, but when you’re coaching college softball, you travel up and down the East Coast,” McGroarty said. “It’s different. We had some really good years, but it was tough.
“Giving up soccer will be tough because I would coach indoor, we didn’t have a spring league anymore, but then I would coach the summer league. I spent a lot of time with those girls. I’ll miss it.”
He won’t be bored, however.
McGroarty will be busy spending time with his wife, Beth. He also will have more time to see his daughters, Tracey and Michelle, and son, Jack, as well as his eight grandchildren.
“I’m going to Virginia next week to spend time with my daughter for her birthday,” McGroarty said. “I’ll have time to visit people. There are a lot of things I couldn’t do while coaching. But I’ll miss it.
“I’ll be around and go to games. I don’t know how many. I’ll come and watch. The new coach will have their people in place, but I’ll come just to watch and see how they do.”