Mickey McGroarty was always there for his players.
In fact, it was the last thing he ever did.
McGroarty was giving a speech Friday night to induct his former softball player Melissa Zebley into the Holy Family University hall of fame. He gave a great speech, stepped off stage and felt dizzy. He suffered a stroke and three days later, he passed away.
“It was a sudden thing, he made a little speech, he was cracking jokes and having a blast, and on his way back to the table, he felt a little wobbly,” said McGroarty’s son, Jack. “He got back to the table, and within 10 minutes he was in the ambulance.
“It’s very hard to lose a parent and to lose your best friend, but he didn’t suffer and he wasn’t in pain. At no point when this happened did he have a headache or anything. You hate losing your parent and your best friend, but I know he didn’t suffer, and that helps.”
McGroarty is survived by his wife of 56 years Beth; his daughters Tracy and Michelle and her husband Bob Armstrong; his son Jack and his wife Maureen; and grandkids Jacquelyn, Victoria, Christian, Savannah, Kyle, Sam, Sean and PJ. He spent a lifetime helping anyone he could, but he certainly did a lot for St. Hubert High School girls. Not only did he start the Bambies soccer program, he started girls soccer in the Catholic League and helped teams get started across the area.
The Cardinal Dougherty graduate first installed an intramural team that competed against other players in the school. McGroarty then 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.
He ended up coaching 43 years and won nine Catholic League championships before retiring from the post three years ago. He also spent 19 years coaching softball at Holy Family.
He loved to see the Bambies win, but his favorite part about coaching the team was the players he helped, and he certainly helped a lot.
“He was a gentle, kind, soft-spoken guy who cared a lot about people,” said Jack, who spent 24 years as his assistant coach at St. Hubert and 13 years at Holy Family. “He had his own little burning fire of competition, which is probably why he got into coaching. He coached 43 years because he liked the kids and the people. It meant more to him than the wins and losses.“
While he was a Bambie at heart, he loved being around his family. And sports were a big part of that.
“He goes to every soccer game that my kids have, he’s constantly asking about their schedule,” Jack said. “He’s included in the parents’ chat so he knows when they play, he knows all the kids’ names. We’re getting feedback from parents, he was our team grandpa. He loved the kids and everyone loved him.”
“At home, there was always one of the (grandchldren) on his lap in the recliner,” Maureen said. “They all occupied the recliner, climb up on poppop, watch cartoons. Christian was always at Holy Family. My son Sean doesn’t watch soccer without a bowl of ice cream in one hand and the phone to talk to him in the other. He would call and ask if he was watching the game. He loves talking soccer with him.”
Perhaps best known for his time at Hubert, McGroarty was a longtime mailman and was inducted into the Cardinal Dougherty soccer hall of fame. According to his son, while he was an All-Catholic goalie, he earned the honor for his accomplishments as a coach.
And he was a great coach, but that’s not why he’s so fondly remembered.
“He was a gentle giant, and he was just an amazing man,” said Hubert president Lizanne Pando. “He just loved being around the girls. Mick was one of a kind. A lot of people talk about legends, but he was the real thing. His love of the girls at St. Hubert’s were so felt by his students that they performed at the highest level. Girls came back for years and years and years to thank him. You could never go to a game without one of his former players being there.
“He brought his faith, dedication and love to the soccer field and the girls learned life lessons from him.”
He wasn’t just loved by his players.
Opponents he did battle with over the years couldn’t help but like McGroarty. They knew he had a great passion for the game and more importantly, passion for helping people.
“Mick was a gentleman and mentor for so many of the younger coaches in the league,” said Ryan boys soccer coach Ryan Haney, who formerly coached the girls program at the school. “Not only was he a great coach for St. Hubert’s, but he was a great leader for the league. The girls have so much respect for who he was and what he did. He will be missed and never forgotten.”
“I told Markos Pittaoulis from Little Flower, he called, he was heartbroken,” Jack said. “They were so competitive, but there was a fond respect for each other. They realized how much he cared and as much as he wanted to win and beat them during games, he wanted them to succeed.
“The PCL was one of the most competitive leagues in the area and that made my dad feel good. You have a great base of talent and involvement in the Catholic League and he was proud of it. He loved seeing any team succeed. He took pride in it.”
So did his son, who is so happy he was able to spend time with his dad on the sidelines.
“I started helping because he needed help,” Jack said. “I was doing my own thing, but I said I’d do it for one year. It turned into 24. It was so much fun because I was hanging out with my best friend and we were having a blast. I’m going to miss him. I’m so thankful we were able to have that time and that special relationship.
“He got into coaching because of my sisters. He was at a game and my mom took him over and introduced him to the women who were coaching. His playing days were winding down and they needed a coach. He did it and took it seriously.
“When he retired, I told my mom, ‘Congrats, you got your dining room table back.’ He didn’t use a computer, he had everything on the dining room table. He was helping with the Mayfair Shamrocks, a bunch of age groups, and he was at Hubert’s and helping with the Catholic League. He loved doing it.”
But not as much as he loved his family. And the best part is, his family knew it.
So did his players.
“He really was most proud that there were a number of women out there who got a college education, they were involved in these programs,” Maureen said. “He was so proud of every single player, whether they played with him or against him. He was a great person.”
A memorial service will be held Saturday at St. Hubert High School from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visitors are asked to use the Ditman Street entrance. Masks must be worn and social distancing is encouraged.