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Tom O’Leary, longtime football coach at Wantagh High School, has died at the age of 75.

In the Wantaga football community, Tom O’Leary walked in thin air.

He was a humble father of three who never wanted anything to be about him. But when it came to high school football, his success spoke for itself.

“Mr. O’Leary is a legend,” said Tommy Liguori, current boys’ football coach at Wantagh High School.

O’Leary, who coached boys’ football at Wantagh High School for 34 years and won state titles in 1992 and 1993, died June 12 at his Huntington home, his family said. He was 75.

“He was old-fashioned,” said Liguori, who played on both state championship teams. “He didn’t demand respect. But the way he carried himself commanded respect.”

O’Leary also taught driving at Wantagh High School and was an assistant coach on the varsity boys’ lacrosse team. He played high school football at Island Trees High School in the 1960s and then went on to play at Nassau Community College and Long Island University. According to his family, he ran the Long Island Marathon several times in the 1980s.

“The kids were connected to him,” said Fran Nocella, former athletic director of Wantagh High School. “There’s an old saying in education, ‘Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ Well, no one will ever doubt how much Tom cares because it was so obvious.”

O’Leary’s 34-year teaching career, spent in the physical education department at Wantagh High School, gave him constant opportunities to stretch his legs. When football practice began, O’Leary couldn’t wait to warm up with his team.

“He had to go out every day and spend time with the kids,” said his son Tom O’Leary Jr. of California. “He had to go out into the field, walk, be physically active. Many times he took me with him to training, participated in jogging and warming up with the children. I think he just liked the overall interaction with the players and the kids that were in his PE class.”

He also enjoyed interacting with his co-workers, easily taking the younger ones under his wing.

“I couldn’t have had a better role model,” said John Quiffo of West Islip, a longtime friend who coached football and lacrosse with O’Leary. “We helped each other on the football field. It was just a great partnership.”

Quiffo continued: “He was dedicated and passionate. He was very humble and always put his kids first. This is what I learned the most from him. It was not about him and not about the coaching staff. It was about the kids.”

Born January 18, 1947 in Astoria, Queens, O’Leary grew up in Levittown. He moved to Huntington in 1974 and raised three children with his 48-year-old wife Robin, who passed away in 2018.

“He was a real person,” Tom Jr. said. He never said anything bad about anyone. He bit his tongue if he didn’t like the company that surrounded him. always gave advice. You could ask him about anything you could think of, whether it was plumbing, roofing or landscaping. He always had some advice or knowledge about it.”

O’Leary has spent the last 15 years as an ambulance volunteer with the Huntington Community Ambulance Squad. According to his family members, he has received six major awards, including being named Lifeguard of the Year three times, Driver of the Year, Ambulance Worker of the Year, and Essential Life Support Provider.

According to Tom Jr., O’Leary had to volunteer twice a week, but always kept the radio on and often worked four or five times a week.

“He knew the roads on Long Island like the back of his hand,” Tom Jr. said. “It’s just what he liked to do, he not only helped people, but he also knew how to get there.”

Leading people, whether it be a coach on the football field, a teacher in the gym, or a paramedic in the field, was just part of O’Leary’s image.

“I don’t think he ever stopped being a coach,” Tom Jr. said. “I just think he took that and brought it to other aspects of his life.”

In addition to his son, O’Leary is survived by daughter Lauren O’Leary of Connecticut, son Mike O’Leary of Huntington, and two grandchildren. A wake will be held on Friday from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm and from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm at MA Connell Funeral Home, Huntington Station, and a funeral will take place on Saturday at 10:15 am at St. Patrick’s Church, Huntington.

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