Retiring as girls’ indoor track coach after 24 seasons

Published in the March 23, 2017 edition.


WAKEFIELD — For long time Wakefield Memorial High track coach Jim Duff, he began his career leading the Warriors to championships, and over 50 years later, he ended his illustrious career with a league title.

Duff has retired after 24 years of coaching the WMHS girls’ indoor track team which will pave the way for a new head coach next winter season. Duff also coached the boys’ outdoor track team for 43 years until he stepped down from that post in 2008.

For the veteran Duff, who will be 77 in September, he decided it was time to step down after coaching more than half a century between the two sports.

“It’s about time,” said Duff. “I had been thinking about retiring for the past two years. This year I decided it was the right time and this was going to be my last year. I took over for Bill Squires in 1965 and my energy level isn’t what it used to be.”

The Warrior girls’ indoor track team posted a 5-0 dual meet record and captured the Middlesex League Freedom division championship, the first ever league title in the history of the program.

“We went 5-0 and won the Freedom division title. It was a nice way to go out,” said Duff. “But the kids are the ones that did it. I’ve been fortunate to have coached some good athletes. We had some good years and some lean years. They go in cycles.”

Duff coached boys’ indoor track beginning in 1964-65 and coached there for a while winning one indoor state championship in 1968. After stepping away from that position, he coached the boys’ outdoor team until returning to coach the girls’ indoor track team 24 years ago when the late Paula Mullen was the athletic director at WMHS.

Duff competed in track at Malden Catholic in high school and was captain of the Lancers in his senior year. He was a state champion in Class C in the 1000 yard run. He is also a member of the Malden Catholic Athletic Hall of Fame.

Duff attended Boston College and excelled in the 1000 there as well before he graduated in 1962. After college, he took over at St. Mary’s where he coached for two years and taught in Wilmington. When the boys’ outdoor track position became open at Wakefield, he was appointed to the coach’s position. He also became a math teacher in Wakefield up until he retired from teaching in the early 2000s.

The Warrior boys’ outdoor track team had some success in the early years Duff coached as they won state titles in 1966, 1967, and 1968. The Warriors were also runner-ups at the state relays. This was all before Reading became the Middlesex League juggernaut and dominated in dual meet competition and set a national record for meets without a loss. Up until the streak ended, a 70-70 tie against Wakefield in 1973 stood as the only non-Rocket win during that time. Wakefield and Reading were Middlesex League co-champions that year.

The Warriors enjoyed success in the 1990s when they had several 8-1 seasons. Wakefield couldn’t quite solve Reading, however.

“My enthusiasm is still there. But I live in Somerville and traveling to Wakefield during the winter took its toll,” said Duff. “When I got to Wakefield I always enjoyed working with the kids. But I think the time has come for someone younger to take over. Having a coach that works in the school system helps with recruiting the athletes.”

Duff felt the same way when he stepped down from the boys’ outdoor track program after 43 years in ‘08.

At the time, Duff felt getting someone younger and possibly who already worked in the school system would help to regain the program’s prominence of the past. That has happened under the guidance of present boys’ indoor and outdoor track, Ruben Reinoso.

When Duff began coaching spring track, there was no lacrosse program at the time and there was also no user’s fees. Duff thought by Wakefield getting a new coach within the system that had more contact with the kids could help to get more kids out for the program. After retiring from teaching, he wasn’t even sure who the good athletes were anymore.

“The boys have been doing well,” said Duff. “Ruben Reinoso and Perry Pappas (the boys’ cross country and assistant boys’ indoor and track coach) have done a great job. Track, more than any sport, you need the numbers. They work in the school system and can recruit the four and five star athletes like a college coach.

“It has also helped with the league going to two divisions,” added Duff. “When we had those 8-1 teams, if there had been a Freedom and Liberty division, then we would’ve won the league title those years. It has helped all the small schools in the Freedom division, but particularly Wakefield in track where having the numbers really matter.”

Last winter, the girls’ indoor track team went 2-3, with several meets coming down to the relay. Wakefield was very close to winning a league title a year ago showing how competitive the league is with just the six small schools.

Duff also sees how coaching the sport has changed in Wakefield. In the past each coach worked with their group of kids. Now each coach in boys’ and girls’ track are more specialized and work with a particular group of athletes. For instance, Reinoso works with the sprinters, Pappas with the distance runners, assistant Justin Berry with the shot putters, and Elias Reinoso works with the hurdlers.

“I enjoyed working with all the coaches, but a lot of the ones I used to know are gone,” said Duff. “(Coach Bob) Bisacre just passed away and Coach (John) DiComandrea is going to be 90.”

Duff coach with DiComandrea for many years. DiComandrea was the head coach of the cross country teams, the boys’ indoor track team, and an assistant with Duff for the boys’ outdoor track team.

Duff also remembers some of the athletes he coached the past 24 years in girls’ indoor track. That includes shot putters Jessica Duffy and Liz Bray. He also remembers all-scholastic distance runner Julia Hincman and the state championship relay team which included Danielle Mokaba, Alexis Bailey, Jess Gaudet, and Teresa Brown.

In boys’ outdoor track, Duff has coached has really good athletes as well including Chet Davis, Tim Lyons, Scott Price, Kevin Crowley, and the Wallace and Beasley families.

Price has coached in Andover and is currently the Reading head coach, while Shawn Wallace is an assistant coach with Newton North. Duff thinks Wallace would make a great head coach for the Tigers or anywhere else.

Duff said there are probably many more athletes that he has coached over the years that he could mention as well, but the list would be a long one.

Duff, who was also inducted into the Wakefield Memorial High School Athletic Hall of Fame on Nov. 17, 2012, will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association on June 4 at the Lantana in Randolph.

“I’ll be around, but now I can spend more time with my grandchildren and hopefully enjoy my retirement,” said Duff.