As he sat in a rocking chair at half-court in the East Rockaway High School gymnasium, former Rocks boys’ basketball coach Joe Lores looked on as one by one, his family members, peers and former players grabbed a microphone and took turns lauding him.
They all spoke about what he meant to them on and off the court in a celebration of his 35 years as a head coach. The special ceremony was held in between East Rockaway’s junior and varsity games against Mineola on Dec. 16.
“It was as good as it gets,” Lores said. “It was just an honor. It doesn’t get any better.”
The ceremony was in conjunction with a toy drive for Gregg’s Wings, a foundation that enriches the Cancer Center for Kids at Winthrop Hospital’s mission of hope and healing for those diagnosed with childhood cancer. It was founded by the family of Gregg Kienke, who died from cancer just weeks after he was born.
Lores, 59, became the Rocks head coach in 1982, and stepped down after last season because, he said, he felt the timing was right. He remains a fixture at the school, teaching business and coaching the varsity girls’ soccer and softball teams. During his time as boys’ basketball coach, the team won five titles — including a Long Island championship when his son, Joseph, was on the team.
The 40-minute ceremony was organized by current coach Paul Collins. Joseph Lores Jr. spoke on Lores’ behalf, and talked about he and his brother, Michael, having the opportunity to play basketball in high school with their father as the coach.
“Some of my favorite childhood memories are waking up on a Saturday morning and going to basketball practice with my dad,” Joseph Jr. said. “Other memories include going to games and being the water boy at the end of the bench. Mikey and I just loved it so much. We couldn’t wait to play for him. Then as we entered high school it finally came. We got to play for dad.”
Michael was in attendance for the event along with Lores’ wife, Eileen, and daughters Katelyn and Jennifer — all of whom graduated from East Rockaway. More than 50 alumni representing every year that Lores coached also came, many donning tie-dye shirts, inspired by Lores’ fandom of the Grateful Dead. Songs from the band were played during halftime.
Former varsity head coach Harry Friesleben, former Athletic Director Dom Vulpis, Lynbrook football coach Russell Pajer and Billy Glynn, a former captain of the varsity basketball team who played under Lores, also spoke.
Recalling his basketball roots days later, Lores, a Lynbrook High School graduate, said that when he was growing up, he started hanging out with a tough crowd. To combat this, his father took him to the gym at St. Raymond’s School, getting him involved in basketball. As a six-feet tall sixth-grader, Lores said, he learned to love the sport and honed his skills.
Years later, while working at Chemical Bank, Lores got inspired to get into coaching by watching the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, held each March. He then received advice to apply for jobs as a substitute teacher and was hired by East Rockaway, where he eventually became the boys’ basketball coach. After 35 years of coaching at East Rockaway and three decades of coaching at St. Raymond’s, Lores decided the time was right to walk away.
“It wasn’t any one thing, it was a lot of things,” he said. “Basketball is the toughest season in terms of time. I’ve never really gone on vacation anywhere, I’ve never traveled. … I still love the game, I’m just sitting in a different row.”
Lores said he is still very much involved in the sport. He is the Section VIII representative for the Basketball Coaches Association of New York and runs several basketball camps in the summer through South Shore Day Camps.
“Basketball has been a part of my life since I was 9-years-old,” Lores said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”