Malvernite Marty Brown became the fifth Long Islander to be inducted into the Armory High School Coaches Hall of Fame last Saturday. The Armory, in Manhattan, regularly hosts track meets for schools across New York state, and it recognizes coaches for their efforts to improve their student-athletes’ lives.
Brown, 62, who competed in his first track meet there in 1970, said he never imagined that his career would come full circle.
“I was so nervous, so scared, and it’s such a different place than some suburbia Long Island,” Brown said of the track and field institution, recalling his initiation in his freshman year at Garden City High School. “The Armory has great significance to me, and competing there over the years has exposed me to so many different people. We were all united in the brotherhood of the sport.”
Brown was recognized for his accomplishments as both an athlete and a coach. He held the school record at Garden City for the indoor mile, with a time of 4.33.05, which he set in 1974. It lasted for 11 years. He also competed on the national level as a marathoner for Western Washington University from 1975 to 1979. As a coach at Chaminade High School, Brown helped the boys’ winter cross-county team win its first intersectional championship in 1997. At Kellenberg Memorial High School, where he has coached girls’ track and field since 1998, he guided the team to its first league title in 2003, and its first intersectional championship the following year. Some of his student-athletes at Kellenberg have also won state championships.
Brown’s first love, however, was football. He played the sport until eighth grade, when his coaches told him that he was overweight. His older brother, Ed, who ran track and field at Archbishop Molloy High School, told him that the only way he would lose weight was if he ran. He soon discovered that he excelled in long-distance running.
“In our sport, you can go far on limited talent,” Brown said. “Once I realized that, I never looked back.”
Sharing lifelong values
Brown was inspired to try coaching by the coaches who guided him, including Dr. Ralph Vernacchia, who oversaw the track and field team at Western Washington from 1973 to 1987.
“We’ve stayed in touch over the years, and I’ve followed his career very closely,” Vernacchia said. “Every step of the way, you see the mark of excellence. I think he’s a great inspiration to all of us, but most importantly to the young people that he serves.”
The key to coaching adolescents, Brown said, is to be patient, and help them understand that success won’t happen overnight. He also said that since track teams usually comprise dozens of student-athletes, it is important to learn about each one.
“You’re not going to have like-minded personalities, “so you have to take the time to communicate with them,” he said. “I feel that I’m better at that now than I was 15 to 20 years ago because of the experiences I’ve had.”
Brown noted that it took time for him to learn how to coach girls as well as boys. “You have to make it known to each and every young woman that you’re there for them,” he said. “With guys, they don’t necessarily need that.”
Kim MacKay, a former athlete of Brown’s who graduated from Kellenberg in 2011, said that he understood how to boost his charges’ self-esteem while urging them to push themselves. “When you’re a teenager, you’re pretty vulnerable and nervous,” MacKay said, “and I think he did a really good job of teaching us to be strong, while understanding that we were still young and figuring out life.”
MacKay, who won a state championship in the 800-meter run in 2010, became an Ivy League champion at Princeton University in 2014. She said that she and Brown have kept in touch.
“I think Mr. Brown put a lot of passion and investment in his athletes, and he taught us that it’s more than just running,” McKay said. “Last year I was able to go back and speak to the current athletes about my own experience. He’s affected my life so much, and that’s just a testament to this sport.”
Kylie Pearse, who ran for Brown from 2007 to 2011, said that she wasn’t surprised that he was inducted into the Armory High School Coaches Hall of Fame. Pearse grew up across the street from Brown in Malverne, and said that his life lessons are what stand out the most.
“He taught us [to] just be dedicated, to follow a plan, and always do what you care about,” said Pearse, who now competes in marathons every year. “He’s one of the first people that I call when I run my marathons. Good or bad, he always has the right thing to say.”
Brown’s third-oldest daughter, Margaret, said she had the chance to compete against him when she ran for St. Anthony’s High School from 1999 to 2003. She admitted that while he was always competitive during their track meets, his mentorship helped guide her and her childhood friends.
“He always encouraged myself and my brothers and sisters to be the best that we can be for so many years,” Margaret said. “It was never just about the sport. He encouraged us to push the limits, possibilities and goals in all other aspects of life.”
Vernacchia, who retired as director of the undergraduate and graduate programs in sport psychology at Western Washington in 2011, said that Brown’s family values are what make him an excellent coach. “When my mother died in 1988, he came to her funeral unannounced,” Vernacchia recalled. “The thing about Marty is that he goes the extra mile to reach out and make a difference in people’s lives, and I think that’s an enduring quality that resonates with people that are in contact with him.”
Brown, who joined Bill Carriero, Dennis Kornfield, Paul Limmer and Steve Borbet as the only Long Islanders in the Armory High School Coaches Hall of Fame, said that he knew each of them, and that they all share the trait of showing compassion for others.
“It’s a pretty incredible feeling and moment for me, because to me, those guys are big-timers in this sport,” he said. He added that the relationships he has built, and seeing the success of his student-athletes over the years, keeps him going.
“It’s really just the thrill of seeing kids putting [forth] the effort and then achieving,” Brown said. “There’s nothing greater than that.”