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Coach Jim Kavanagh Honored at Retirement Reception

Michael O’Brien ‘23

Editor in Chief

Photo courtesy of Holy Cross
Coach Kavanagh on the field

52 years is a long time to be alive, let alone to be doing one thing for such a period. But for former Holy Cross Cross Country and Track & Field coach Jim Kavanagh, this was his reality during his time on Mount Saint James. For over five decades, Coach Kavanagh, more colloquially known as Coach K or simply “Kav” by his runners, throwers, jumpers, and vaulters, invested countless hours into the success of his student-athletes on and off the track before retiring this past spring.

In recognition of his remarkable time at Holy Cross and indelible mark on generations of Crusaders, Kavanagh’s career was celebrated at a reception held outside of Kimball Quad prior to being recognized at halftime of the homecoming football game vs. Yale. Current teammates and alumni alike gathered by the hundreds to reconnect and share stories of what made Kavanagh such an incredible coach and man alike.

During his address to the crowd, Kavanagh remarked on what exactly it meant to him to be a coach and how rewarding it was for him to mentor student-athletes; “A coach isn’t someone who validates, they’re someone who finds the key to unlock potential. It’s about helping someone to believe that they can be more than they ever thought possible,” Kavanagh said. 

Coach K also acknowledged the importance of being a student-athlete that extends beyond personal bests and championships and embodied the Jesuit philosophy of cura personalis, or care for the whole person. Kavanagh said, “It’s not so much an athletics program, but more about how we can encourage people to act as individuals. We’re asking student-athletes to think about things that they haven’t thought of before.” 

One testament to Kavanagh’s commitment and care for his athletes lies in the fact that two current members of the Cross Country and Track & Field coaching staff competed under Kavanagh and came back to give to a program that gave so much to them. Coach Egetta Alfonso ‘92 is returning for her 24th year coaching within the program after winning individual Patriot League titles as an athlete, and this is her first year inheriting Coach K’s role as the Richard L. Ahern ‘51 Director of Cross Country and Track & Field. 

Speaking on this new position and what honoring Kavanagh meant to her, Alfonso remarked, “It means the world to me. He’s been an excellent mentor of mine over the years. I want to make sure that stepping into this role that I’m continuing the legacy he started here at Holy Cross. I want to use the things that he’s taught me as a coach over the years in terms of being patient, allowing kids to explore options, and understanding that it’s not just about the end result, and balance that with being competitive as well. He’s been a big part of my life; he’s been my friend for a very long time, and I just want to do the best I can in this position to make him proud of me.”

Jeff Paterno ‘96 is another such alum with championship pedigree who maintains a significant role on the team as a volunteer assistant coach. While he may have coached at other schools such as MIT and Somerville High, Paterno spoke on the fact that Holy Cross was and still is the only place for him.

“I had coached at other places and it didn’t really feel like I was home, because when you’re here, it’s only for four years and it goes by really fast, but those four years last the rest of your life,” Paterno said. “So this is the only place I think that I could coach, and having Coach K still be here really felt like it was my team during my time here. But now that he’s gone, I feel like we have to carry out his legacy.” 

This was the second mention of Kavanagh’s legacy from members of the current coaching staff that had known Coach K as a student-athlete and colleague, which attests to the incredible reputation Kavanagh has garnered at HC throughout the years. But while his own athletes know about his stature inside and out, his pedigree likewise extends well beyond The Hill. Entering her first year taking over as the head cross country coach, Stephanie Reilly, who has a 2012 Olympic appearance in the 3000 meter steeplechase under her belt, knew Kavanagh and his character before coming to Holy Cross.

“It’s such an awesome opportunity, I’ve actually known Coach Kav for a while; coaching at Providence and Bryant I’ve been to Holy Cross before while coaching at other universities, so I feel like I’ve always had a really good relationship with him. So to be able to step into his shoes, they’re huge shoes to fill, but I’m super excited about it,” Reilly said. 

After hearing from the coaching staff and how Coach K has impacted their relationships with the team, current cross country captain Kyle VanDermark ‘23, one of the few athletes to have been coached under Kavanagh and simultaneously embarking on a new chapter with Coach Reilly, commented on Coach K’s ability to make a team feel like more than a team. 

“What makes Coach Kavanagh stand out is that he cared about his student-athletes beyond their performance on the track, field, or cross country course. He made sure the team was very close with each other and treated us like family. As a captain this year, I will make sure that his values will continue to be a part of team culture and the team will continue to be a family,” VanDermark said.

Returning to his address to the crowd, Kav quoted a Swedish proverb that says, “Shared joy is a double joy, and shared sorrow is half a sorrow.” Coach K related this saying to his time at Holy Cross, taking the good with the bad in a way to show just how much the community he has largely built means to him. While Kavanagh may be gone, and it will take some time to adjust to his departure, Coaches Alfonso, Paterno, and Reilly and runners like VanDermark will ensure that this community will continue to be built for five more decades to come.

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