SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Mr. Jim Reagan Sr. followed in some legendary footsteps during his memorable and distinguished career at Union Catholic. And when he retires at the end of this month, he will leave the school with some iconic shoes of his own to fill.
Jim Reagan Sr., a towering presence at Union Catholic for the last 35 years, has built a remarkable resume during a career that spanned six decades.
It all began in 1969 when Mr. Reagan began his career at St. Elizabeth's School in Linden, where he taught science and math and coached both baseball and basketball.
After 14 years at St. Elizabeth's, he started his career at Union Catholic in 1983, where he was the librarian and head of media services, and served as the basketball coach. He eventually became the Assistant Athletic Director under Rocky Lettieri, a member of the UC Hall of Fame.
In 1999, Mr. Reagan became the Head Athletic Director at Union Catholic when Lettieri retired.
During his illustrious 20 year-run as the Athletic Director at Union Catholic, the school has had an Olympian (track and field star Sydney McLaughlin), four National Players of the Year, five State Players of the Year, and numerous All-American, All-State, All-County, and All-Conference Players of the Year.
Union Catholic's remarkable run of success under the legendary Mr. Reagan includes 71 conference championships, 53 county titles, 20 state championships, and several sectional championships, including the first sectional title for the bowling team in school history this past winter.
Also during Mr. Reagan's time at Union Catholic, the Vikings expanded the athletic programs and now sponsor 23 varsity sports, and the indoor and outdoor sports facilities have been significantly upgraded.
Mr. Reagan will be passing the AD torch to Mr. Dave Luciano, who graduated from UC in 1999, served as an assistant baseball and basketball coach at UC for several years and is the Enrollment Director at the school.
Why is Mr. Reagan retiring?
"My wife is retiring this year, so I just felt like now is the time,'' said Mr. Reagan, who was inducted into the Linden Hall of Fame in 2010.
What are some of Mr. Reagan's most memorable moments during his years at UC?
"Probably tied for No. 1 would be Sydney (McLaughlin) in the Olympics (2016) and in 1987 when we won the boys and girls Parochial A state titles down at Brookdale College in back-to-back games. The girls beat McCorristin (now Trenton Catholic) and the boys beat the No. 1 team in the state, CBA. At the time we were the only school to win girls and boys state titles in back-to-back games on the same floor. We won on a Sunday and we had school on Monday and everyone wanted a day off, and Principal Sister Percylee Hart gave us Tuesday off because she publicly declared it as the "Day of Champions.'' That was probably my favorite day in the building.''
"There are many other highlights,'' said Mr. Reagan. "Cheryl Cop's performance against Sterling in the semifinals of the girls basketball Tournament of Champions at Monmouth College in 1989, and being the No. 1 baseball team in the state in 1984 are also right up there.''
Mr. Reagan is very proud of the consistency and success of his coaching staff, which includes three UC Hall of Famers, Kathy Matthews (girls basketball), Jim Revel (girls soccer) and Nancy Saggio (volleyball).
"We've had very limited coaching turnover, and Kathy Matthews has over 700 wins, Nancy Saggio is getting close to 500 victories. Jim Revel is one of the leaders in the state with over 400 girls soccer victories. Mike McCabe is probably the premier track coach in the state, and my son (Dr. Jim Reagan Jr.) is over 200 wins in both baseball and basketball.''
Mr. Reagan is very grateful to have had the chance to work with his son, Jim Jr., the head baseball and basketball coach and the Assistant Principal at UC.
"How many opportunities do you have to work this close with your son everyday,'' said Reagan Sr. "He's been coming to this gym here since he was in preschool when I was coaching basketball. Not many fathers get the chance to do what I've been able to do.''
Mr. Reagan said the support from Principal Sister Percylee Hart, RSM, and the entire school is something he's thankful for.
"The atmosphere in this building and the support of athletics and academics from Sister Percylee has always been great,'' said Mr. Reagan. "I couldn't ask for a better situation. We have such a great blend of student-athletes here.''
What did he enjoy the most about his tenure as AD?
"Seeing the kids who come in here and don't necessarily have the greatest athletic skills, but work hard and get more than their talent provides,'' said Mr. Reagan. "I've seen kids that have come here as freshmen and don't have the greatest skills, but by the time they are seniors they are on the varsity and contributing to a successful program.''
What will he miss the most?
"The interaction with the coaches, students, and players,'' said Mr. Reagan. "That is going to be tough to replace. You get to know the kids, see the maturity and the growth. You watch them go from a grammar school kid coming through the door for the first time freshmen, and then you see the young man or young lady walking out of the gym after graduating, and going on their way to college and a successful career. That's the payoff.''
Although he's retiring, Mr. Reagan will remain very visible in the UC community.
"I'll always be around here,'' said Mr. Reagan. "My connections with UC go very deep. My first cousin was a Dominican Nun, who taught here when the school first opened. My second cousin's daughter graduated from here as did my two nieces, and all three of my children went here.''
Principal Sister Percylee Hart, RSM., said Mr. Reagan will be remembered as a great role model and a change maker.
"We were in a changing paradigm in education when Jim came here, and he was the person that enabled that shifting,'' said Sister Percylee Hart, the Principal at UC since 1980. "And my biggest example was with the Dewey Decimal system. As the librarian, he transformed the library from rows and rows of books into a sea of computers. He was a change maker.''
"He also brought athletics to another level, and no matter what aspect it was over his 35 years, he made things better,'' said Sister Percylee. "Our athletic program has grown under his leadership. He's always kept the mission of the school in harmony with the mission of our athletic program, which is sportsmanship trumps all.''
How would Sister Percylee describe Mr. Reagan Sr.?
"He was selfless,'' said Sister Percylee. "And he gave over and above and beyond. If everyone functioned that way, we would soar. He's unassuming and humble, and he lived the mission of a Catholic school, which is the mission to teach as Jesus did. He's a man of God, his faith is strong, and he's a great role model. I don't want to let Jim go, but I must. It's time with his wife retiring. Jim and I have been there and done that together. He'll be missed, but once someone is on my radar, they stay on it.''
Dr. Reagan Jr. feels blessed to have had the opportunity to work alongside his father for several years
"I've been very lucky,'' said Dr. Reagan. "How many people have the opportunity to work with their father professionally. He serves in a mentor role for me personally and professionally. He allowed me to grow and he wasn't in the locker room. He allows the coaches to be who they are and mentor them to continue to grow.''
"And he always had the coaches back, but at the same time he was extremely fierce in his expectations,'' said Dr. Reagan. "Wins and losses matter, but there's so much more to it than that. It's doing the right thing and knowing that eyes are always on you. It's handling your kids with grace and compassion, and being the example for the kids who are watching. I think he lives the way that he wanted us to live and act, and I think the day in day out consistency is really unparalleled to anything I've ever witnessed. But again, he was fierce in his expectations of what a coach is, what a coach should be and how we represent this school. I don't think there has ever been a second during his tenure where he wasn't thankful and gracious for his opportunity to be here at Union Catholic. You could feel that when communicating with him.''
Dr. Reagan feels his father is a UC legend.
"He definitely replaced a legend in Rocky Lettieri, and I think he became one himself,'' said Dr. Reagan. "They both were themselves and grew in their roles. What's really impressive is the amount of change in the athletic program while still keeping the core values of the program. We are a legitimate high school with legitimate student athletes who go on to the right colleges. The amount of All-Americans, and having an Olympian. There are many schools across the state that don't have anything near that, and that's just during his tenure over the last 20 years. And when you look at the facility updates over the last 20 years, to make the decision to go to the track and turf complex and be one of the first around here to do that. To update the gym, and the livestream initiative, and to be one of the first schools in the state to be an Under Armour Highlight school. Those are all things that happened during his tenure, and we never lost our identity as a legitimate high school athletic program. And I really think that encapsulates his tenure here at Union Catholic. We stand by our core values as an athletic program, and he was the leader of that for 20 years. And I know there are other Athletic Directors who saw him as a mentor. There are people who have been AD's for 20 years who hold him in high regard. And he's such a low key guy. Through his humility and grace, it's never been about him.''
Mr. Reagan feels very good about handing off the AD baton to Mr. Luciano.
"I've known David since he was in grammar school,'' said Mr. Reagan. "He's a hard worker, enthusiastic, and energetic. He's knows the program, he knows all the kids and all the coaches. It will be a continuation, and he'll bring his expertise to the forefront.
Mr. Luciano is thrilled about the opportunity to follow Mr. Reagan, who has taught him a lot over the years.
"To get the opportunity to follow in legendary footsteps and big shoes going back to Mr. Lettieri to Mr. Reagan is something that I'm very excited about,'' said Mr. Luciano. "You are talking about two of the legends of UC and Union County. Jim Reagan Sr. is one of the true gentleman in the business, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from him since I started coaching here 18 years ago.''
"You see a lot over the years and learn a lot from watching about the right way to handle yourself and the wrong way to handle yourself,'' said Mr. Luciano. "The fact that Jim Sr. always knew the right way to handle yourself, the right way to solve a problem, and the right way to attack a situation is something that I hope eventually when someone is talking about me that they use those same lines.''
Several coaches at Union Catholic weighed in with their thoughts on Mr. Reagan.
"Jim is professional, loyal, compassionate, supportive, fair and open-minded,'' said Coach Matthews, who completed her 42nd season at the helm of Union Catholic's girls' basketball program this past winter. "He's a teacher, mentor and a friend to all of us in the UC coaching community.''
Coach Matthews continued, "In sports, wins and losses many times define success. Jim wanted more. It was very important to him how all our teams and coaches represented the school during and after competition. Jim is a class guy who ran a class athletic program. We will miss him dearly, and we wish Jim health and happiness in his retirement years."
"Jim has been much more than an Athletic Director to UC,'' said UC boys soccer coach Tim Breza. "He has a been a mentor, a confidant, and most of all a friend. Jim gave me my first opportunity as a high school coach and I can thank him for changing my life because of that. He took a chance on a 22-year old and I am most thankful that he did. His legacy is forever cemented in the athletic lore that is Viking athletics. He has seen conference, county and state champions. As well as athletes that have gone on and played at the highest level of their sport. It has been my distinct pleasure to have worked for such an incredible man.''
"Jim was a leader and teacher to his staff,'' said Mr. Mike McCabe, UC's head boys and girls cross-country, indoor and outdoor track and field coach. "He taught me many valuable lessons on working with peers, parents and athletes. Jim was always very supportive of building the track and field program. And he always did his best to make sure the student-athletes had the necessary resources to be successful. Without Jim's leadership, the track and field program would not be where it is today. Jim's friendship and leadership has helped me develop into a better coach.''
"He's a great guy who I've known for a lot of years,'' said UC golf coach Bill Boyar. "He's always been there for the kids. He always gets done what needed to get done. Jim always kept things nice and level, dealt with everything that had to be taken care of and always came out on top. Dave's has some big shoes to fill.''
"Jim Sr. has had a great run here at UC and has been a great AD,'' said UC softball coach Ed Ryan. "He's done his job to the max, has been fair and has Always backed up the coaches in every situation, he stands by you. I'm glad to call him our AD and also a friend. His legacy will always stand proud here at UC. He's well known and well liked by all. Congrats!''
"Mr. Reagan is a down to earth, humble man who has been a pleasure to work with,'' said Frank Araneo, UC's head boys and girls tennis coach. "He has been a loyal, dedicated employee of Union Catholic for three and a half decades and has left an indelible mark at our school. It was a delight to have worked with him the past five years. Mr. Reagan was always very supportive of our tennis programs and I'm very grateful to him for providing me the opportunity to be the boys and girls tennis coach. He always brought an optimistic attitude to work and was engaging, friendly and warm with friends and colleagues. Mr. Reagan was always willing to have a conversation and has a great sense of humor. Jim is a gentlemen who puts others first. I thank him for all that he has contributed to Union Catholic, athletics, and the field of education and wish him a healthy, fulfilling, joyful retirement.''
"Jimmy is a man who always has your back,'' said UC volleyball coach Nancy Saggio. "He would always stand up and make sure all of our student athletes had the best opportunities to compete, and that the playing field was level. Jimmy can be very firm and tough, but he also has a soft side and great sense of humour. When I started coaching in 1995, Rocky Lettieri was the AD and Jimmy was his assistant. I learned how to take a joke and not to take it personally when getting busted by the both of them. It was a fun time.''
"One of my best memories of Jimmy was when I was pregnant with my fourth child, Sean in 2005,'' said Coach Saggio. "I was due in the middle of the season. I think I made Jim very nervous that year because I would still get excited while coaching. I think Jim was afraid I would go into labor in the middle of the match and he didn't want to add delivering a baby to his list of accomplishments as Athletic Director. His legacy should be that he was a man who cared deeply for his school, coaches and athletes. I am going to miss him saying, ''See you later."
"Jim Reagan taught me as a coach not to sweat the small stuff,'' said Mrs. Melissa Yezo, UC's head girls lacrosse coach. "Every time I approached him with a prospective "issue", he always found a way to make light of the situation and guide me in the right direction towards a solution. I always appreciated his honesty and experience. His door was always open and welcoming.''
"He has always been honest and fair to work with,'' said Mr. Manuel Gonzalez, UC's bowling coach. "He is always spoken of highly from the faculty and students that he has had the pleasure of being around for any amount of time. My feelings are also mutual in that he has always shown me the utmost respect in any situation and has always been the most helpful individual pertaining to my duties as bowling head coach and assistant coach in prior years. I am sure he will be missed, but always remembered.''