By Shelby Townsend
Located near the front of the Pratt Recreation Center, Kevin Buckley’s office is packed with paperwork, supplies for his track and field teams, and people. Runners and coaches constantly file in and out, creating an energy mirroring Buckley’s personality. Buckley became the head coach of the LIU Post men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track teams almost exactly a year ago, in February 2016.
Born and raised in Astoria, Queens, and a current resident of Elmont, NY, Buckley is a true New Yorker and describes himself as frenetic. “I guess I’m the baroque coach. I’m kind of organized chaos,” Buckley said.
Junior distance runner Ryan Gioe said Buckley is very strict about sticking to a schedule, but balances that with humor. “Buckley is definitely a character,” Gioe said. “He likes to make a lot of historical jokes and sing classic rock and roll. Overall, his personality is positive and uplifting.”
Track and field was not Buckley’s first sport of choice when he began teaching and coaching at St. Agnes High School in New York City, also his alma mater, but after a previous coach left his position, Buckley could not turn down the opportunity to take the job. Before track, his main passions were basketball and baseball, and he only ran one year of track in high school and one year in college at St. Francis in Brooklyn. He began his career at St. Agnes, where he got his first job as a head coach at the age of 22, and he has not stopped for more than 40 years. After leaving St. Agnes in 1986 and moving to Kellenberg Memorial High School, where he taught multiple history classes, he continued to coach boy’s track.
“All of a sudden, I was there for the next 40 years,” Buckley explained. “It’s intriguing in that way because you don’t wind up in the place you think you’re going to wind up, but you wind up in the right place. If it wasn’t the right place for me, I wouldn’t have been doing it for this long.”
Buckley retired from teaching at Kellenberg in June 2016, and originally planned to retire fully, but with the encouragement of many coaches in the area, including his current assistant coach at LIU Post, Anthony Perrone, he took the job as head coach of the running teams at Post, replacing Pat Slevin. At first he was reluctant to apply, waiting about eight weeks after the position was announced to submit an application. One day last year he came to Post and had the job the same day. “It was probably by default,” Buckley added, jokingly.
His relationship with the coaching staff has made his new job easier. Perrone, the assistant coach who encouraged Buckley to apply for the job, also boasts an impressive resume with experience as head coach at Columbia University, North Carolina Wilmington, and NYIT.
“I have wonderful assistants,” Buckley said. “We have a bunch of guys who think on the same page.”
One thing that did surprise Buckley about his new team is how young the program actually is. He hadn’t realized that just three years ago at LIU Post, “there was not track and field program,” he said. The university announced the addition of men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field programs, along with three other new NCAA Division II sports in December 2013.
Coming into such a young program can be challenging, and Buckley is recruiting to build a more diverse team in terms of the variety of events that athletes compete in at each meet. For example, the women’s team currently has no sprinters, which makes it very difficult to score well as a team. “We’re trying to get the whole gamut,” Buckley said. “It’s track and field, not just distance running.” The men’s team currently boasts a roster of 21 athletes and the women’s has 15, fairly small numbers for track and field teams.
Buckley is using his connections with other coaches to sign more recruits, and he said he is very happy with the progress they have made so far. He has some early commitments for fall 2017 that specialize in a variety of distances and field events that he is very excited about.
Junior distance runner Talya Williams said Buckley has been putting a lot of time into his new job. “He is very committed to our team,” Williams said. “Although we’re still struggling a bit, he does show a lot of effort in trying to build the team for the years to come.”
Finding a time and place to practice has not been the easiest task either. The only track located on campus is the one on the upper level of Pratt Recreation Center, which Buckley said is great when the weather is bad, but when over-used, can lead to injuries such as shin splints. They have signed on to use Kellenburg Memorial High School’s outdoor track in Uniondale, but conflicts in scheduling are making it difficult to get the entire team there at the same time.
Regardless, these minor setbacks have not brought the team down. Buckley understands that team members’ schedules are different, especially at the college level. “This is not one of those dictatorial Division II programs,” Buckley said. “You have to be exible.”
Buckley likes to see his athletes working hard, but also does not want to take things too seriously all the time. “Practice is fun,” he said. “Everything is supposed to have a humorous element to it.”
“Buckley has a philosophy that less is more but understands when we need to be pushed,” Gioe said.
Buckley said the team dynamic is great, and everyone gets along really well. As for the future, Buckley said it’s all about improving as a team. He wants to add as many kids as he can in the coming years, and eventually be able to compete for the top spot as a team at each meet. “You want to be number one,” Buckley said. “That’s why you’re here.”