Coach. Teacher. Friend. Father. Visionary. Humanitarian.
Tom LaMonica wore each of those hats during his 61 years. The longtime Friends School coach, who passed away in early September, left an indelible legacy that extends from the Charles Street campus to his home and beyond.
“He loved people. He would leave a conversation or situation, and you felt good about meeting him,” said Tom Randall, who worked alongside LaMonica for 28 years at Friends. “He always wanted to make things better.”
LaMonica coached football, wrestling and lacrosse during his 39 years at Friends, where he graduated from back in 1967. His commitment to every Friends student he crossed paths with was unwavering.
“He got us prepared and had us believing we could win every game,” said St. Frances Academy football coach Joe Garner, who played for LaMonica in the early 1990s. “It was all about player development and interpersonal relationships.”
“He found things in kids that they didn’t know they had whether it was sports or activities they could do, he inspired them,” said Anne McGinty, director of physical education department at Friends. “He just touched so many lives.
He was labeled a physical education teacher, but what he taught was life lessons. Sure he taught them how to skip, sure he taught them how to throw a ball, but he also taught them about life and hold true to yourself.”
LaMonica often cringed around technology. He believed the mind and good old fashioned hard work could outdo any computer.
“Tom was a world class problem solver,” said Hereford boys’ lacrosse coach Brian King, who LaMonica assisted for several seasons after stepping away from the Friends’ program.
“He could pretty much fix anything,” said McGinty, who worked with LaMonica for 15 years. “He always said ‘just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s not useful.’”
LaMonica served as mentor to several coaches including King and Calvert Hall College lacrosse coach Bryan Kelly, who coached LaMonica’s son Mike. Mike, who starred alongside brother Dan at the University of Maryland, is now a Cardinal varsity assistant coach.
“He always gave great feedback and advice, he was least judgmental guy I’ve ever met,” said Kelly. “What I love about Tom was he always had a presence and he was always knew how to get his point across without telling you what to do.”
“He would ask me a series of questions, sometimes more than he probably wanted to, until I thought of the idea which gave me confidence as a young coach,” said King. “It didn’t matter if it’s the most hardheaded kid or nicest kid, they all just respected him. He led by example.”
His sayings, affectionately known as LaMonica-isms, were comforting inspirations for those around him. McGinty remembers going through a stressful period a few years ago and LaMonica walked into her office.
“He said, ‘Annie, get yourself together. As much as you want to feel like the world is punishing you, people are looking to you and you have to step up to the plate. You need to endeavor to persevere and remember you got to be there for other people,’” McGinty said.
LaMonica’s greatest example of his unselfishness can be found at the non-profit Genesee Valley Outdoor Learning Center, located on LaMonica’s 300-acre property in Parkton. Genesee Valley offers a variety of nature-based activities for groups as well as one of the largest rope courses in the country. It also has several athletic fields which several high school teams as well as the Hereford Rec Council use at no cost.
LaMonica, who also raised livestock and grew fruits and vegetables on his land, believed nature is one of man’s greatest gifts.
“He wants people to come and experience and appreciate it,” said Christi Kramer, Genesee’s director who worked alongside LaMonica for more than 10 years. “Explore and love being outdoors.”
LaMonica brought his football teams to train on his property as his coach at Friends had done with him. The players slept in the barn and bathed in the lake. Their day started at 6:30 a.m. with the ringing of cow bells.
“I could never replace those weeks,” said Garner. “No matter how much we complained about the conditions, it was the best time of my life. He took care of us.”
“He loved going home to the farm, bailing hay and seeing his kids grow up,” said McGinty. “It was leaving one family and going to another.”
Mike LaMonica don’t know how his “best friend” was able to balance coaching, farming and parenting for so many years. He said his father’s work ethnic came from his parents, who brought the farm back in 1946, and his experience in the military.
“It’s always been Dad’s way, open the door to the community,” said Mike, who would play with brother Dan as little kids on the side while their dad led afternoon practices at Friends. “I think he embodied the true neighborly spirit.”
More than 700 people attended LaMonica’s memorial service. There were no tears, only laughter as dozens told stories of their experiences with LaMonica.
He probably would’ve hated it. LaMonica never sought attention. He simply wanted to teach, share and inspire.
“He knew the effect he had on kids because kids came back and talked to him, and that was the greatest sense of accomplishment for him,” said McGinty. “When a kid comes back from college and said, ‘I learned this from you and I took this with me.’ That meant something to him.”
“He never wanted to be the center of attention. The learning center and the sporting events, he set those up for people to enjoy, that was his driving force,” said Mike LaMonica. “Kids having a good time, and parents having a good time with their kids. His enjoyment was seeing other people enjoy themselves.”