By Clayton Collier
Before Lisa Lally retired last month, the longtime Miller Place athletic director had some parting words of advice for her successor.
“She said to remember to find time for family and make time for myself along the way,” said Ron Petrie, current Miller Place athletic director and head football coach. “It’s a very easy job to get lost in.”
The 2010 Section XI Athletic Director of the Year said it was for a similar reason that she decided to retire from the position she held for 13 years.
“You are problem solving constantly,” Lally said. “I enjoy that, but I think it requires a tremendous amount of focus and a tremendous amount of time away from other aspects of your life, and I think I was ready to focus in on other things.”
Deputy Superintendent Seth Lipshie, who has known Lally for more than 25 years, said his longtime co-worker’s efforts did not go unnoticed at Miller Place.
“In athletics, Lisa has incorporated a strong emphasis on sportsmanship while striving to be successful in competition,” he said. “The thing that drove Lisa the most was her priority she placed on what is in the best interest of the student-athlete. She derived as much pleasure in the success of her coaches and players as anyone in Miller Place.”
Nearly 150 people attended Lally’s retirement reception on October 27 at Willow Creek in Mount Sinai. Petrie said attendees included a wide variety of current and former colleagues from her more than 30 years with the district.
“It was a really nice event to celebrate not just her time here working, but also the life that she leads and the respect that she has gained over that period of time,” Petrie said.
Lally grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, playing basketball and softball in high school, after the passage of Title IX before her freshman year, and won the 1978 female athlete of the year at Greenwich High School.
Lally graduated from Southern Connecticut State College in May 1982, with a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education. That summer, Lally moved to Long Island and soon began working as a substitute teacher and the junior varsity girls’ basketball coach at Miller Place. By September 1983, Lally had earned a full-time physical education teaching position.
She also coached field hockey, softball and volleyball in her career with Miller Place, but she indisputably had the most success coaching basketball, being named coach of the year five times — three times with the JV team and twice with varsity, winning the league championship in each of her last two years as coach.
In July 2002, Lally was named an assistant principal at Miller Place High School, a position she said did not suit her well.
“I was out of my comfort area in a lot of respects,” she said. “I was being asked to oversee a lot of areas that I did not feel I had working knowledge about.”
So when the position of athletic director became available just two months later, Lally saw an opportunity to move to a field she felt more comfortable in. Still, Lally said she had her hesitations in making such a “big leap” to athletic director, or the “right leap” as she describes it looking back.
“I was afraid of the job itself, initially,” Lally said. “Like wow, this is big. But I also knew it was part of my bloodline; it was who I was; it was something I knew.”
Every job comes with its own challenges, and an athletic director certainly is no exception. Lally said the most difficult part of her job early on was having to cut costs.
“Athletics, while it’s a very vital part of our school community, it’s also one of those areas that can be cut, because it’s not mandated,” she said. “So learning how to cut lots and lots of money out of a program without annihilating an entire program; it was very, very difficult.”
Petrie, who had the opportunity to observe Lally’s work in his roles as both the football coach and the assistant athletic director, said she was balanced to all athletic programs, both large and small.
“If we couldn’t afford to go out and get a high-end piece of equipment or put off getting new jerseys for a year or so, it was understood because nobody else was getting it,” he said. “It was pretty flat across the board and she was fair with it. I never felt we were being overlooked or not prioritized.”
It was that approach that Petrie said earned Lally respect amongst her peers in the district.
“Fairness was something that was always associated with how Lisa handled things,” he said. “She made sure that all kids were considered in any decision she was making.”
Lally’s involvement in high school athletics has not just been limited to Miller Place school district. Lally served on the Section XI executive board from 2003 until this past fall, and was president from 2006 to 2008. Lipshie said Lally’s service on the Section XI board provided a great benefit to the advancement of the Miller Place athletic department.
“She has been deeply involved in athletics on both the county and the state level, serving as the section president and the section representative on the state level,” he said. “Through Lisa, Miller Place has had a voice on legislation and has provided Miller Place with the most current information that impacts our student-athletes.”
With several construction projects and new facilities being put in place at the time of her retirement, Miller Place school district had Lally and Petrie work alongside one another beginning in July. It was through this time, as well as Petrie’s tenure as the football coach, that Lally said makes her confident in Petrie as her successor.
“We’ve been together through some really high points and some real low points, and I think you learn about a person’s character during those low points,” she said. “Frankly, his stock has only gone up over these past four months. Watching him making decisions and dealing with staff and students, I think he is going to be terrific, and I think he is going to bring the program to a level I hadn’t even thought about.”
Though retired, Lally hasn’t completely separated herself from involvement in athletic administration, regularly teaching a required course on Section XI. In doing so, Lally says she can enjoy her time with family, while also still making an impact.
“I’m keeping my feet in the game, but not quite as actively as I had in the past,” she said. “I’m not looking to just wither on the vine. I can pick and choose what I’m involved with; we’ll see how this retirement thing works out.”