Mike Duignan could not figure out why his basketball team seemed nervous it its game with King January 19 in Stamford. It wasn’t until after Holy Child’s 43-37 overtime victory that the girls let their head coach in on a little secret.
The Gryphons weren’t just playing to win the game. They were fighting to reach a milestone in Duignan’s Holy Child career: his 100th victory.
“I was taken aback by the team’s reaction to it,” said the 53-year-old Duignan. “The game was tight throughout and the cheering section was wild. I just didn’t put two and two together: the girls were anxious because they wanted to me to achieve that personal accolade. I’m just so happy. They made me feel really good.”
Duignan, in his seventh season as the varsity skipper, took over a once-moribund Holy Child basketball program and quickly transformed it into an annual contender. The team won 19 combined games in the four seasons before his arrival. It took him just two seasons to eclipse that total, and from there he posted three consecutive seasons of 20-plus victories.
“He turned around the program, there are no two ways about it,” said HC Director of Athletics John Pizzi. “He has done an unbelievable job in creating a basketball atmosphere here. Kids now come here to play basketball and be coached by him. That’s the ultimate compliment.”
Pizzi called Duignan “one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet,” citing the coach’s commitment to his student-athletes as the thing that separates him from his peers. Duignan is never about wins and losses, and he never pushes his team to win certain games, but his demeanor and positive attitude have allowed Holy Child to reach such great heights.
There were doubts that Duignan and Holy Child would remain contenders after All-everything Sophia Aleksandravicius graduated in June 2009. But there they were last year, in a so-called “rebuilding season”, qualifying for a fourth-straight NYSAIS tournament. Only eight teams in all of New York make it to the competition.
Holy Child is on a roll this season at 6-2, and Duignan’s reaching the century mark had him reminiscing about the path that took him to the milestone. He began his career as a teacher and coach, but joined the New York Fire Department full-time in 1983, spending 20 years fighting fires before retiring as a lieutenant in 2003. Duignan made a promise to himself way back in 1983 that he was going to go back to teaching and coaching, and so he did.
“I started as the JV coach in 2003 and then took over the varsity after one year,” said Duignan, now 100-48 overall. “John Pizzi and everyone have been so supportive, and getting to 100 makes you think back and appreciate all of the nice things that have happened.”