By Gabriela Carroll
People around Pete Meehan, longtime varsity baseball and basketball coach at Hampton Bays High School, say his dedication to his players and to the school made him a beloved figure in the community. Now, after more than 30 years at the helm of those programs, Meehan is retiring.
“I don’t think there’s another person in the district that spent as much time, unpaid time, building the team, the players, and the program,” said Meehan’s assistant coach and former player, Ryan Hernandez.
Meehan won two county Class C titles with the baseball team, in 1995 and 2001. But Meehan’s impact on the players and school goes much deeper than the wins and losses, according to longtime assistant John Paga.
“I wouldn’t say there was a single moment that I’m most proud of. More so, I think I’m proudest of my perseverance and longevity.” Meehan said. “For 36 years (29 at Hampton Bays), I was able to passionately do something that I truly loved.
“Also, proud of the wide ranging relationships that come with coaching. Mostly the relationships with our student-athletes,” he added.
Many of his varsity players, like this year’s basketball captain Jaden Ottati, attended camp before joining the team in high school. Ottati was a legacy player, his father played on the 1992 varsity team, during Meehan’s first year of coaching.
“Having the same basketball coach as my Dad is pretty cool. His first year coaching was with my Dad and his last year was with me, so I don’t think you can ask for much more,” Ottati said. “It’s like it was meant to be.”
Coaching the fathers of his two varsity captains, Ottati and Lucas Brown, and then culminating his career by coaching their sons, was very special for Meehan. He said it made for a nice bookend to his Hampton Bays career.
“It also reminded me that I’ve been at it for quite awhile,” Meehan added.
Meehan started fall, spring, and summer league basketball to give players a chance to stay in their home gym to practice and play during the offseason. He also started youth summer camps for elementary and middle schoolers to get involved with him and the program.
“The camps were manned by tons of old and current players,” Paga said. “He looked at it as an opportunity to give the kids some money so they can work camp with him. Maybe he broke even, maybe he made a little.
“But he spent countless hours in the Hampton Bays gyms,” he added, “and I can say that he never, ever, ever did it because he was getting rich or to make money. He did it because he truly loves to coach, and he loves the kids from Hampton Bays.
His dedication extended to his work in-season. Meehan and Paga traveled hours to scout future opponents. According to Paga, Meehan would often be the last car in the parking lot at night, staying late to work on practice and game plans.
After the basketball team won the county semi-finals, Hernandez remembered celebrating in the Stony Brook locker room with Meehan, and Meehan then immediately followed up by reminding them they had practice at 10 a.m. the next day. Hernandez said that moment encapsulated Meehan’s dedication and preparedness perfectly.
Louis Puccio, a class of 2017 graduate and current pitcher for SUNY Farmingdale’s baseball team, remembered how Meehan had them practice every aspect of their game, even striking out, to ensure they were prepared for every situation they’d encounter on the diamond.
“He taught me the little things how to conduct yourself on and off the field. He would have us practice striking out. It may sound silly, but it taught us to get back in the dugout and cheer on your teammate at bat,” said Puccio.
After graduating college, Hernandez said Meehan saw his potential as a coach and developed him at Hampton Bays. Ottati started working with Meehan in elementary school at his summer camps, and said getting to know Meehan more personally in high school was extremely rewarding.
“There’s been some down seasons over the last decade, but it doesn’t change the preparation,” Paga said. “His love for the kids doesn’t change. Once you walk into that gym, you know he’s there for you. Anything you need, you know he’d always be there for you. The kids that played for him, they got it, from the first man to the last man on the bench. They bought into it.”
According to Meehan, the most important lesson he learned from his time at Hampton Bays was the impact he had on the players. “The lessons that go beyond the court and field, and that spill over into real life,” he said.
“The time I spent playing for coach Meehan taught me just as much about life than it did about baseball,” Puccio said.
Many Baymen alums return to the program while on break or whenever they return home, according to Hernandez, to spend time with Meehan. Meehan provided guidance to graduated players and often came to their college games when he could. His long run as coach united generations of Baymen basketball and baseball players, like with Ottati and his father.
Hernandez said he struggles thinking about finding a coach to fill Meehan’s shoes, because of the incredible legacy he is leaving behind.
“People on the outside looking in say to just hire a new coach, but he was so much more than that,” Hernandez said. “When he was my JV coach, the number of players that came back from college to visit him, you could really see his impact on his players and his students.”
Meehan taught Ottati not to over-think his mistakes or to let them impact his play after
they happen. If Ottati had a bad game, he said Meehan would always tell him to focus on the future and not the past.
“My favorite line of his is, ‘What’s next?’” Ottati said.
So, what is next for Coach Meehan? He will return to his hometown of Port Jefferson to become the head coach of the varsity basketball team at Port Jefferson High School. But to Meehan, Hampton Bays will always be a second home.
“More than anything, I feel fortunate that I was given the opportunity to teach and coach two varsity sports. I will forever be grateful to Hampton Bays,” Meehan said.