Dr.J. on Running


Brother Basilian O'Connell 1916-2002

Every Runner's Brother

Published June 3, 2002 in The Syracuse Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

In a letter to Brother Basilian O'Connell dated June 26, 1962, Dr. George Sheehan wrote: "I am incapable of expressing our total appreciation for your efforts at Lincroft. There can be no doubt that the impact of Christian Brothers Academy on the community resulted in large part from your personal influence. Rest assured that your influence will continue through your students and friends. We hear a lot about character building in athletics, but this was the first time I had seen it in action."

O'Connell's departure from CBA Lincroft, N.J, to CBA Syracuse prompted Sheehan's letter. Two generations later, CBA Lincroft remains a running powerhouse.

Born in Ireland in July 1916, O'Connell first became interested in track in 1939 at St Mary's High School in Yonkers. He came to Lincroft in 1959 as its first athletic director and a member of its faculty. In Syracuse from 1962-1968, he taught mathematics, and helped start the Central New York indoor track league. Jerry Riordan coached track at CBA during the O'Connell era. He recalled him emptying his math class into the track team, contributing to the track legacy of CBA Syracuse in the'60s and'70s. He left Syracuse back to Yonkers in 1968, before returning to Lincroft in 1974 to start an apostolate of caring for retired brothers.

In 1988, O'Connell returned to Syracuse. Retired from teaching, he assumed the role of supervisor of grounds maintenance. CBA Syracuse awarded O'Connell the "Purple and Gold Award" in 1995. His citation recognized him:

  • "As a teacher of math - there was no one more demanding,
  • As an athletic director - there was no one more respected,
  • As a track coach - there was no one more enthusiastic."

In the spring of 1996, CBA honored O'Connell with the creation of the Brother Basilian Track and Field Invitational meet, held on the first Friday in May. I met Brother B, as he was fondly known, at his meet a year later. He sat on a lawn chair in the center of the infield, and watched the racing action unfold around him.

My conversation with Brother B on that evening left me in awe. This quiet running pioneer worked relentlessly to bring scholastic track competition into prominence. Shortly after our conversation, O'Connell returned to Lincroft.

On May 19, 2002, Brother Basilian O'Connell passed away in Lincroft at age 85. Sheehan's words to Brother B are as true today as they were 40 years ago. "Rest assured that your influence will continue through your students and friends."

© 2002 The Post-Standard.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Syracuse Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created TrackMeets.com, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at jabbour@i2sports.com.