Newsday: Henry Read

October 1, 2000

Newsday logo
Title: INSIDE HIGH SCHOOLS / These Guys Are Real Winners
Publication: Newsday – Long Island, N.Y.
Author: Jason Molinet
Date: Oct 1, 2000
Start Page: C.30
Section: SPORTS
Text Word Count: 940

IT WAS an encounter for the ages. Sixty-two seasons of Suffolk football history gathered Friday morning in a second-floor room at Bellhaven Nursing Center in Brookhaven.

Tom Cassese, 55, has coached football at Comsewogue for 28 seasons.

Henry Read, 88, was the only football coach Seton Hall High School in Patchogue ever had. He started the program in 1940 and retired when the school closed its doors in June, 1974.

Cassese and Read are from different worlds, yet they will be forever linked. They are part of an exclusive club. When Comsewogue beat Hauppauge on Sept. 15, Cassese tied Read as the winningest football coach in county history with 176 career victories.

Comsewogue failed in its last two outings to move its coach past Read in the record books, so Suffolk football’s illustrious past met its bright burning present quite literally on equal terms Friday. Cassese, who owns a 176-66-3 mark, went to Bellhaven, where Read and his wife of 66 years, Margaret, now live. And they talked about, what else? Football.

Read, who has wispy white hair and an engaging smile, sat in a wheelchair while Cassese hovered over him.

“You know, I haven’t been defeated since 1973,” Read said, his smile lighting the room. “I don’t have that worry anymore.”

Poor Cassese. His team fell to Kings Park, 21-6, the previous afternoon.

Read kept up the offensive. “You lose again,” he said, “they’ll send you over here [to the retirement home].”

“When can I move in?” Cassese asked.

But Cassese, among a trio of coaches closing in on Read-Sachem’s Fred Fusaro and East Islip’s Sal Ciampi are the others – was energized by the meeting.

“It was just a pleasure to have met someone who’s led such a great life,” Cassese said. “And his wife said he still follows all the high school sports. You could sense it was something that was important to him. He still cares.”

Read has been away from the game 27 years, nearly as long as Cassese has been coaching. But you don’t have to tell Read how the game has evolved. His Seton Hall teams went from the single-wing offense to the wing-T. Read coached in an era when the quarterback drop-kicked extra points. Along the way, Read turned a tiny Catholic school into a Long Island sports powerhouse because he was an innovator himself.

“Mr. Read had some crazy formations,” said Ken Hughes, a 1946 Seton Hall graduate who played quarterback for three seasons. “He used to lay awake at night thinking about them. They all worked, but they were unusual, I’ll tell you that. All of his players had a lot of respect for him. To this day, I call him Mr. Read.”

The Seton Hall Eagles won 11 league titles, had four unbeaten seasons, posted a 24-game unbeaten streak from 1969-71 and produced one NFL player, John Schmitt, who played center for the Jets from 1964-73. But talk to Read and you realize it wasn’t about the wins.

“I built that sports program from nothing to the point where kids wanted to go there,” said Read, who also coached boys basketball and baseball and served as athletic director and boys dean. “I enjoyed the kids, but I was very strict. I wouldn’t last an hour with today’s kids.”

In the early years, Read, from Providence, worked as a tobacco salesman in the early part of the day and coached sports at Seton Hall in the afternoon. He was a volunteer coach from 1940 until he was hired full-time in 1948.

His athletic success helped the fledgling coed Catholic school- its campus is home to St. Joseph’s College today – grow in size and esteem.

“He just loved coaching,” said Margaret, 89, who met her husband while the two were studying to be teachers at SUNY-Farmingdale.

Former players gush at his genius as a coach. The record stood as a monument to Read’s coaching success long after he left the sideline. To him, it’s a footnote to a fine career, one he doesn’t mind surrendering to Cassese or the next ambitious coach to come along. But the record is not what he will be remembered for.

Read and his wife raised 11 children. Today, they have 49 grandchildren and 38 great-grandchildren. In their heyday, the couple ran a day camp in Patchogue. Read gave one-time Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden his first varsity coaching job.

“I’ve gone to visit him over the years to get that touch of inspiration,” said Pete Cheviot, who led the state in scoring and was an All-Long Island running back for Seton Hall in 1970. He played at Brown University.

Read also was the one who encouraged Hughes, like many of his players, to go to college. In Hughes’ case, the coach broached the subject of playing football at Boston College at halftime of a game.

“I never heard of Boston College and probably never would have gone to college if it hadn’t been for Mr. Read,” said Hughes, a BC graduate who retired in 1990 after teaching 30 years in the Patchogue- Medford School District. “I owe a great deal of debt to him. He did everything he could for the kids at Seton Hall. He was Mr. Seton Hall to us.”