Hundreds say farewell to beloved Prep coach O’Connor

By Joseph Staszewski

St. Francis Prep said goodbye to a legendary coach and a beloved person Thursday.

A crowd of approximately 200 people made up of family, friends, former players and rival coaches packed its auditorium at the funeral mass for football coach Vince O’Connor, who died on Valentine’s Day at the age of 85.

He coached 62 seasons at the school, including last year. O’Connor won 341 games and a record 16 CHSFL title. All fondly remembered the person behind those accomplishments and the manner in which he conducted himself while living his life.

“He used everything he could to turn boys into men and he never ever passed over anyone,” Father Bill Sweeney said during his homily. “It didn’t matter if you were the first string safety or the chaplain, the starting quarterback or a star player.“

A row of flowers sat across the stage along with the portrait of O’Connor that normally resides in the school’s fitness center, which is named for him. The team’s current players sat together with their jerseys on. Behind them sat former players spanning six decades, including Rutgers football coach Kyle Flood and former NFL tight end Marco Battaglia who returned to pay their respects to the man they considered a father figure and who cared as much for them as they did for him.

Prep President Bro. Leonard Conway thanked O’Connor and his family for his service to the school. During his eulogy Flood recalled that O’Connor had attended has his first bowl game as Rutgers coach, even making sure to take notes to review with him after the contest.

“He was there because he was always there,” Flood said. “He was always there for everybody.”

O’Connor cared for more than just his football family. His son Martin fittingly started his eulogy with whistle blow, a yell of ‘Varsity line up!” and a copy of the belly offense on a yellow legal pad that helped make O’Connor famous and a winner. He then spoke of man who taught his own family about commitment, compassion and striving to be the best at what you love. He would sit for hour with his grandson as he learned to play the violin, always telling him to practice for five more minutes.

“Dad was never afraid of making mistakes,” Martin O’Connor said. “If you makes mistakes, know there is another day to get up and try again.”

Once the mass ended, the family proceeded out with the casket. They walked through the hallway outside the auditorium lined with school’s current football players. The kids sang the St. Francis Prep fight song as one last tribute to a man who had given so much of his life to the school. The casket was loaded into a hearse with a St. Francis Prep decal on the door. O’Connor, who taught people so much by how he lived, was buried at Mount St. Mary’s cemetery.

“He never yelled,” Battaglia said. “He just expected the best and if you weren’t on board, you just weren’t on board. That’s how I live my life: Expect the best and do everything in your power to be the best.”

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