by CHARLES LIPPOLIS, Staff Writer
There’s a saying that goes: “Doing what you love means you should never work a day in your life.”
But for Manhattan College’s men’s track and field coach Dan Mecca, the work day never ends.
Any student who has walked through Draddy Gymnasium has likely seen him. His 5-foot-8 frame, accompanied by track sweats and an iconic mustache are commonly found on the far end of the gym, critiquing the form of the throws team which was ranked eighth in the nation for the weight in the winter.
What a student could never notice in a casual walk through the gym is the fire and passion that Mecca has for what he does. The age old sport of track and field has yet to lose an ounce of awe and wonder in his eyes.
“This is where I belong,” Mecca said, as he embraced his office space before him in Draddy.
This passion is rooted in a coaching career that has taken Mecca to all ends of the world, working with different athletes in different countries, at events from colloquial high school meets to the Olympics.
As Manhattan track and field alum Paul Quirke 86’ recalls, Mecca has always been a man who has put in outright love for the sport among anything else.
“If it wasn’t for Dan Mecca, I wouldn’t have qualified for the Olympics,” Quirke, who qualified for the Olympics in 1988, said.
A native of Ireland, Quirke found himself flying from his home in California back to the east coast to train with Mecca for the 1988 Olympics.
These hours were off the clock for Mecca, but holding true to the man he has proven to be, Mecca still made time for Quirke, who obviously shared his passion. This meant sessions that would bleed late into the night at a public park in a rundown part of New Jersey. Quirke labored, and Mecca was there by his side, improving his form on each throw by the light of his car alone.
“This the kind of guy who didn’t have to, he didn’t get paid to, he just did it because he loves the sport,” Quirke said.
These are the kinds of encounters that have helped to keep Mecca a Jasper for 30 years. It has helped him build connections across the country and across the world, giving him the opportunity to work with and compete against a diverse group of athletes.
Inadvertently, Mecca started to promote Manhattan College across the world. His professional demeanor, engaging personality, and gripping sense of reassurance in everything he says has attracted the attention of world caliber throwers to the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
One notable foreign athlete currently on campus is junior Love Litzell. Litzell, a native of Sweden has seen nothing but success in his time at Manhattan, being crowned champion at the nationally recognized IC4A Meet Hammer Throw event in both the 2014 and 2015 spring seasons.
Reflecting on his own success, Litzell could not fill in the blanks of his growth here at Manhattan without mentioning coach Mecca.
“He kept in contact very well,” Litzell said, as he acknowledged the impact Mecca had on his decision to come to Manhattan, “and the steps I’ve taken since I have gotten here have made me more knowledgeable and experienced.”
Mecca’s strong relationships with players have done more than build a reputation overseas for Manhattan, they have also helped Manhattan instill itself as one of the top schools in recruiting athletes from the greater New York City area.
Bobby Gebhard was a senior at Northern Highlands Regional high school in the spring of 2012, and after his career as an all-state jumper, he was ready to hang up the spikes in the fall. Not having been recruited by any other track coaches, Gebhard’s path was destined for Fordham in the fall, until he met Coach Mecca towards the end of the spring season.
“He treated me with respect when no other coach even recruited me,” Gebhard said.
Soon after arriving on campus, Gebhard realized that he and Mecca shared a chemistry while training. With raw, unpolished form, Mecca commanded the respect of Gebhard so he could improve, and Gebhard knew when it was time to work, but the loose environment they were able to communicate in made all the difference for Gebhard.
“I don’t think I would be nearly as good of a jumper if it wasn’t for him,” Gebhard said.
Perhaps the hardest part about identifying Mecca is specifying what has made him one of the longest tenured coaches at any institution ever.
It could be because of the 33 MAAC Men’s Track and Field Coach of the Year selections he has earned in the past 10 years, or the four NCAA National Champion athletes he has coached over the course of his career.
It could also be attested to the relationship he has developed with the athletes he goes to work with. For example, people like Quirke, who alluded to a phone call he had with Mecca recently, where Mecca had gone out of his way to see how both he and his son Colin (who Mecca also coach at Manhattan) are doing.
Litzell, as well as many other foreign athletes have also experienced this warmth, as Mecca opens his home to any of them who cannot make it home for the holiday season in the winter.
“I like to say I have three kids at home, and 80 here” Mecca said.
Mecca has taken it upon himself to be a part of these athlete’s lives. He takes pride in wearing green every day, and holds the overall development of his athletes as people first and foremost.
“This is the second best thing in my life next to family,” said Mecca, “someone is basically paying me to do what I love.”
Payed or not, Dan Mecca’s life and persona would not be different, simply because he is driven by his own desire to be better every day more than anything else.