Legends of Section IX: Mary “Coach” Feusner
GRAHAMSVILLE, NY — There’s a thing about tradition.
For Mary Feusner, it’s a lot more than formal praxis or time-honored ways of doing things on the fields of athletic competition.
Tradition is at the heart of it all, that concept of teaching the skills of softball and girls’ soccer the right way, all the while making sure the young scholar athletes put the classroom first and foremost at Tri-Valley Central School.
Feusner started teaching heath and physical education at “The Home of the Bears” in 1978, and until she formally retired in 2014, coached varsity softball and girls’ varsity soccer for 37 years and 38 years respectively.
After a brief hiatus imposed by a previous school administration—an unexpected decision that caused students to voice their opposition to losing “Coach” Feusner at a school board meeting—she returned to coaching soccer in 2017-2018 and last year, helped the junior varsity softball team fine-tune their developing skills.
Feusner coached girls’ varsity soccer at Tri-Valley for a total of 38 seasons, from 1978 through 2013, and after the break in service, returned as the girls’ varsity soccer coach for two more seasons (2017-2018).
“I love it, I love to see how the kids develop over time,” she said, adding, “I love the sports.”
Along the way, Feusner posted 658 soccer matches into the record books: 367 wins, 250 losses and 41 ties.
During those seasons, the Lady Bears booters racked up some rather impressive laurels to add to the banners on display in the gymnasium: qualified for sectionals 30 times, Section IX champions in 1992, New York State Final Four in 1992 at Alfred University, state quarter finals in 1993, Tri-Valley Tournament champs (1992-93, 1995-97), and the Section IX Brine Sportsmanship Award in 2011.
The team of ’92 lost in the state Class D semifinals by a single goal in overtime in a game against who are now called the Lady Tigers of New Lebanon “consistent state champs at the time”, during a match Feusner recalled as “blistering cold, one-third of the field was covered with ice and snow…it really limited the playing field.”
To make it to States, the Lady Bears defeated the Lady Spartans of S.S. Seward 1-0, and then advanced to take their regional game.
Not to be outdone in the classroom, the Lady Bears soccer players made the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s (NYSPHSAA) prestigious scholar athlete list 22 times since 1991.
While some coaches are rather reluctant to single out particular players for praise, Feusner recalled the exploits of several booters over the years: the Giovanna and Nicole Legenos twins, Jakkie Pugh, Heidi Rogers, Lindsey Loos, Natalie Dean, Cori VanVliet, Karyn Sheeley, Skylar Musa and Amanda Martin.
“Giovanna was a defender and Nicole was a striker,” recalled their coach, adding, “They came in as seventh graders from club soccer, and were very skilled…I moved them right up to varsity…Nicole was one of the leading scorers in New York State, she scored 172 goals in her high school career (at a clip of about 60-some goals per season) but missed a lot of her junior year because of an injury.”
Other players who made her ‘who’s who’ list of soccer players spanning the decades: Brendis Agnew, Jessica Bradley, Janet Corless, Megan Conover and Kim and Debbie Mitchell.
And then, onto her favorite sport. Softball.
Feusner started coaching softball as the number two in the mentoring lineup in 1978, and two years in 1980 later took over the position as top helmswoman, a position she anchored until retiring in 2014, for a grand total of 37 seasons.
Last year, she coached the JV team.
During her tenure as varsity coach, Feusner racked up 350 victories as opposed to 273 losses for a total of 623 games.
The Lady Bears softball team were NYS champs in 1986; Western Sullivan League (WSL) champs 4 times (qualified for sections in 17 seasons); Capital Regionals participants in 1985, 1991 and 1993; Eastern Regionals participants in 1985-86 and 1993; Eastern Regionals champions in 1986; and champs of the umpires’ tournament 7 times.
On the academic side of things, they were named NYSPHSAA scholar athletes 11 times.
In 2000 and 2004, the softball teams attended spring training at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.
A great way to get out Grahamsville for a few days and beat winter’s last blast of snow and ice before the start of the spring softball season.
Feusner noted the accomplishments of several members of her softball squads: Tonya Ackerley, Heide Blade, Kacie Allison, Megan Sheeley, Mikayla Clearwater, Karyn Sheeley, Lisa Yeager, Lacey Moore and Erin Smith.
On the path to winning States, Tri-Valley’s softball team defeated the Lady Knights of Afton high school “the perennial Section IV champs” in the bottom of the seventh inning in Tri-Valley’s second game of the day.
“We caused them to make some errors…Afton had some errors on bunts,” she recollected.
Feusner grew up on a dairy farm in northeastern Pennsylvania, in a little town called Rome “in the seven hills surrounding the community”, and while attending the local high school, played softball, basketball and volleyball.
At Loch Haven University, she participated in intramural sports and played a bit of club softball before earning her degree in 1977.
After graduation, she came to Tri-Valley and the rest is the stuff of school and Section IX history.
What’s the motivation to set the text books aside and assume the job of coaching young athletes?
“In health class, you’re in the classroom…I liked being outside of the classroom and being more active,” replied Feusner.
Asked to define her coaching philosophy, she explained that “academics always come first”, adding that she always emphasized the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship.
“I look to the older girls to be leaders for the team…I want the kids to come out and work as hard as they can…they may not be the most gifted athletes, but I want them to learn the game, teaching them strategies at the varsity level and at the JV level, you’re still teaching skills.”
Joe Iatauro, Tri-Valley’s legendary athletic director and coach (1976-2010) and his wife Missy were instrumental in shaping the school’s successful athletic program for decades.
“We talked about the kids and their potentials,” recalled Feusner, adding, “I learned from them dedication to the athletes and the school programs.”
Asked about the changes in high school sports she’s witnessed in almost forty seasons of coaching, Feusner said the student athletes of today are bringing a higher level of skills to the table “the girls are getting exposed to soccer at younger ages…they have access to higher levels than they used to play.”
But on the flip side, “I don’t think they come in as physically conditioned as they used to…(but) if they’re interested in being the eleven that play on the field, they will work a little harder.”
Feusner started out coaching when the Western Sullivan League (WSL) was the top dog in town until local schools joined the Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association (OCIAA).
“It broke my heart to leave the WSL. I don’t know if that was such a good thing for all the schools in Sullivan County, (but) in some ways we had better competition…it was a step above.”
Along the way, she picked up a couple of awards: The Times Herald Record’s “Coach of the Year” in 1992, and upon retiring as a teacher, a gold pass that gets her in free at sectional games.
Plus a lot of ink in the local newspapers for her teams’ accomplishments.
As Mary “Coach” Feusner hopes to return to coaching at Tri-Valley, she summed up her feelings about how academics relate to sports.
“I think the field is another classroom,” she said, and reflecting on all the years she’s devoted to coaching, added, “They’re still my kids!”