Loyola coach gives back all he got

Lacrosse: Mentor and administrator Joe McFadden remembers how the game changed his life. It drives him to help youngsters learn success.

May 05, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Once, a boy who didn't make the freshman football team at Loyola High School was given a chance to play lacrosse. The game demanded enthusiasm and desire, and the boy did well.

Today he is the school's director of admissions and its varsity lacrosse coach.

The life of 47-year-old Joe McFadden is like the canvas of an impressionist painter. Stand up close and you can see the individual elements -- family, work, lacrosse. Move back and the separate brush strokes merge into a singular life in which all three are firmly interwoven.

From morning till night, McFadden spends his time mentoring young people, whether it be the boys he interviews and admits to Loyola, the boys he directs in the private school's lacrosse program or his own children.

On a recent morning, McFadden walked into his office, as usual, at 7: 30, and began preparing to meet Patrick Greenwell, 10, a fifth-grader at St. Joseph's School in Baltimore.

During the year's admission process, Loyola received about 425 applications for 110 spots in the ninth grade and another 160 applications for sixth grade. McFadden expected to accept 70 to 75 sixth-graders.

"There's no question that deciding on who is accepted is the most difficult part of both my jobs," says McFadden. "But selecting the lacrosse team pales beside the attempt at fairness that goes into selecting the students who come to Loyola."

Patrick was one of the boys who had been accepted, but he and his parents were still deciding if Loyola was right for him. During his visit, he would be teamed with a Loyola sixth-grader for the day.

With a smile that reaches into his eyes behind his glasses, McFadden let Patrick know the classes he'd have and told him, "We're going to keep you busy."

Sunlight streams through a wall of French windows in McFadden's office. A lacrosse stick, a ball in its webbing, leans against the fireplace. Papers on his desk witness to administrative work. Family photos sit on the mantel and desk.

On the walls are lacrosse memorabilia -- a plaque of appreciation for his dedication to the Loyola program, a caricature of him with an intense look and the caption "Bear down -- and move the ball!"

John Stewart, the varsity coach from 1970 until he retired from the job in 1981, recognizes that expression.

McFadden is "very intense on the lacrosse field," he says. "He's totally focused. But, really, that's not any different from the way he is when he's working on admissions. He's very methodical. On the lacrosse field, his practices are like that. His game plans are like that."

McFadden understands Loyola's underlying Jesuit principles. When his job demands he sell the school as a good place to be educated and build character, he says he speaks from the heart.

"I don't see it as different from coaching," he says. "The selling aspect, the marketing aspect, you have to have a great deal of emotion. When fifth-graders come to visit, our excitement about being here is part of it."

But it is when McFadden heads for the gym that his footsteps quicken.

"It's tremendous therapy," he says, "to leave the paperwork side of the job, to get to the physical side and to get out and giggle with the kids."

Coach of life's lessons

A stiff wind is blowing across the lacrosse field but McFadden hardly notices.

There's a scrimmage in 90 minutes and he's intent on preparing the field. He will be out here nearly four and a half hours, getting the equipment ready, coaching, putting the equipment away, all the while, listening to the kids.

"Mr. McFadden is real concerned about our personal lives and our school work," says junior Ryan Madairy, 16, who participates in the lacrosse program. "He wants us to be open about the things that concern us."

When the scrimmage is over and the kids are gone, he is back in the building, sometimes sweeping the floor before locking up and heading home.

"You see what he's like, out there lining the field in freezing weather," says varsity assistant coach Michael McTeague, who previously coached the JV. "Last year, before my junior varsity team played in the championship game, the maintenance crew cut the grass on the field the day before, but hadn't raked it. The day of my game, I look out the window and he's out there raking the field for me -- for our game, not his. And that's an awfully big area for one man with a hand rake.

"But that's Joe."

McFadden is in charge of the private school's entire lacrosse program -- 150 students on five teams. But he makes it clear he's not a saint.

"I get loud," he says. "I get loud with my own kids and on a bigger area of an outdoor field, I let [my players] know if they're not playing up to expectations -- and they're not the same expectations for everybody. There are some who think I've chewed them out pretty good."

In McFadden's case, loud isn't bad, either. It's balance that counts.

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