CYM bids farewell to Joe McNesby, who spent 28 years coordinating parish sports for young athletes
WILMINGTON – From September through May, young people gather on fields and in gymnasiums up and down Delaware and into Maryland for Catholic Youth Ministry sports. They show up, as do coaches and fans, and almost without fail everything goes off without a hitch. But there is someone responsible for making all that happen, and for the past 28 years, that person has been Joe McNesby.
Until this month, that is.
McNesby retired from CYM on July 31, exactly 28 years after he began. Well, that’s not entirely true. Before he had started in the summer of 1989, McNesby was thrust into the world of Catholic Youth Organization athletics.
“It was funny because I was scheduled to start Aug. 1, and Joe Pennell (then the associate director of CYO) said, ‘You have a meeting with some coaches that want to start a cross country program,’” McNesby recalled recently. “It was July. I started even before Aug. 1. That was the first group of coaches I met. Cross country, we started my first year.”
He’s been going virtually non-stop ever since, through two offices, three bishops and numerous directors of youth ministry. When he began, all of the scheduling was done on paper. Communication was done by telephone, and that was not always quick enough.
McNesby remembered one winter Saturday with a schedule packed full of basketball games. About half the games were done when an unexpected storm hit.
“We didn’t have weather.com then to anticipate what the weather would be like. Things have changed,” he said.
• State trooper
McNesby, 66, had been a CYO basketball coach at St. Thomas the Apostle, his parish in Wilmington, but his job was as a
member of the Delaware State Police. During his 13-year career, he had reached the rank of sergeant before an overnight motor-vehicle accident brought his law-enforcement days to an early end.
It was Oct. 26, 1984 – his daughter’s first birthday – and McNesby was working the final night of his midnight shift. His wife, Sharon, was pregnant with the couple’s fourth child. One of his troopers had stopped someone on Interstate 495 for driving under the influence, and McNesby brought a portable breath test to the scene. He told the officer to take the suspect back to the station while he waited for a tow truck.
“Next thing I knew I was in the hospital,” he said.
His police car had been rear-ended by the tow truck. His resulting shoulder injury sidelined McNesby, who eventually returned to light duty, but in 1986 he retired. He took time off to spend time with his family, and later that year he joined WSFS Bank as an assistant branch manager. He was doing well and liked the people, but something was missing.
As a state trooper, McNesby had spent several years in the youth aid division, working in schools on drug and alcohol issues. In 1989 he saw an advertisement for the CYO job he would hold for nearly three decades. He has never regretted taking it despite the nights, weekends and extra hours required.
“I can remember Thanksgiving morning coming in with Msgr. [John P.] Hopkins cooking the turkey and I’m doing schedules. Through the years we’ve added coordinators, and they’ve all been extremely helpful,” said McNesby, who graduated from St. Elizabeth School and Conrad High School.
In his early years what was then called CYO, was located at 803 N. Broom St., next to the University and Whist Club. It’s a large old house, and Msgr. Hopkins lived as well as worked there, as CYO director.
“It was a great building,” McNesby recalled. “When we moved (to the current location, 1626 N. Union St.), I wanted to file a grievance because I couldn’t take my fireplace with me.”
He did take the office’s first computer, an old Macintosh SE. It was shared among seven people at 803 N. Broom. Today, that Mac is a souvenir on a shelf in the Youth Ministry office.
• Lots of help
He may have put in 60- to 80-hour weeks, but McNesby is the first to tell you he has never been on this journey alone. The support started at the top, from Bishops Robert Mulvee to Michael Saltarelli to Malooly. Coaches and parish athletic directors have always been there to assist. A youth advisory board meets four times a year and pops in on various contests just to make sure everything is up to snuff.
Some of the most significant help has come from the volunteer coordinators with whom McNesby has worked. Hummy Pennell, the director of religious education at St. Helena Parish in Wilmington, is the coordinator of officials for volleyball and basketball, and she also handles baseball. She said working with McNesby has been a pleasure.
“Joe brought a passion to the office and programs that ignited in everyone around him,” she said. “I could never say no to Joe and I am sure the other coordinators felt the same. For this reason, our programs have been successful and have endured for decades.”
McNesby appreciates all the people who have helped over the years.
“Thank God for the parish leaders because without them, I probably would have retired years ago. … The advisory committee has been tremendous,” he said.
“I’m pleased with how our athletic leaders at the parishes have really supported our goals and objectives. We’ve been blessed. A lot of great people.”
The help has been necessary as CYM sports grew over the years. The basketball program, its largest, topped out at 259 teams in 2002-03, and even with the closure of several Catholic elementary schools over the past 12 years, it still remains near 200 teams. Soccer and volleyball have grown, and CYM restarted senior-level sports for high school students.
Msgr. Hopkins, now the pastor at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish, credited McNesby with launching the use of coordinators. He also initiated training for coaches and challenged the coaches to see their involvement as a ministry, Msgr. Hopkins added. He also implemented background checks for all parish sports volunteers as part of “For the Sake of God’s Children.”
“All of this required good communication skills, collaboration and calm,” Msgr. Hopkins said.
McNesby also noted the behind-the-scenes folks in the CYM office. They include Jen Watson, the administrative assistant, and Kyle Thompson, the executive director.
“During my tenure, Joe was always willing to help, to step out of his role when someone else on staff needed assistance, and to adapt when needed and always appreciative of the work that the hundreds of volunteers at the parishes did,” Msgr. Hopkins said.
• Family affair
In retirement, McNesby will spend more time with his biggest supporters. His wife retired last year after 16 years as the administrative assistant at Holy Family Parish in Newark. The couple’s four children – daughters Katie, Erin and Theresa, and son Andy – live nearby. This fall, the McNesbys, members of St. John’s-Holy Angels in Newark, will welcome their fifth grandchild.
CYM sports have always been a family affair. Even after overseeing 100 basketball games a weekend, when his and Sharon’s children were on parish teams, there were games to attend as spectators. One such weekend stands out.
“We had two (basketball) games on a Friday night, with Theresa playing in the third-grade program and Andy playing high school at Delcastle,” he reminisced. “Two games on a Saturday, and two games on a Sunday with my oldest daughter, Katie, playing senior ball in Dover. So we went from Claymont to Dover, six different games, eating hot dogs. It was fun. We talked to one another on the way back and said you know what, this is the kind of stuff you’ll miss when it’s over.”
The senior program was brought back while Katie was in high school at St. Mark’s, which all three of his girls attended. One of her seasons brings back great memories.
“Our team was 0-10. You can tell I was the head coach. But we had kids not just from St. Mark’s — they were from all over. We went 0-10 and we had a blast, and we still talk about that.”
McNesby plans to volunteer in the area after retirement. He said it will be nice to go to the beach for a weekend in the fall and not have to worry about the weather for football in New Castle County.
One CYM event that will remain part of his life is the annual CYO golf outing, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary.
In honor of McNesby’s years of service, CYM renamed the event the Joseph A. McNesby Jr. CYO Golf Outing.
Despite the “huge loss,” Pennell said she expects to see McNesby around CYM sports as a volunteer. “Hopefully, I can con him into officiating basketball for me.”
Msgr. Hopkins said McNesby’s legacy will be his commitment “to faith, to the church, his family, to the coaches and the all people he worked with.”