Former Penfield student-athletes react to firing of David Hennessey

[anvplayer video=”5148701″ station=”998131″]

PENFIELD, N.Y. (WHEC) – Coaches can be important figures in the lives of so many athletes. For hundreds, if not thousands, who ran cross country or track & field at Penfield High School, David Hennessey was that figure.

“He’s just been a mentor for so many of us, that when I got the head coach job in Wheatfield, my first phone call was to him,” said Meghan Braun Smith, who ran under Hennessey from 1990-96.

Smith, and countless other former student-athletes, raved about Hennessey’s ability to coach everyone with the same respect.

“The amazing thing about David Hennessey was, some of my friends were the stars of that team. Extremely well qualified natural athletes. He treated the ‘schlubs’ like me with the same amount of attention,” said Paul Valerio.

Valerio didn’t even want to join the team until his friends convinced him. But from 1979-81, he gave in, and didn’t regret it.

“The amount of effort he put in. The humility. The sense of humor. The warmth and just the compassion he had for knowing what it was like to be a teenager,” said Valerio. “He really made working hard fun.”

Hennessey’s passion didn’t waver as his years coaching grew on. Even coaching into his late 60s, the mindset – and impact – was still the same.

“It’s rare to find a coach who’s able to not only just think about, okay, who are my fastest runners, or who are my best players to put in these positions, but also really taking the time to consider all of his athletes,” said Cal Robinson, who ran at Penfield from 2013-14.

Robinson played a few sports in high school, and didn’t have bad things to say about any of his coaches. But he did put Hennessey in a category of his own.

“Running for Henn versus playing football for somebody else, it’s not quite the same,” said Robinson.

Robinson, Valerio, and Smith are all part of a larger Facebook group called ‘Penfield: Track and Field and Cross Country.” While the group wasn’t started for its current purpose, it has been flooded in recent days with support for Coach Hennessey.

The longtime coach was fired on October 31st by the Penfield School District. Little to know information has been given as to why the decision was made. I called the PCSD on Friday, but no one picked up.

They did follow up shortly after with a written statement:

We appreciate the dedication and commitment Coach Dave Hennessey has brought to our cross-country and track programs over the years. At this time, we have made the decision to move forward with a different coaching staff. We understand that any time a coaching change is made, parents, students and alumni will have questions. While we cannot comment on specific employment decisions, it’s important to note that coaches serve on a per season basis at the District’s discretion. We would like to thank Coach Hennessey for his many years of service and wish him well in the future.

Right now, the 400-plus people in the Facebook group, and nearly 900 who have signed a petition for his reinstatement, are all just looking for answers.

“If that’s what he wants, then that’s what I want. A little bit of an explanation I think would be nice. Some clarity, some transparency,” said Robinson.

“Immediately called him. He immediately answered the phone and was typical David Hennessey. Positive, did not badmouth Penfield, but he was really disappointed, and upset, and crushed,” said Smith.

Despite no answers as of yet, the cross country and track & field community at Penfield High have come together to celebrate Hennessey’s legacy.

Right now, there are a lot of emotions like tension, frustration, and curiosity.

Above that all? One common denominator – life lessons learned from one single coach.