By Sam Wilson
In good health and believing her soccer program to be in good hands, Mary Neilon sounds as if she has no regrets about retirement.
One of the area’s longest-tenured and most successful coaches in any sport stepped aside when she decided to retire from teaching health and physical education at Ellicottville last month at the end of the school year. So, for the first time in 35 years, a new face will lead the Eagles’ girls soccer program, which became a perennial sectional contender under Neilon.
“It’s been kind of coming for about a year and there were just some signs in my life that were telling me it’s time,” Neilon said of the decision to retire. “I’ve been teaching for 37 years. So it’s a good time to go and I wanted to go while things were good, and they have been good. (There were) some family things and personal things that just were giving me signs that were like, ‘Yeah, I’ve had a good run.’”
Two former players and coaches under Neilon will take over the girls soccer team, as Tammy Eddy is the new head coach and Katie Taylor her assistant.
“They both played for me,” Neilon said. “I was like, ‘Take what you can, maybe what you learned from me, but you have to make the program your own. Don’t feel like you have to be me. Be courageous to set your own sails.’ And I hope that the players and parents can accept that as well.
“How lucky am I to turn the program over to former players … former players who have coached with me for several years. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”
NEILON SAID she doesn’t expect to have any involvement in soccer going forward.
“It was a good time to step away from soccer as well,” Neilon said. “The team is young. I have some good coaches coming in to take over. In terms of my involvement, no.
“I won’t say never, but the feeling right now is (it’s) good to step away and time to do what I want to do. I definitely love my career, (but) it’s time.”
Entering last season, Neilon ranked seventh all-time in the state for girls soccer coaching victories. Upon retirement, she holds a 458-160-34 record, second in Western New York and the Big 30 in victories behind her contemporary from Allegany-Limestone, Dale MacArthur (472).
In 34 seasons, all of them in Class D until last fall, Neilon’s Eagles won 25 Section 6 championships. Four of those seasons, Ellicottville won a state championship: 1990, ‘98, ‘99 and 2003.
“Maybe sticking with it for so long,” Neilon said of what she’s most proud of. “I love what I did. I always felt that I gave my best and hope I made a connection with the kids.”
As for what she’ll miss the most, Neilon thought of the little moments throughout a season.
“The day in and day out with the girls and game day,” she said. “Game day was always a big day. And probably just the camaraderie with the other coaches. That’s going to be the toughest thing to walk away from … the coaching. But it’s going to be OK. It’s time.”
Neilon said retirement had nothing to do with health, but admitted the job could get “tiring.”
“It’s all good and I feel like I’m leaving on a high note, and that’s why I wanted to do it,” she said.
“I’m good. And I wanted to go while I was good. There’s just some things in the job, not so much the coaching, but in the job itself. It gets tiring. It wasn’t my oxygen anymore. But I’ve had a good run and a lot of fond memories, but I’m looking forward to the new path.”
And what plans might be included on that path?
“Do whatever I want whenever I want,” she said. “I don’t really have any plans. I’m not committing to anything.”