For the past four decades, Dave Oakley could be seen in the spring at the Hampton Bays High School track, teaching athletes technique or coordinating a dual meet with ease. But this spring, Oakley decided to wean himself away from the sport he had been a head coach for since 1973, so he can spend more time with his family.
While he still helps out when he can, Oakley has given full rein of the Hampton Bays girls track team to new coach Kevin O’Toole, who was an assistant coach within the track program previously. Oakley, 66, and a full-time Hampton Bays resident, will remain the girls cross country coach in the fall. He simply said it was time to give up some of the responsibilities that come with being the head coach of a varsity team and that he’d liked to be able to travel more with his wife, Beverly.
After running track from junior high to high school in the Walt Whitman School District, where he graduated in 1966, Oakley attended C.W. Post, which he also ran for and graduated from in 1970. By the time Oakley reached Hampton Bays in 1973, the school had only a boys track program, which he co-coached with Bill Steigerwald. Eventually some girls got interested in running track, so it became a co-ed team in the late 1970s. In 1981, Hampton Bays introduced its first girls track team, headed up by Oakley, while Steigerwald stayed on as boys coach into the late 1980s.
“These girls had to compete with the boys so they became pretty good,” Oakley said of those early teams.
Oakley was one of the first coaches athletic director Drew Walker met when he came to the school in 1998. Walker said it’s been a pleasure working with Oakley, who was responsible for starting a lot of different clubs and races at the school, such as the Peconic Invitational, a cross country meet that takes place at Red Creek Park in the fall, and the Baymen 5K, a road race in May that supports the March of Dimes and that took place this past Saturday.
“As an AD, Dave has always been a pleasure to work with,” Walker said. “He’s very competitive, yet does it in a very quiet and humble way. He’s very passionate and gives a lot of his time to give the kids the best.
“That’s demonstrated by him bringing cross country to Red Creek Park, bringing in a steeplechase for the track program,” he continued. “We had never had those extra things for the kids and a lot of it is because of Dave.”
Although he’s never worked directly under him, O’Toole has always looked to Oakley for advice. “He’s a great coach and a great role model for our athletes,” he said. “They respect him, look up to him and know him for who he is. He’s built the track program here in Hampton Bays and he’s been fully committed to it ever since. Despite not coaching the spring track team, he still comes to all of our home meets to cheer on the team and help run the events.”
Oakley has also coached some pretty good athletes in his time, most recently Shanna Heaney, who placed second in the 800-meter race at the New York State Championships last spring, the highest placement ever at states for a Lady Bayman track athlete. But Heaney wasn’t Oakley’s only success story. Runners Jessica Gammell and Wendy Kuhn both reached states in the mid 1990s, and Cassie Pensa went to states four years in a row in the discus in the early 2000s. And the 1986 girls team won the Conference IV Championships, in dominating fashion, according to Oakley.
“I enjoyed seeing runners improve and enjoying the sport,” Oakley said. “I liked seeing them working hard, helping others and seeing team cohesiveness.
“I enjoyed the whole thing and I’m looking forward to the cross country season,” he added.