A potpourri of leadership, organization, inspiration and passion bridging six decades was saluted Tuesday as Carlton J. Gaffney stepped aside as executive director of the Southern Tier Athletic Conference.
An officer since he helped to spearhead formation of the conference in 1966 and executive director since ’73, Gaffney was honored during a luncheon in Union-Endicott’s district office building, with athletic administrators past and present on hand.
Known for distinctive effectiveness blending rigid management with a gentlemanly manner, Gaffney oversaw a conference that originated with 12 members and, through mergers, additions and subtractions, presently numbers 17.
“It doesn’t mean the end, I’d like to think I’m still an advisor,” said Gaffney, 88-year-old resident of Binghamton’s East Side. He was succeeded by 13-year associate director Kevin McGoff.
Also elected in Tuesday’s regularly scheduled STAC meeting were John Paske as president, succeeding Richard Stank, and Lou Ferraro as vice president, succeeding Paske.
Formerly a physical education teacher, guidance counselor and athletic director, Gaffney’s many hats worn also included baseball umpire, basketball and soccer official, softball commissioner at the local, district and state levels, assigner of Southern Tier Basketball Officials and youth baseball coordinator.
All told, he’s been entrenched as a fervent, respected pillar of the Broome County-area sports community through multiple generations of participants.
“In most communities there is somebody who is influential behind the scenes who brings stuff together that people don’t even know about,” McGoff said. “Mr. Gaffney is that person in this community. Without Mr. Gaffney, a lot of activities for young people wouldn’t have been incorporated.”
“Just a tremendous, passionate hard worker, really the foundation of the Southern Tier Athletic Conference,” said Steve Deinhardt, erstwhile assistant superintendent and athletic director in Binghamton. “I think that’s really the piece that stands out to me. For years, he provided such stability and guidance.”
A proclamation from Broome County Executive Debbie Preston cited Gaffney’s “outstanding service, commitment and dedication” and went on to state that “This world is a better place because of you.”
Gaffney informed all assembled, “I’m not going too far away. You can find me at NYSEG Stadium most nights, or at Binghamton High watching the Patriots or behind the nets at the Arena.”
Many in attendance had in one way or another experienced Gaffney’s choice of management style — and might agree that “His way or the Highway” may have been coined with his voice ringing in the author’s ear. Rankled feathers weren’t about to deter him from what he deemed proper administration.
“You did things Carl’s way, that’s the way it was,” McGoff said. “If you wanted to participate, you behaved yourself, you had discipline, you didn’t talk back and you did what he told you to do.”
Deinhardt: “He does his homework, he knows exactly what he wants to do, he’s so well-prepared — and you’d have to do more than that to challenge him. You’d really have to have your act together.”
Gary Vail, former Windsor coach and athletic director: “Just like when he was a referee. He sees the game in one respect and he stays on that line — this is the way I see it, this is the way I want it to be done. I’ll listen to you, I’ll let you have your say, it’ll roll around in my mind — but I still think my way is the right way to do it.”
Ben Nelson, Section 4’s Interscholastic Sports Coordinator, described the method Gaffney would apply with equal efficacy on the court, field or in the meeting room.
“I think it’s because of his class as a person,” he said. “It wasn’t antagonistic. It was, this is a call that has to be made, I made it and that’s it, there’s no reason to question it. But it was not a call made against you as a person or as a team.”
Above all, as several mentioned Tuesday, Gaffney’s modus operandi put the young athlete first.
“He was always pushing kids to do better for themselves, to keep people organized and to give people goals — and inspire kids to go into a variety of things, teaching, athletics … ” McGoff said.
“He was pro-athlete much more than pro-administrator, much more,” Vail said.
“What he did for kids … That organization, that attention to detail, that efficiency — everything was done when it was supposed to be done,” Deinhardt said. “Because of that, young people benefit. Everybody benefits from a solid organization.
“He just didn’t compromise anybody or any values.
“What a remarkable guy.”