When he landed at Iona Prep as athletic director a decade ago, Bernie Mahoney asked the headmaster, Brother Justin O’Connor, the question he’d always wanted to ask.
Mahoney worked the previous 25 years at rival Mount St. Michael yet never knew why Iona Prep had a football field without bleachers. Brother O’Connor had an irrefutable response.
“If Mr. Mara can sit in a lawn chair under that big old pine tree, so can anybody else,” Mahoney was told.
Wellington Mara passed away in 2005, but the longtime co-owner of the Giants – and decades-long Gaels supporter – left a lasting impact on the New Rochelle school. On Saturday, Iona Prep will honor Mara by naming its field in his honor during a pregame ceremony. Giants co-owner John Mara is among several family members expected to attend.
He was one of Mara’s four sons, all of who attended Iona Prep beginning in the late 60s. Nine of his grandsons have since followed.
Mara would often spend Saturdays watching football. Just as often the games would be played by other people’s children and grandchildren — not just his.
“We started going there every Saturday to see my older cousin Tim (McDonnell) play,” said Sean Mara, who started at quarterback for the Gaels in 2005-06. “I remember going to games each week and me and my brothers would go and play tackle football on the hill. It was always something that made me want to play on that field. I wanted that same opportunity to play in front of my grandfather.”
McDonnell, who graduated Iona Prep in 2001 and now works as a pro scout for the Giants, will speak on behalf of the family at the ceremony, which is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. — a half hour before kickoff with Cardinal Hayes. Grace Cashman, the daughter of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, will sing the National Anthem.
Mahoney and Iona Prep’s advancement director, Mark Hogan, said the field renovations remain ongoing. The new turf field was installed in 2013, but they expect to add a press box and bleachers on the visiting side of the field. That future plans could even include lights.
“But we just didn’t want any more time to go by,” Hogan said of honoring the Mara patriarch. “It was important to us.”
Iona Prep has already installed a teak bench under the pine tree where Mara frequently sat with his friend, Mike Ward, and will soon add a boulder emblazoned with a cast-iron plaque beside it. Mahoney said he has contacted the company that installed the turf and has design renderings that result in Mara’s name being etched into the playing surface.
Family members, including Mara’s wife, Ann, who passed away last February, have been supporters of the plans.
“He’d be embarrassed by it and probably tell us not to do it, but I know my mother was all for the idea,” said Frank Mara, an Iona Prep grad, Sean’s dad and the Giants vice president of community relations. “They first asked us about it last fall and I had a long talk with my mother. It would’ve meant more to her than my father. He was so humble. He didn’t want any accolades. He just wanted to stand on the hill and not be recognized. He loved going there and sitting on that hill.”