By Laura Amato
Rich Slater said he knew it was time.
After 12 seasons, the Long Island Lutheran girls basketball coach has resigned from his position. Slater, who led the Crusaders to a 234-58 record and four New York State Federation championships, said he informed school administrators and his team of his decision on Monday.
“I don’t know where it’s going to bring me and what I want to do, but I think this coronavirus thing humbles us a little bit,” Slater said. “I was blessed to coach [at Long Island Lutheran]. It’s an awesome place and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. It helped me be who I am, that’s for sure. I just felt it was time.”
While Slater, 60, called the online meeting with his team “horrible,” he said the current state of the world, with so much uncertainty, helped influence his choice.
“I’m so emotional with COVID-19 because I actually know people in my circle that are sick,” Slater said.
He added that there was “no real opportune time to say goodbye” to his players.
“I’m a very sensitive guy and I love those kids,” Slater said. “If you say, 'Well, that sophomore class is a really good class, I’m going to go through that sophomore class.' Then all of a sudden, a freshman comes in, then another kid comes in. You say, 'Oh, well, I’ll hang out with that group.' I just felt it had to be sooner than later.”
Long Island Lutheran went 22-1 this season, led by Newsday All-Long Island Player of the Year Paris Clark and first-team honoree Kaylene Smikle. The season was cut short, however, as the Federation tournament, scheduled for March 27-29 at Fordham University, was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senior Jamie Behar, who joined the Crusaders this season after previously playing for Oceanside, called Slater a mentor.
“He’s really been a great person just to talk to, whether it’s basketball-related or not,” Behar said. “He’s helped me grow as a person so much and there’s so much I’m grateful for.”
Slater had stops at East Meadow and Locust Valley before coaching the Crusaders and has racked up more than 300 career wins.
Slater said he doesn’t know what’s next but added that he will continue working at his practice, Islandwide Physical Therapy and Chiropractic in Hicksville.
“I want to take a step back and get through this stuff,” Slater said. “Most people in coaching leave a job for another job. I’m leaving a great job for no job.”
He’s keeping his options open, with a bucket list he said he wants “to get going on.” That list includes everything from meeting up with fellow coaching friends, to possibly returning to coaching someday as an assistant somewhere, to spending a weekend watching former LuHi star Celeste Taylor at Texas. He also said he’d like to visit family in California and “may want to coach guys” at some point.
Nothing is set in stone yet, but as he takes that step back, Slater said he has only good memories of his time at Long Island Lutheran.
“It’s just sad because I love LuHi,” Slater said. “It wasn’t just a regular school. There’s so much balance there, spiritually, academically and basketball-wise. But you lead with your heart, and my heart told me it was time.”
By Laura Amato