When Branford field hockey coach Cathy McGuirk announced her retirement in January 2018 after 41 years at the helm, one of the most impactful memories for her was all the long-lasting friendships she made with all her athletes.
Last spring, the field hockey community was hit hard when McGuirk was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Recently, Jenna Limone, a former player, current Branford assistant coach and one of those long-lasting friendships with McGuirk, decided it was time to give something back to the revered coach.
Limone, a senior captain on the 2011 Branford team, organized a virtual 5K fundraiser called MilesForMcGuirk which will be held throughout the day on Sunday (Oct. 25). Proceeds raised – $20 for the entry fee or $35 for the entry fee and T-shirt – will go toward a ALS research organization. Limone organized the event with Nancy Kendrick, another former player and president of the Branford Booster Club. Her daughter, Lauren Kendrick, currently plays for the Branford field hockey team.
“Guilford field hockey coach Kitty Palmer and Cathy McGuirk are good friends,” Limone said. “The Guilford field hockey team recently did something to recognize Cathy and that got me thinking about doing something here at Branford. I wanted to create something that was COVID-friendly that could get the community involved.
“It’s a virtual event and throughout the day on Sunday we will be collecting the 5K videos and posting them on social media on our Instagram account. We also have an email address where we are accepting photos and videos for anyone without social media , which is firstname.lastname@example.org. Coach McGuirk has touched so many people, she’s been awesome and I wanted to do something to say thanks.”
For McGuirk, the MilesForMcGuirk event was a big surprise.
“I wasn’t aware until recently that Jenna was organizing it,” said McGuirk, who is confined to a wheelchair. “There is all this outpouring of love and support for someone who is not a parent, and that is so special to me. I’ve never been a person who likes to be in the limelight. But this fundraiser is something that can add to ALS organizations and there are so many ALS organizations out there.
“I just heard that five or six field hockey teams have committed to this event and that means a lot to me. When John and I coached we tried to be gracious with other teams and was always nice and respectful of opposing players, that’s part of my nature. I appreciate all these teams and all the current and former Branford players who are coming out for this event.”
Limone said as of Thursday morning over 200 people were registered and registrations will be accepted right up to and including Sunday. This includes registrations from the field hockey teams at Cheshire, Guilford, North Branford, Westbrook and Morgan.
“I have been surprised at how fast people started jumping on this to register,” Limone said. “Cathy has made an impact on the Branford community and field hockey community. The support has been overwhelming.”
The Branford field hockey team will meet at Foote Park in Branford on Sunday at 10 a.m. to do its virtual 5K. Stephanie Smesler and Nicole Sturgess, captains of the 1993 Branford field hockey team, are sponsoring this season’s team and paid their entry fee.
“This event is an effort to honor and celebrate the impact Cathy has had upon multiple generations of field hockey players in Branford,” Branford field hockey coach Pete Frye said. “Cathy has changed the lives of so many in our town and we were all devastated by the news of her diagnosis. Alumni, present players and even other teams were searching for a way to reach out and try to help and show we are keeping Cathy in our prayers. This fundraiser is the culmination of this.”
Cathy McGuirk coached the Hornets with John McGuirk, an assistant coach for 38 years who she calls friend, soul mate and husband. Cathy McGuirk’s teams won 10 CIAC Class M field hockey titles and won 17 regular-season league titles (the defunct Housatonic League and Southern Connecticut Conference combined). Branford also won a SCC tournament title in 2016. McGuirk’s teams qualified for the Class M tournament for 40 straight seasons and made 14 Class M championship appearances. The Hornets advanced as far as the Class M semifinals 29 times.
“This event is a very nice thing for Jenna Limone to organize,” John McGuirk said. “But that is the kind of person Jenna is, it is something she would do.”
Cathy McGuirk was selected a Register All-Area Coach of the Year twice and has been inducted in six hall of fames — Branford Education Hall of Fame, Branford Sports Hall of Fame, CHSCA Hall of Fame, New Agenda Northeast Sports Hall of Fame, Southern Connecticut Sports Hall of Fame and Connecticut Field Hockey Hall of Fame. She was also named National Field Hockey Coach of the Year in 1994 and received a Gold Key from the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance in 2014.
McGuirk ended her career with a 558-129-66-12 record.
“Cathy and John are the face of Branford field hockey,” Branford athletic director Jake Paluzzi said in a recent interview. “Cathy was the heart of the program, a program that was very successful. A lot of kids played for her, excellent students, throughout the years. A lot of her former players are mothers now. Cathy helped kids at Branford and made an impact in the community.”
Cathy McGuirk said she plans to do her best to meet the team at Foote Park on Sunday morning. For more information visit the MilesForMcGuirk website.
“Every day this (ALS) is something that is not easy to go through,” McGuirk said. “But every day something good always happens too. I want to thank all the coaches, teams, field hockey family and organizers of this event. I appreciate their support.”