Kevin Dunleavy had himself a good chuckle Wednesday morning when he showed up at the front doors of Immaculate High School and found himself locked out, needing to be buzzed in by security.
A revered member of the Immaculate family, Dunleavy spent 42 years in faithful service to the school before announcing his retirement at the end of this past school year. But he’d only been retired for a few weeks. Had they forgotten him already?
Of course not.
Anyone without an electronic door key has to ring the bell and wait for someone in the office to unlock the doors, and as of the end of the school year, that included Dunleavy. So he played along, smiling as he waited for his security clearance like any other visitor would. Once inside, however, there were plenty of hugs and smiles for the beloved teacher and coach who first set foot on Immaculate’s quaint little campus on Danbury’s Southern Boulevard in 1976 and never left.
It has certainly been quite a run for Dunleavy, who taught science and coached several different Mustangs sports teams, including football, softball, ice hockey and, for the last 15 years, golf.
“After 42 years, I still have a lot of tread left,” he said with a grin. “I still enjoy teaching. Where it will be, in a classroom or on a golf range, I don’t know. My wife and I have a lot of balls in the air right now, so we’ll see what happens.”
Dunleavy came to Immaculate straight out of Southern Connecticut State. It proved to be the opportunity of a lifetime.
“The first time I had been to Danbury was when I interviewed here,” he said. “It was a brave new world. There were virtually no jobs open. I think I was the only one from my school to get a job in science education, and that was at Southern, which is a teachers’ college. It was a great opportunity.”
It didn’t take long for Dunleavy to become fully immersed in the Immaculate community. At such a small school, there was never a shortage of work to be done.
“You work here, you wear 20 hats,” he said. “My first boss, (former teacher, coach, athletic director and principal) Bob Gerwien, who was my boss for 20 years, you couldn’t look for a better mentor. He was a sports guy, he was a school guy, he kept this school afloat for a long time.
“He was fantastic,” Dunleavy continued, a mischievous grin beginning to stretch across his face.
“I give all credit — and blame — to him,” he finished, then let out a hearty laugh.
Dunleavy added a fitting exclamation point at the end of his Immaculate career when he led the Mustangs to the South-West Conference boys golf title. The team of Liam Deakin, Ryan Fanella, Jack Woods, Joe Robinson, Dan LeBlanc, Nick Iannetta and Matt Schlichtig won the championship, the Mustangs’ first conference golf crown since they won the Western Connecticut Conference title in 1988. Woods (78), LeBlanc (81), Robinson (84), Deakin (88) and Fanella (94) combined to shoot a 331 at Ridgewood Country Club in Danbury and edge reigning champ Masuk by seven strokes.
Dunleavy couldn’t have been more proud of his team.
“It’s all about the kids,” he said. “While things have obviously changed over the years, the kids are great. Like this group I just had for golf. They’re a great group of guys. It was fun leaving the school around 2 o’clock and knowing I had that group to be goofing around with. They worked their tails off, too. They worked hard.”
Woods — a junior who played a vital role in Immaculate’s run to the Division II state boys basketball championship this past winter — tied for medalist honors with Newtown’s David Brestovansky. They were the only two players to shoot in the 70s that day.
Whether squaring up for a jump shot or lining up a putt, Woods’ calm demeanor never seems to waver.
“He could have had a triple bogey or a hole-in-one, you’d never know,” Dunleavy said. “He hits a shot, whistles and walks down the fairway.”
With the SWC trophy firmly in hand, the Mustangs went on to place second in the Division IV state championships at Timberlin Golf Course in Kensington. For the second straight year, Immaculate finished second to Portland, this time by only five strokes.
“For us to win the league was huge. And we should have won states,” Dunleavy said. “That was ours for the taking, and we just didn’t get it. The kids are still ticked. So good, that’ll be the acid in the gut for next year.”
Dunleavy grew up in Wallingford — about a 7-iron away from Wallingford Country Club — and attended Xavier High School in Middletown.
“I’ve been playing golf regularly since I was about 10 or 11,” he said. “I started teaching by teaching my mom, my dad and my sisters.”
Born to be an educator, Dunleavy arrived at Immaculate as a wide-eyed 21-year-old — or, as he put it, “really young and very dumb.” The years that ensued he wouldn’t trade for the world.
“I really enjoyed it here,” he said. “The kids are fantastic. I’ll miss them dearly. Once September rolls around, that’ll be weird.”
Dunleavy will certainly be welcome to come back any time for a visit to share a few laughs and a cup of coffee with some old friends.
He’ll just have to ring the bell so they can buzz him in.
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