Bidding adieu to Brooks: McVeigh leaves to become Head of School at Holderness | Sports

It was destiny. Or so thought John McVeigh.

John would, at some point, replace his hero/dad, Mike McVeigh, who coached and taught 29 years at his alma mater, North Andover High. and then John, one of the Merrimack Valley’s all-time biggest basketball junkees, would teach and coach another 30 or so years.

That’s right, basically 60 years of a McVeigh patrolling local basketball landscape for the Scarlet Knights.

“Honestly, I thought that could really happen,” said John. “It was always on the back of my mind. It seemed to be setting up that way.”

But then something happened.

Brooks School happened.

And John’s future path — which included putting Brooks School boys basketball on the regional and national prep school map, while also becoming a key administrator, recently ascending to associate Head of School — went in an unexpected direction.

John will be leaving Brooks to become the Head of School at Holderness School in Plymouth, NH, on June 30.

“It’s wild when I think about it,” said John. “First off, how I got here at Brooks in the first place. and now, after 19 years, we’re heading to Holderness. Honestly, this was not the plan.”

Ahhh, those crazy life plans.

Like most “kids” entering their 20s, John, an engineering student at Merrimack College — after two years at Holy Cross, he wanted to a chance to play basketball at Merrimack — and Duke graduate school, was going to give the “real world” an honest-to-goodness shot.

John got his first job as an environmental engineer at Intel Corp., which he had interned at while at Merrimack, in Arizona, spending two years there, including the last year at their facility in Hudson, Mass.

While working, he had been a volunteer coach at Merrimack College, under his former coach, Bert Hammel.

It set in a place a move that changed his life forever.

“I didn’t enjoy sitting at a desk. I wasn’t happy,” said John. “Andover High was looking for a science teacher, a one-year job. I was all-in.”

Two major developments occurred.

John got his official start into coaching for the North Andover High boys freshmen team under his dad, and in the spring as an assistant girls lacrosse at Andover High under his college roommate, Ryan Polley.

And best of all, he met his future wife, Candace, who is still teaching at Andover High. She, by the way, is in her 24th year at school.

When that one-year gig expired, John decided teaching and coaching was his thing. That’s when then-Brooks School athletic director, Dan Rorke, who raised his family from him in North Andover, inquired and knew his father from him well.

Brooks was looking for a head basketball coach.

“Dan took a chance on me,” said John. “I could teach Brooks, too. I looked at it as a great opportunity, a chance to sort of do it my way, setting my own path.”

Brooks boys basketball was 3-19 in John’s first year and 1-14 in the ISL.

“But I had a blast,” said John. “Honestly, at the end of the season, I realized there could be something here, that we could build something there.”

In Year 2, Brooks was 14-7 and everything changed, including and especially thoughts of following his dad at North Andover High.

“It felt like home, a place I wanted to be,” said John. “A few (high) schools had reached out, but there was something about this place. I didn’t want to go anywhere else.”

John found a home all over campus. After two years of teaching he worked in the Brooks college office for five years. Then it was six years in financial aid.

The last six years were as Associate Head of School, under John Packard.

During all of those years the boys basketball program became, well, a dynasty.

After the first year, McVeigh’s teams went 225-30 in ISL, including one stretch in which they won 84 straight games and three New England and seven ISL championships. Overall, his record for him is 326-106.

Before he arrived Brooks won one league and one New England title.

Kenya Jones joined Brooks three years after John became the head coach.

He was named the junior varsity coach, given full reins to run that team as he wished.

Jones remembers thinking he was a pretty good, running his own plays and defensive schemes.

“I remembered one day early in the season after we finished our practice I popped in the gym to watch John’s varsity practice,” recalled Jones.

“It was an awakening for me. I was in awe watching the organization, the attention to details, the energy. I had never seen that before. I remember saying to myself, ‘I want to do what he’s doing.’”

Jones is still there, getting a job on campus, and in fact, has been named as John’s replacement.

Initially, John’s basketball expertise won him over. Eventually, it was John’s ability to inspire people that kept him there as a trusted assistant the last 16 years.

“Obviously, we’ve had a lot of success here, but this isn’t just about winning at basketball,” said Jones. “John is a mentor to so many. When you see him with kids, adults, parents, professors… I’ve never seen anyone better at fostering positive relationships.

“We are not that far apart in age, but John was like a father-figure to me,” said Jones.

UMBC men’s basketball assistant coach Ceasar Adim played under John, graduating in 2016.

A Roxbury native, Adim had visited several prep schools after deciding to leave Xaverian after his freshman year.

“There was something about coach McVeigh when I met him,” said Adim. “He was very honest with me. He didn’t promise anything to me, like other coaches did. I liked my visit at Brooks, the fact I could play on a good soccer program, too. But it was coach McVeigh that won me over. I trusted him to help get to where I wanted to go.”

Adim really understood what John was about over his last two years, missing half of his junior year and his entire senior year due to knee surgeries.

“I wasn’t playing, but he made me feel like I was,” said Adim. “It was at that time, watching coach McVeigh during games and practices, that I realized I wanted to be a coach, like him.

“Trust me, he was tough and brutally honest sometimes when something went wrong,” said Adim. “But when you did something right, I praised you twice as much. You want to run through a wall for him. It’s a lesson that sticks with me now, as a coach myself.”

The school hosted a dinner on John’s behalf a few weeks ago, honoring his 19 years at the school, and many of his former players returned for the event.

“His impact at Brooks was so much wider than the basketball court,” said Brooks athletic director Bobbi Crump-Burbank. “Obviously, people know him because of basketball, the winning records, the championships and building an incredible program.

“What’s impressive is he didn’t come from an independent schools background. He just always did things here the right way. He builds relationships. He’s respectful of opponents and fellow coaches. Yes, he’s extremely passionate, but he always found a way to keep it in perspective. John wasn’t just about winning games. ”

A word John uses a lot is “grateful” when he looks back at his career, family and, especially his time at Brooks.

Andover coach Dave Fazio for backing his application at Andover High as a teacher and coach.

Dan Rorke for taking a risk on a “kid” as a new head coach and bringing him to Brooks.

And the many people at Brooks School, who allowed him to be him.

“I do say that word a lot, but it’s true,” said McVeigh. “There are so many people I owe a debt of gratitude. My life at Brooks, my family’s life at Brooks has been the best experience of our lives.”

John said the Holderness position, like the Brooks position 19 years ago, wasn’t anything he had sought out.

Two people that he knew well—one who went to Holderness and another with a student there—inquired John about the Head of School opening there.

“It wasn’t planned and I didn’t seek it out at all,” said John. “I saw myself staying Brooks a long time. I loved my role here. But looked into it and … “

While going through the interview process at Holderness, McVeigh let it be known that he was not looking to sit in an office all day.

“What struck me about Holderness was it reminded of Brooks in terms of being people-centered,” said John. “For me, getting to know all of the kids is important. I love talking to kids and getting their perspective. That’s the kind of Head of School I’d want to be.”

McVeigh will not be coaching, which was a topic that had to be addressed.

Moving to Plymouth, NH and living on campus means his 15-year-old son, Jack, will be boarding at Phillips Andover, while daughter Kelly, 13, will attend school in Plymouth.

His wife, Candice, will be close by for Jack, teaching at Andover High.

“I am looking forward to Holderness,” said John. “But it will not be easy to say good-bye to this place. I get emotional thinking about it.”

Ironically, John never followed his father at North Andover High. Instead, his father ended up joining his staff at Brooks in 2015.

“It’s crazy when you think about it. My dad is my hero,” said John. “He and my mom were a big reason I wanted to be an educator and coach. That was so much fun at Brooks, having him there with me on the bench. I’ll miss that, too.”

You can email Bill Burt at [email protected]


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