PITTSFIELD - Bob O'Neil, a longtime teacher and coach in the Pittsfield Public Schools, lost his battle with ALS, often referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease, on Tuesday. O'Neil was 64.
A 1966 graduate of St. Joseph's Central High School, O'Neil most recently was an English teacher at Taconic High School, where he also coached the girls basketball team. He coached his final game at Taconic on Dec. 20, 2010.
Prior to taking over Taconic, O'Neil spent 12 years as the girls basketball coach at Pittsfield High School. At PHS, O'Neil won Western Massachusetts Division I championships in 1996, 2001 and 2002. All three of those teams reached the state championship game.
"For the girls game in this city, there's probably not many people that you can say has had more of an impact than he has," current Taconic girls coach Matt Mickle said on Feb. 21, the night O'Neil was honored during a Taconic-Wahconah basketball game at Taconic. "He's put tons of time and effort into it. He really cared about the girls and he did right by them."
O'Neil cut his coaching teeth in Berkshire County by working with former Williams College men's basketball coach Harry Sheehy. O'Neil was just one of several Berkshire County basketball coaches who spent time working with the Williams JVs and the varsity.
During the Feb. 21 ceremony, O'Neil received a key to the city from Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi. It was also announced that a girls basketball Hall of Fame was being established. The first class will be inducted next year.
"I started coaching in [1983-84] and there were some dominating teams back then with a ton of great players. It's a big task to run something lke that," current Pittsfield and former Taconic coach Joe Racicot said that night. "It's a big credit to Bob to have his name on it as original chairman of the board."
O'Neil is survived by his wife, Betty, and daughter, Angela, who will be a junior at Taconic this fall.
At the Bob O'Neil Day ceremony at Taconic, Wahconah coach June Blake may have summed up everyone's feelings in one sentence.
"When you think about Berkshire County basketball," she said, "you think about Bob O'Neil."
ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive
neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in both the
brain and the spinal cord. The disease is not contagious, but it can
strike anyone. Approximately 5,600 people in the United States are
diagnosed with ALS every year, according to the ALS Association.