Dan Biro was a 50-year teacher at Schreiber and a beloved coach to many young athletes. Sadly, he passed away in October 2006. Responding to requests made by many Port residents, the Port Washington Board of Education voted unanimously to dedicate the Schreiber Main Gynasium in his honor. The ceremony was held in late November.
Dan's life is a wonderful Port Washington success story. He was born in Port Washington on April 19, 1930. He graduated from Paul D. Schreiber High School in 1948, where he enjoyed playing varsity football and basketball. He completed a tour of active duty with the United States Marine Corps and then received a bachelor of arts degree in history from Denver University.
He began a 50-year career of dedicated service to Port Washington students in 1956 as a social studies teacher and junior varsity football coach. In 1960 he became head varsity football coach and was the winningest coach in Schreiber history, with 123 career wins.
Between 1960 and 1970, Coach Biro's teams had the best "'win/loss" record in Nassau County. After 26 years of coaching, Dan's last season was in 1986. He continued to teach social studies until 2006.
During his long career, he touched thousands of Port Washington youth who will always remember him, and be better for knowing him.
Approximately 150 people attended the November memorial and dedication ceremony. Dan's children, his daughter, Lee Marcley, and his son, Daniel W. Biro, were there.
In their tributes, several people expressed the feelings of many.
School Board Member Jean-Marie Posner, who organized the special tribute and memorial ceremony, said, " I received Dan Biro's (retirement) letter in February 2006. His letter was very different than most of the others and was handwritten. Although it was not very long, when I ran my fingers across the letters on the page, it appeared to speak volumes. And while I don't make a habit of keeping resignation letters, this one was clearly an exception. I have it here with me today."
Ms. Posner also noted, "It was said, Dan Biro not only taught, but inspired his students, which was key to his success. A quote from Bill McCartney reminds me of Dan Biro. "All coaching is, is taking a player where he can't take himself." Dan was a true coach, on the field and in the classroom, helping students make the most of life's opportunities."
Schreiber Principal Jay Lewis called Dan "a true Schreiber hero." He said, "As others have said tonight, he was a special man who devoted his life to this school and our community. This is what modern day heroes are all about."
Mr. Lewis also announced that a scholarship will be given in Dan's name to a graduating Closs of 2008 senior this coming June. He said that the Biro family will be providing a sizeable donation to make certain this happens for the current senior class, adding that discussions are under way to establish a perpetual scholarship in his name.
Recalling his own school experience, Board of Education President Rob Seiden said, "As a former high school varsity football player, I understand the value of what Dan did, day in and day out. I remember when things weren't going well for me or my family, how my football coach's belief in me helped get me through some hard times and helped shape who I am today. This is what Dan did for so many high school students. This is Dan Biro's legacy."
Port Washington Teachers Association President Christine Vasilev spoke of another tribute for Dan. She reported, "This past summer, a group of his former students, team members and colleagues organized a gathering at a local restaurant to honor his memory. That tells me how beloved he was. He must have inspired the people in his life greatly to have engendered such an outpouring of affection! "
However, two tributes from people who knew him well spoke volumes about this extraordinary man.
Bill Cronin, who played football from 1967 through 1969 at Schreiber, offered a portrait of Dan Biro peppered with Port nostalgia. He said the following:
"Just as some background. I am one of 10 Cronin children. Nine of us graduated from Paul D. Schreiber, a school tax collector's nightmare. Dan Biro was my older brother's, Denis' J.V. basketball coach. My brother-in-law, John Drowica and I were classmates and teammates under coach Biro. My younger brother, John, enjoyed two championship seasons playing for coach Biro during the 1975 and 1976 seasons.
For most football players in Port Washington, playing football for Dan Biro did not start in high school. It really started when you were in the fourth or fifth grade. I can fondly remember finishing up Saturday morning PYA practice, hurrying home and then rushing up to Seeber Field to watch Dan's mighty Vikings play. My friends and I would marvel at their talent, the ease and the confidence that they played with, and how the Vikings just looked so good beating their opponents. Watching players like John Ballentine, Sandy Stoddard, Albert Sheppard, Billy Johnson, and Ken Case and all the other Vikings play the game with a white hot intensity in their understated blue and white uniforms was about as good as it gets. To me at the age of 10, being a Port Washington football player was the coolest and most admirable job one could have.
Well fortunately for me, my gene pool kicked in and I was lucky to have a group of fellow Schreiber students who thought that playing football for Dan Biro was the best job on earth and we worked enormously hard, running sprints, lifting weights, doing grass drills until we dropped. My junior year we went 7-0-1 and came within a missed field goal of winning the Rutgers Cup and my senior year we lost or I should say, the clock ran out on us, as Syosset gave us our only blemish as the Vikings went 7-1. The Beck brothers, Kevin and David, Robbie Hoffman, Doug Moore, Dick McKee, Tom Orr, and many others were now my heroes and teammates.
I watched the similar pattern of success continue after I graduated from Schreiber and was able to see my younger brother's teams have championship seasons under Dan's coaching.
This September at Louie's, many of Dan's family, fellow coaches, players, colleagues and friends gathered to praise him, tell stories of the "glory days," and express their gratitude for the mark that Dan had made in their lives. It was an emotional day with players coming in from California, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, not only to acknowledge Dan's achievements, but more to thank Dan for his mentorship, his guidance, for his being a father figure to some, his taking them to his beloved Giant games on Sundays and being such a positive influence in their lives. Players also appreciated that Dan helped them achieve many post-season individual honors and helped them get into college or provided counsel in their decision making process. There was a feeling of great warmth that permeated the event and all former players to a man felt that they were all so fortunate to be part of a Dan Biro coached team.
So after the memorial I sat down with my teammates and other players to discuss what made Dan Biro such a successful coach. These were some of our observations:
Dan Biro's teams were always well-prepared. Coach knew the competition, knew their tendencies and their personnel and focused the week's practice on what needed to be done in order to stop them offensively and capitalize on their weaknesses.
Coach Biro was smart and confident enough to surround himself with terrific assistant coaches. Notably Mike Zirpola and Joe Marro.
The teams were always well-conditioned and physical. Running numerous hills after each practice ensured that that fatigue would not make cowards of the Vikings. The preseason practice was grueling and brutal even by college standards but readied the team for the upcoming Saturdays.
Coach Biro was terrifically organized. Practice sessions were not overly long. Once the season began, practices usually went at most an hour and a half. Film review sessions were held on Mondays, three days of preparation of our upcoming opponent and then on Friday there were very short run-throughs and then we watched a film of the previous year's game shown up in Dan's history classroom. You then went home, polished your cleats, cleaned your helmet and there wasn't a need for a bed check. Coach Biro's players knew what was expected of them on Saturday afternoon.
Dan had the ability to make his players exceptionally focused, created an atmosphere where each player was totally committed to him and his teammates. As a player you felt the responsibility of upholding the successful tradition of Port Washington football and you didn't want to let down coach, your teammates, or the players that came before you.
More importantly, Dan Biro made the very tough sport of football, fun. Dan enjoyed himself when he was coaching, he was in his element and "lived in the moment." He coached but what he really did is he shared his love of the game. He boomed punts, demonstrated blocking technique, tossed pitchouts and kept his players upbeat by joking with them in the hallways or just asked how they were doing and genuinely cared.
Coach Biro could be tough and I can vividly remember that after our opening game loss senior year, on the bus to Glen Cove for our second game, the team was a little too loose for coach's liking. As we pulled into the parking lot and as we readied to take the field, he succinctly said "I don't why you all are feeling so good, last I looked we are 0-1." There wasn't another word was said by a player until Kevin Beck called "tails" at the coin toss. The Vikings beat that Glen Cove team by a wide margin that Saturday.
So I am very proud to be here tonight and congratulations to everyone who has worked so hard to make this fitting dedication in Dan Biro's honor possible.
So coach, I know you are listening, on behalf of your players, congratulations on having this dedication ceremony and after 38 years I just wanted to let you know that playing for you was the coolest and most admirable job I have had.
Former Schreiber English teacher and colleague of Dan's, John Broza, captured Dan Biro by using some anecdotal material. He told the audience,
"Early in my extracurricular career as yearbook advisor at Schreiber, my staff asked teachers for quotations to put under their pictures. Danny's was, "Today, we have ice cream." For a short time, the line mystified me, but then I learned that Dan was a co-director of a summer camp in Roslyn, and I imagined him saying to the kids after they had been especially good, "Today we have ice cream." As I got to know Dan better, I realized that the line fit his personality perfectly. He was always positive in his outlook and he was generous to a fault. No one ever went out socially with Dan without him offering to pay the tab.
I was fortunate to see Dan's passion for football when I announced his games, particularly during his glory years. You might be interested to know that on the truck with me to report on the key games was a young reporter from Newsday: Tony Kornheiser, now of Monday Night Football fame.
Dan loved two places: Port Washington, where he grew up and where he worked all his life, and Denver, where he went to college. The last time I saw Danny was at a poker game at my house. As usual, each time he dealt, he called his favorite game, "Colorado."
Dan attended every retirement party. He told me once, that if he ever had a retirement party, he didn't want any talking. He just wanted people to dance. I wish we could dance here tonight because this is the equivalent of Dan's retirement party.
Danny, we know that you're enjoying your life in a better place, reading about your beloved Giants in The Celestial Times, teaching your new friends how to play Colorado Poker, sipping a Coors Light made with the frosty clear water of Rocky Mountain springs. We want to tell you, Danny that this evening's dedication is our way of saying to you, "Today we have ice cream."
(Ed.'s note: Special thanks to BOE member Jean-Marie Posner for her help with this article.)