ONEONTA – Brad Zeh described the mood as somber. Sophomore Albert Odero used words such as emotional and speechless. Senior Mariah Ruff said the news was devastating.
Jerry Mackey, the passionate coach who in many ways is the face of Oneonta High athletics, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis earlier this week.
“It was pretty quiet in there, especially for those seniors,” Zeh said of team dinner held Wednesday night when Mackey broke the news to the Yellowjackets boys basketball team. “They’ve been in the program for six years and when you’re with somebody who has put as much time and effort into this program as Jerry has, it was a pretty somber mood in there.”
MS is a degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system and impacts muscle function. There is no cure, but it can be treated through medication.
Mackey, a Whitney Point and Hartwick College alum, took over the OHS boys basketball program from Zeh’s father, Bob, in the late 1990s. He’s guided the Yellowjackets to sectional titles in 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2008, along with a Southern Tier Athletic Conference championship in 2001.
When Helen Sandford retired from coaching the OHS girls soccer team in 2003, Mackey took over. He steered OHS to sectional titles in 2004, 2011, 2012 and this past season. The Yellowjackets advanced the Class A state final in 2004, the Class B state final in 2012 and won the program’s first state championship this past fall, with a 2-1 victory over Marcellus in the Class B final at Cortland State. OHS has also won the past three STAC championships under Mackey.
“Obviously, there’s devastation,” said Ruff, who shared Class B Player of the Year honors in soccer with teammate Taryn More, “but in some ways it’s a positive thing because he’s a fighter and everybody knows that. He’s a great guy. It was one of the worst things that could have happened to such a great person, but he’s going to fight through it and we’re all behind him. He knows that.”