“He was the single most influential teacher I’ve ever worked with,” said David Seinfeld, former principal at Sanford H. Calhoun High School. “There are few people like Joe Corea.”
Corea, a math teacher at Calhoun for 38 years and a renowned baseball coach who led the team to 676 victories in a 42-year run, died May 31 of a heart attack at home. Corea was the father of two daughters and a Massapequa Park resident for 46 years. He was 77.
“He was the gentleman of all gentlemen,” said Calhoun Principal Nicole Hollings, quoting her colleague Susan Ellinghaus, principal of the Meadowbrook Alternative Program in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District. “He was a tremendous human being, and he will be greatly missed.”
Corea, who, according to Hollings, was respected “by everyone,” began teaching math at Calhoun in 1966 after leaving an actuarial job in New York City. A graduate of the University of South Dakota, he played football and baseball while studying math.
“Joe was a teacher before he was a coach,” Seinfeld said. “He never let anything slip through the cracks. If someone needed extra help, he gave it to them. He was always fair — always able to make good, caring decisions.”
“He was someone who demanded ex-cellence in the kindest way,” Hollings added. “He had a quiet way of showing and teaching athletes and students how to get better.”
In addition to baseball, Corea also coached girls’ basketball for two decades and football until 2005. His longtime friend and colleague Richard Schiller, who is also a former Calhoun math teacher and coach, estimated that Corea had impacted more than 10,000 students.
“I’d say the vast majority of them would probably speak very highly of him,” Schiller said. “He motivated them — basically inspired them.”
When people were around Corea, they felt respected and loved, Schiller added. “Not only did you want to succeed for yourself,” he said, “but you wanted to succeed for him.”
Schiller, who had been friends with Corea since 1969, also spoke highly of his modesty. According to Schiller and Seinfeld, Corea never counted his wins, because to him the numbers didn’t matter.
“He wasn’t the guy in the front of the room,” Seinfeld said. “He didn’t want the spotlight.”
“He had the right to brag,” Schiller said, “but he never did. He was very modest with all his accomplishments.”
To Corea, it was always about the players, a point he liked to emphasize. Speaking on the success of his team in 2010, he told the Herald, “We’ve had a lot of great kids at Calhoun . . . and a lot more talent” in recent years.
“When he won games, it was because of his team,” Schiller said. “When he lost games, it was because of him. It was never anyone’s fault.”
Corea’s friends also spoke of his energy, which remained high throughout his career. “In my first year as principal, I went out over the summer to watch the football practice and meet some of the students,” Seinfeld recounted. “Joe was out there running and backpedaling with the team.”
“He had an incredible amount of energy,” Schiller agreed. “Once he was assigned to be athletic director, he had to still teach five full classes.”
“I don’t know if there’s anyone who has more games coached than Joe in Nassau County,” Seinfeld said. “Nobody could do everything that Joe did as well as he could.”
When Corea retired from teaching full-time at Calhoun, he continued to teach one class a day in the district’s alternative program.
“As a teacher, he was just outstanding,” Schiller said.
Above all, Corea was about character, Seinfeld said. “He’d give you his seat, he’d hold the door for you, he’d drive you home if you had a flat,” Seinfeld recounted. “His ability to right the wrongs of others is legendary.”
Corea retired from coaching in 2014, and the following year, the Calhoun baseball field was renamed in his honor. Aside from accumulating close to 700 wins, Corea led the team to two Long Island championships and three Nassau championships.
Corea’s daughter Jeannie Corea, of Massapequa Park, said her father’s philosophy as a coach was to play fair, win graciously and lose with integrity.
“He was a big believer and support system for all his players,” Jeannie said.
A dedicated coach, teacher and father, according to Jeannie, it was this trifecta that made him stand out. “He loved what he did,” she said. “All the great things we’ve heard about him after his passing, we heard from others during his life. My sister Kelly and I are very proud daughters. We will live in his example.”
In addition to Jeannie, Corea is survived by his daughter Kelly Griffin and two grandchildren, Riley and Brady. Corea was predeceased by his wife, Mary Jeanne, who died in September 2015. He was buried at St. Charles Cemetery in East Farmingdale on June 5.
“He was an extraordinary educator, incredible coach and wonderful person,” Hollings said of Corea. “He brought the best out of people because people wanted to bring the best for him. When people think of Joe Corea, they will say, ‘I want to be just like him.’”