Remembering a life cut short
There was only one possible place to memorialize Kevin Driscoll Jr. And with all due respect, it wasn’t at the Manhasset Secondary School.
Family and friends gathered at the school district’s Memorial Field, adjacent to Memorial Drive, on a recent drizzly Wednesday afternoon. They were there to remember the 17-year-old member of the Manhasset Class of 2020, who died of a drug overdose on May 1, 2020, weeks before he was to graduate.
It was, in a sense, the send-off he did not get when the pandemic locked everything down, including funeral gatherings.
Kevin Driscoll Sr. recalled when Secondary School Principal Dr. Dean Schlanger approached him with an offer to put a memorial bench on school grounds, to be paid by the Class of 2020.
“But that wasn’t my son,” Driscoll said. “He wasn’t an academic kid. My son was more associated with [Memorial] Field. He played lacrosse on that field. He played basketball on [the courts]. He met his friends and socialized there.”
He added, “When I walked the field and I reflected on it, I noticed that the name of the field is Memorial Field and every person who grew up in Manhasset the last 100 years has had an athletic event on that field. The irony is the last time they did a memorial there was in 1921, for World War 1 returning veterans.”
Driscoll made a counter offer to the principal: “Why don’t we put a memorial there? That’s what the field is for. I thought it was better suited to who my son was.”
Schlanger, along with Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gaurav Passi, made the short walk to the field to join in the ceremony. The principal hugged Driscoll, as did other friends of Kevin Jr. who began drifting in.
There were people like Tony Major and Dan Brown, who, like Kevin Sr., attended nearby St. Mary’s High School. Brown and Major played lacrosse there and Brown said of an encounter against Manhasset, “We got our asses kicked (chuckling).”
Robert “Bobby A” Anastasia, the “super fan” and volunteer of Manhasset athletics, was on hand.
“I knew him very well,” he said of Kevin Jr. “I’ve been good friends with his father for a long time. Kevin is a good man. His wife Victoria is also great.”
Of Kevin Jr. Anastasia said, “He was a very nice young man with a great attitude toward life. Always smiling. It’s sad to see him leave the world at such a young age. He had a lot going for him. It’s a shame his life was cut so short.”
Driscoll and Schlanger spoke as the assembly gathered by the memorial.
“He loved his friends. He loved his classmates,” Kevin Sr. said. “He loved to see you guys do well. He enjoyed all of your successes. He would always come home and say, ‘Dad, so and so did this.’ He was always so proud of all you guys. That’s the true essence of who he was, so this field represents more of who he was than putting the bench closer to the school. That’s as honest as I can [get] (chuckling).”
The principal said, “Kevin shared with me that when Kevin was a little boy this is where he stood to watch Kevin play on this field.”
He continued, “Obviously, it breaks my heart to be here. I wish we were here under different circumstances.”
Schlanger called the Driscolls “a special family who try to find positives in everything. Having [this memorial] is the least we could do and having his buddies here really speaks about Kevin and what he was all about.”
Schlanger said he first met Kevin Jr. when he entered seventh grade and watched him blossom.
Pointing to the photograph he said, “That’s the Kevin that I remember. That’s the Kevin that I will keep in my mind. The boy who blossomed into being a beautiful young man. Staying out of trouble, being productive, going to BOCES, doing the school work. School wasn’t easy for Kevin—we knew that. But he really came to understand who he was and what he wanted to do. It breaks everyone’s heart that he’s not here, but the least we could do was something beautiful for Kevin so that others could see.”
He then led the assembled in a moment of silence.
Driscoll said he worked with the district and Schlanger to develop the Kevin Driscoll Memorial Scholarship, first awarded in 2021. At the recent commencement, 2022 grads Michaela Buscher and Jacqueline Sarai Mejia were the recipients.
“He was known for his contagious smile and perseverance in the face of adversity,” read the scholarship citation. “This scholarship is awarded to a student who is well-rounded, a friend to many, and respected by their teachers and peers.”
The scholarship is worth $1,000. To donate, contact Driscoll at KDriscoll@feilorg.com.
“For all you guys who graduated, I got to look behind the scene at how Dr. Schlanger operated,” Driscoll said. “You guys are very blessed. It’s a much better education program than when I [went to school]. The Driscoll family thanks the Manhasset High School class of 2020, Dr. Schlanger and his staff.”
Anne Voelker of St. Mary’s CYO told Driscoll, “I’d like to thank you for continuing to help out with CYO basketball, coaching two teams this past year. I appreciate it—it’s hard to come and do that.”
Driscoll told the Manhasset Press, “Anne helped to establish the Kevin Driscoll Memorial Basketball Game. My son’s former basketball team plays my current team. This game is played over the Christmas break, when everyone is home from college.”
Tom Major noted that “the circumstances of the loss were so devastating. You and Victoria were put through the mill. It’s awesome how you’re able to stand up here today and have this service. You’re an outstanding couple and God bless you for raising your daughter.”
The couple’s daughter, Olivia Rose, graduated from Manhasset this year and will be attending Florida Atlantic College in Boca Raton.
“The youth of Manhasset are so talented,” Driscoll said. “They’re more talented than any of us ever were. And you guys are going to be so successful—that I can clearly see.”
Grief Into Action
“The pain never goes away,” Driscoll admitted. “But there still is hope. My son was well respected by his peers. He had a lot of friends. It’s a comfort seeing the kids knowing that they see me and I know they’re thinking of my son. But they’re always excited to see me and that brings me joy.”
His coaching CYO teams in the winter enables him to maintain connections with those who knew and played with his son, who was on the lacrosse and football teams.
“Most of those kids go to Manhasset High school. Most of them play football, lacrosse, baseball and soccer,” Driscoll said. “I know the game of basketball pretty well. And they are good athletes and I know how to coach and my objective is to have fun.”
“The help of friends and community got you through the horror of losing a son?” he was asked.
“One hundred percent,” he replied. “The community has reached out and you couldn’t have asked for a more giving, caring, thoughtful community. And Manhasset High School, particularly Dr. Schlanger, has been exceedingly comforting.”
Driscoll understands why people would think that drug use/overdose might indicate a failure of character, but believes “they should get a little bit more educated. What they don’t understand is the drug situation right now is more deep-seated and widespread than ever before. There are more than 2,500 overdoses a week in the United States from fentanyl.”
Kevin Jr. was in fact the victim of a fentanyl overdose. Driscoll said that if it could happen to his son, it could happen to anyone.
Of his son, he said, “He was very mechanical, so I enrolled him in the BOCES program. He was on his way to becoming a master technician with Mercury [outboard motors]. They were going to send him away for [training]. [A] master technician is a lost art. You can’t find anyone to work on your boat. There’s only one guy in the North Shore that does it. They’re very hard to find.”
In addition, the MTA wanted to hire Kevin Jr. as an apprentice in their engine maintenance department.
“His objective was to [work for the MTA] for 25 years and retire with a pension, and then he was going to work on the boats on the side. He would have had a very nice lifestyle,” Driscoll observed. “And then he was planning on enrolling with Empire State College to get a degree while he was working.”
All this reflecting on “what ifs” and a life ended prematurely leads Driscoll to affirm, “I try not to make this religious, but my deal with God is, He’s going to get me through this, but He’s also going to use me as a tool to fight this drug problem. Which is why I coach so many basketball teams.”