PULASKI — Throughout the past month, Jeff Shirley has received a slew of warm farewell wishes from colleagues and supporters, and most importantly to him, from the students that have fueled his career passion for more than three decades.
Shirley will retire from the Pulaski Central School District as athletic director and a middle school physical education teacher as the school year reaches its conclusion.
The Sandy Creek/Lacona native has overseen Pulaski athletics for the past 15 years and will retire from a 33-year career in education that included stops at Central Square and his alma mater, Sandy Creek.
Shirley said he plans to spend his additional free time with his wife, Carolyan, and their three sons, Troy, Matt, and John Shirley.
“I just felt it was time after 33 years,” said Jeff Shirley, a 1981 Sandy Creek graduate who participated in football, wrestling, and baseball as a three-sport athlete for the Comets.
“I want to do some other things, and my wife just recently retired, so we want to have some time to do some travelling, and do some other things that we’d like to do. … I kind of want to take a year or so to wind down and then kind of see what’s out there from here. It’s a big world and certainly I could see myself doing something else down the line.”
Pulaski’s Board of Education recently approved the hire of Jim Carcz as the district’s new athletic director and he is set to begin on Monday. The former physical education teacher and coach in the Syracuse City School District will also serve as the assistant principal for grades 6-12 in the district.
After announcing his intention to retire last month, Shirley was presented with a commemorative plaque by the Onondaga High School League to recognize his years of service to the conference. He has also been treated to several lunch outings by some of his fellow Oswego County athletic directors, and the group held a larger gathering to honor Shirley last week.
His most cherished outgoing distinction, Shirley said, was being voted by Pulaski middle school students as the school’s Educator of the Year at the year-end awards banquet.
“That was humbling and I’m very proud of that because the students vote on it, so that was awesome,” Shirley said.
Pulaski first-year superintendent Tom Jennings described Shirley as universally liked and respected by students, teachers, and anyone in the district with whom he interacts.
“What everyone will say about Mr. Shirley is, he’s just a great guy, he’s really easy to like,” Jennings said.
“What strikes me most about him is when you watch him from a distance, you see the positive way he interacts with kids,” he added. “He’s really, truly, a kind person and I think that has a broad impact on the school and a lasting impact on the school.”
Shirley earned his associate’s degree from Delhi University and gained his bachelor’s degree with certification in physical education at Cortland State University, and he wrestled for both schools.
His first teaching job came at his alma mater, Sandy Creek, where he worked for 15 years as a physical education teacher and eventually became head varsity wrestling coach and assistant varsity football coach. He then became assistant principal at Paul V. Moore High School in the Central Square district before moving onto his current positions at Pulaski.
Shirley helped coach modified football and wrestling for the Blue Devils at various points of his tenure.
“This has been awesome,” Shirley said. “I’ve really enjoyed my time as a coach and then becoming more of a leadership role in administration as a dean of students and as an athletic director, overall it’s been great working with kids and problem-solving. Seeing so many things that happen in my world of athletics, we’re not only trying to win but we’re trying to build relationships and help kids make good choices down the road and get them ready for life.”
Pulaski has made significant improvements to its athletic offerings under Shirley. The school started a boys/girls swimming team and revived the boys soccer program, both of which are combined with Sandy Creek. The district also brought back its wrestling program in combination with Altmar-Parish-Williamstown, and launched separate boys and girls indoor track teams this past year.
“He’s always working to find ways to provide opportunities for kids,” Jennings said. “The lessons that we can learn from athletics are important to him, so he makes character education and doing the right thing, learning how to win and lose, an important part of the program.”