Photo: Paul Lyons in February 2019
Paul E. Lyons, a legendary high school coach who brought to Belmont its only state boys’ basketball championship as well as being a respected educator and Bemontian, died suddenly on Sunday, June 19.
He was 85.
“The loss of Coach Lyons is heartache felt throughout the Belmont, Cambridge and Boston basketball community,” said Adam Pritchard, who played under Lyons then became his assistant before succeeding him as Belmont High head coach in 2000.
“Personally, Paul has been my coach, mentor, and mostly an amazing friend. I loved him and I’m thankful that coach and [his wife] Moira, through their support and generosity, have been in my life through every season for the past four decades.”
Lyons coached the Belmont High boys’ basketball team for a quarter century from 1975 to 2000 and led it to its only state crown in 1993 while winning the Middlesex League title five times. By the end of his Belmont career, Lyons had racked up 335 victories (and 473 overall) and is a member of the Massachusetts Basketball Association’s Hall of Fame. In February 2019, the playing surface at the Wenner Field House was named “Coach Lyons Court” in his honor.
“The one quote I tell my players was that success is not a destination, it’s a journey we take along the way. It’s more important what you did then what the outcome was,” said Lyons at the dedication.
“Before every game as we prepared to go on the court we put our hands in and listened to coach say, ‘Let’s be humble and close as we huddle together tonight. Let’s feel the power that flows from faith and gives us courage and strength as we play. When the game is played and we’ve met the test, please let us know we’ve done our best.’ That sums up everything I know of [Lyons] and he was the best,” said Pritchard.
Lyons and Ralph Jones were the founders of the Belmont Youth Basketball Association in 1977 and the Marauders Basketball Association in 1986 which supports both the high school teams as well as introducing thousands of elementary and middle school-aged children to the game. Nearly all the players on the boys and girls high school teams started playing hoops in the BYBA.
“He was very competitive and always wanted to win, but [Lyons] did so with a great deal of class and integrity,” said Jones after the Belmont School Committee approved the court’s naming.
Jones noted Monday Lyons was also supportive of women’s basketball, using his involvement with the Marauders Basketball Association to provide new uniforms to girls teams when they were wearing handmade kits. “It was very important at the time to show that the women were an equal partner,” said Jones.
“It is still unbelievable he is gone,” said Melissa Hart, the former Belmont High Girls’ Basketball head coach. “He was such a presence in Belmont Basketball from his early years to his grandfathering days, but more so in a lot more loves than Belmont ones. I was fortunate to have known him. Lyons and one of his daughter’s was actually the person who told me about the Belmont Basketball job, encouraged me to apply, and wrote a recommendation for me for it. It meant a lot that he supported me as much as he did. Will be strange to not see him in the stands at some games next year.”
“From my experience with Paul, he was first a devoted husband and father, and devoted teacher of math and basketball skills,” said his friend Chet Messer. “He was a quiet person but a person who loved to laugh. He also loved ice cream after games, thus a regular at Rancatore’s.”
“He taught his teams life skills as well as basketball skills. He requested that each team member give back to basketball later in life. A great example is Adam Pritchard who became an assistant including on the 1993 state championship team and Paul’s successor after 25 years,” said Messer.
Born in Boston in 1936 to Joseph and Catherine (McKeon) Lyons and raised in Cambridge, Lyons attended Cambridge High Latin School and later Boston College on a basketball scholarship – playing on one of the first Eagle teams invited to the NCAA tournament – where he received his BA in Mathematics. (He would later earn a M.Ed. from Boston University.) After graduating, Lyons joined John Hancock where he worked as an actuary.
One of his former basketball coaches became aware of a basketball coaching opportunity in upper state New York and after an interview, Lyons was offered the head basketball coach and assistant football coach posts at Mount Carmel High School. Lyons would return to his hometown to begin a 40-year career in the Cambridge Public Schools first as a math teacher/coach at Cambridge Latin then become head of the math department. As its director, Lyons was required to give up the school’s basketball coaching position. He went on to become the freshman coach at Bentley College, then assistant coach at Harvard University before coming to Belmont High.
He and his wife of 58 years, Moira, were Belmont residents for 49 years.
A loving father of five who dotted on his 12 grandchildren, Lyons’ final post on his Facebook page, dated June 17, spoke of his pride that his granddaughter, three sport all-star Kendall Blomquist from Westwood, was playing for a lacrosse state championship on Monday, June 20.
Westwood won the game.
Lyons is survived by his wife, Moira (Feeley) Lyons; daughter Kathleen Guden and her husband Jay of Belmont, son Michael Lyons of Andover, daughter Patricia Brody and her husband Jeff of Belmont, daughter Sheila Blomquist and her husband Scott of Westwood, and son Kevin Lyons and his wife Chris Ann of Arlington. He is grandfather to Katie, Kevin and David Guden; Ben, Matt and Sarah Brody; Brian, Hannah, Kendall and Sean Blomquist; and Caleigh and Mackenzie Lyons.
He is also survived by his sisters-in-laws Eleanor Feeley, Eileen Feeley, Brenda Lipizzi, and friend Joyce Finerty and by many loving nieces, nephews, cousins and devoted friends.
Visitation will take place on Thursday, June 23, 2022 at 4 p.m., at Keefe Funeral Home, 5 Chestnut St., Arlington. A Funeral Mass will be celebrated on Friday, June 24, 2022 at 11:30 a.m., at St. Camillus’ Church, 1185 Concord Turnpike, Arlington, followed by the burial at Highland Meadow Cemetery, 700 Concord Ave., Belmont.