The Wheatley School lost one of its best and most beloved coaches when Mo Schneider died Aug. 23 at age 90.
But Schneider, Wheatley’s tennis coach for 50 years, was not forgotten last Thursday, when more than 100 people attended a celebration of his life in Wheatley’s auditorium.
Schneider, a former resident of Great Neck Estates, was known for the close personal relationships he developed with his players that exhibited his dedication to them and to the sport, according to his friends, colleagues and wife, Suzanne.
That dedication spanned generations — Schneider coached many players whose parents were on his team, said Bob Freier, a 1981 Wheatley graduate and tennis player whose son Dylan also played with Schneider.
“The girls and the boys were his kids, and I think that’s really why Mo kept coming back — because he just loved being around the kids so much, and the kids just loved being around him,” said Freier, a former East Williston school board trustee.
Schneider died of pancreatic cancer in August at St. Francis Hospital’s hospice facility on the day he was supposed to start practice with Wheatley’s girls tennis team, Suzanne Schneider said.
He made a list of the team players the week before his death and still planned to coach the season while receiving chemotherapy treatments, Suzanne said.
“There was never a cloud over his head,” she said. “He always had hope.”
Schneider was born in Brooklyn and graduated from Lynbrook High School, where he played varsity basketball. He went on to play varsity tennis at Hofstra University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English after serving as a dive-bomber pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II.
While in college, he wrote and sold television scripts to “The Jackie Gleason Show” and others in the 1950s. He taught English in the Roslyn school district from the early 1950s until his retirement in 1992.
Schneider started coaching at Wheatley in 1966 and made tennis one of the school’s most successful athletic enterprises, leading several teams to state championship tournaments, Freier said. The district named Wheatley’s tennis courts after him in 2011.
But he always found a place for everyone on the team, Freier said. He made one boy with little tennis skill his assistant coach when his father was pressuring him to get on the team somehow, said Wes Berkowitz, a former Wheatley guidance counselor.
Schneider had three children of his own who died, which made him “much more conscious of his relationships with these kids,” Suzanne Schneider said.
“I think he had a lot of respect for his players, and I think his players had a lot of respect for him, and I think that individual relationship he had with each of them — that he motivated them not only to do the best for themselves, but I think they were motivated to do well for him as well,” said Elaine Kanas, the East Williston school district superintendent.
Schneider played tennis until age 80, even after two open heart surgeries, Suzanne said. The couple, married 43 years, spent most of their time in Florida, but Mo would come back to Wheatley each fall and spring to coach and stay at their house in Bayside, Queens, she said.
He regularly told players he planned to retire at the start of every year only to return to the helm the following season, Freier said.
He started all his classes with a joke, Suzanne said, and was known for his sense of humor and ability to cheer up students. He would even encourage players from other schools Wheatley beat after tennis matches, Freier said.
“He just knew how to turn a frown into a smile,” Berkowitz said. “… He was able to get everybody to give the best they could do.”
Schneider is survived by Suzanne, two step-children and five grandchildren. Donations can be made in his honor to the Mo Schneider Scholarship, given each year to at least one graduating Wheatley senior.