The Ithaca sports community lost one of its most remarkable individuals early this month. When people heard that Dan Wood had passed on May 7, they might have asked, Dan Wood, the golfer? Dan Wood, the soccer player? Dan Wood, the college and professional coach? Dan Wood, the four-sport letterman at Tufts University? Yes, yes, yes, yes and then some….
One of the benefits of writing this column for so long is the fact that I can usually find real insiders. In this case, I called Tom Cleary, knowing that Tom is a well-connected guy, he is a respected golfer, and he was approximately Dan’s vintage. When Tom told me, “Dan and I were neighborhood pals since we were 7 years old,” I knew I had made the right call.
Cleary went on to say, “Dan was a couple of years behind me in school (Dan was Ithaca High, class of ’61) and he was teammates with Ricky Wells and the Reynolds brothers on one of the best basketball teams Ithaca High ever had.” Tom added, “In high school, Dan made it to Forest Hills as a tennis player, and he lettered in four sports as an undergrad at Tufts.”
Wait… four different sports while carrying a full-time academic schedule in college? “He lettered in baseball, soccer, and basketball,” Cleary said, “and he kicked for the football team while being recognized as an NCAA Scholar, which was the equivalent of being a Rhodes Scholar at that time.” Sounding empathetic, Tom added, “Dan was not only the best athlete in the room, he was also the smartest person in the room, and believe it or not, that could be a burden.”
After graduating from Tufts, Dan returned to his hometown and enrolled in a PhD. Program at Cornell. It was stated in his obituary, “As an NCAA post-graduate scholar-athlete fellow at Cornell, he earned a Ph. D in the sociology of education, his dissertation aptly entitled "Educating in Sport.")
At the age of 24, he took over at the helm of the struggling Big Red soccer team, and something strange happened… In Cleary’s words, “Dan took over a winless soccer team with no budget, and they had an amazing 5-year run, during which they won the program’s first Ivy League title and made it the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.” Along the way, Wood mentored players like Bruce Arena, who is considered to be one of the most successful coaches in North American soccer history, having won five College Cup titles and five MLS Cup titles and served as the head coach of the U.S. National Team) and Dave Sarachan (who has seen great success as a pro player and elite level coach).
Wood went on to coach soccer at the highest levels (he coached in the North American Soccer League) and was, according to Cleary, “a good amateur golfer.” That would change in 1997, when Dan joined the PGA Senior Tour as a rookie after winning tournaments on several pro mini-tours and immediately made his presence known. Remarkably, in 1998, Wood tied for seventh place at the U.S. Senior Open, and carded two additional top-10 finishes. According to Cleary, “It was one of those stories where no one knew about him, and he came out of nowhere and made an impact.” His golf game was helped, one would assume, by the fact that he purchased and operated a golf course in Orlando.
The final chapter in Dan Wood’s stellar coaching career came at Ithaca College, where his father, Carlton “Carp” Wood left a very large footprint. (Carp was a member of Ithaca College’s Class of ’39, he coached the baseball, basketball and soccer teams to NCAA tournament appearances and Carp Wood Field is named in his honor.) Dan and his wife, Sandi, founded and co-coached Ithaca College's women's golf team, and over the course of 7 years (from 2008- 2015) the Woods guided the Bombers to three top-ten finishes in GolfStat's season-ending national poll. The team reached #1 in New York State's NCAA DIII for 4 consecutive years, and tied for 5th in the 2014 NCAA DIII championship.
Of his lifelong friend, Cleary said, “Dan was a really good athlete who became a very good golfer. In any sport he played, he had really great instincts, and he was always the smartest guy out there. He might have a 3-inch vertical jump, but when the basketball came off the rim, it came to him. He was always in the right place at the right time.”