CLEARY, MICHAEL J. (November 12, 1934 - December 31, 2015) was a leader in organizing bodies of collegiate and professional sports, serving as executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), from 1965-2011. Born to Irish immigrants Michael and Bertha (Reape Cleary), he was raised in CLEVELAND HEIGHTS and EAST CLEVELAND by his mother and stepfather, Patrick McCoy.  His father died only nine days after Cleary’s birth.  As a teenager, he competed in a 1948 CYO Boxing Tournament that is believed to have been the first live sporting event broadcast on Cleveland television. Attending SAINT IGNATIUS HIGH SCHOOL, Cleary graduated in 1952 before joining the JOHN CARROLL UNIVERSITY Class of 1956. After graduation, he served in the US Navy for two years aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lake Champlain on the Mediterranean Sea.  

In order to pay his JCU tuition, Cleary took a job as the school’s Sports Information Director, launching a long career in athletics. In 1959, when he was 25 years old, he was hired as General Manager for the CLEVELAND PIPERS, a National Industrial Basketball League (later American Basketball League) team. During his tenure with the team, he appointed John McLendon, the first black coach to head an American professional sports team. Cleary would later serve as the president and fund administrator for the John McLendon Minority Scholarship Foundation, which provided postgraduate scholarships to minority senior-level students interested in athletics administration. He raised over $2 million for the foundation and helped to establish the Minority Athletics Administrators Hall of Fame in 2007.

In 1962, he was ousted from his GM role by Pipers (and future New York Yankees) owner GEORGE STEINBRENNER because Cleary had allegedly leaked news of a trade to a local television station instead of waiting to announce it in the CLEVELAND PRESS. He nonetheless maintained a friendship with his former boss until Steinbrenner’s death in 2010. Cleary then doubled up as general manager for the Kansas City Steers and Midwest scout for the New York Knicks. 

A stint administering national championships for the National Collegiate Athletic Association brought him into the world of college athletics. He served as executive director of  the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) from 1965 until 2011. Under his leadership, the association grew from 300 member organizations to 1600 organizations throughout North America, serving more than 6500 athletic administrators. 

During his long tenure as director of the NACDA, Cleary participated in various state and national athletic initiatives, including the Ohio Athletic Conference and the US Olympic Committee. He received the 1994 award for Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football from the College Hall of Fame, the 1997 St. Ignatius High School Distinguished Alumnus Award, and the 2012 WALKS OF LIFE AWARD from Cleveland’s Irish American Archives Society. He was inducted into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Catholic Youth Organization Hall of Fame in 2010.

Cleary was married to Suzanne (Williams) Cleary for 61 years and had ten children: Mary Beargie, Michael, Brian, Kevin, Anne Horning, Elizabeth Calabrese, Margaret Snyder, Owen and Daniel. He passed away on December 31, 2015, at the age of 81 and is buried in Lakewood Park Cemetery in Rocky River, OH.


Daniel Brennan and David Patrick Ryan

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