After being diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in December 2011, Clare Droesch kept right on coaching basketball, the sport that had shaped and defined her life.
“There are some days you feel bad and want to give up, but I’m not ever gonna do that,” she told espnW.com in 2012. “I know the people around me won’t let me. I have never given up. I always fought through any hard times I had.”
That determination had enabled Ms. Droesch, an inspirational captain at Boston College, to play the final two games of her basketball career in the 2005 NCAA tournament despite a painful foot injury — and to score 23 points in both games.
Serving as assistant coach this past season at her alma mater, Christ the King High School in New York City, she used that same resilience to travel in a family-rented van to the state final Federation Tournament, where she coached her final games in a wheelchair.
Ms. Droesch, a 2016 inductee to the Boston College Varsity Club Hall of Fame, died at her home in Rockaway Beach, N.Y., on May 11. She was 36.
A former All-American basketball player at Christ the King High School, she holds the program’s record of 53 points in a single game.
“Clare carried our program for three years after the great Sue Bird graduated, and never left anything on the table,” said Bob Mackey, the program’s head coach. “Clare was one of the great high school players of her era. Her presence would just light up a gym.”
She coached alongside Mackey for several seasons. This past season, she helped guide the team to a 29-1 record, with Ms. Droesch coaching the back court players.
Mackey said he has kept Ms. Droesch’s game jerseys hanging in his office, and added that her number 15 will be retired.
At Boston College, Ms. Droesch was a 5-foot-10 shooting guard and small forward. She played on four NCAA Division 1 tournament-bound teams, including the 2004 team that won the Big East Conference championship, defeating host University of Connecticut in the semifinals.
She averaged 10.2 points and 4.3 rebounds in 126 career games and ranks 12th in program history with 1,136 points, fourth with 158 three-pointers made, and sixth with 314 assists. She was named to the Big East Rookie Team and was an all-conference selection her senior year.
Ms. Droesch cherished the memory of a senior night victory over top-ranked UConn with many relatives and friends in the stands at Conte Forum for her final home game in 2005.
“All of the emotions that you go through as a player over your four years came out that night,” she later recalled in an interview for a BC publication.
“She always fought hard and she spoke from the heart,” said former BC head women’s coach Cathy Inglese, who is now an assistant at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “If there was a final possession, I wanted the ball in her hands.”
At the time of Ms. Droesch’s induction to the BC Hall of Fame, Inglese noted that as captain, Ms. Droesch stepped up prior to the team’s Big East tournament victory over UConn. “In the locker room, before the game, the way she got the team fired up,” Inglese recalled, “I can never forget that.”
Nicole Conway, a senior captain at BC when Ms. Droesch was a first-year player, traveled to her close friend’s final games this season.
“She was not going to miss that tournament, but she never wanted people to make a fuss over her,” Conway said. “Clare had such a big personality and a natural charisma, and she had a way of making everyone feel they were her best friend.”
Clare Vaughan Droesch was the daughter of George Droesch, an account executive, and the former Patricia O’Reilly, who works in catering at St. John’s University in New York City. Ms. Droesch’s brother, George, is a New York City police detective.
When Hurricane Sandy devastated the family’s Queens, N.Y., neighborhood of Rockaway Beach in 2012, Ms. Droesch brought the leadership and determination she had shown on the basketball court to bear on rescuing neighbors, some of whom took refuge in her family’s home.
“The night when Hurricane Sandy struck, we were on the porch and heard people screaming,” her father recalled. “Clare and her brother went into the water and assisted about 25 to 30 people and their dogs and their kids.”
The family opened their house to their neighbors, he added, and as the storm progressed “our own home was almost destroyed.”
After graduating from Boston College with a degree in sociology, Ms. Droesch played professionally in Portugal, and then began an assistant coaching career that took her to the University of Massachusetts Boston, Vanderbilt University, and St. John’s University.
A service has been held for Ms. Droesch, and burial was in St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, N.Y.
Conway said her friend was “an incredible talent with a refuse-to-lose attitude and a big heart. She would go to the ends of the earth for those she cared about.”
George Droesch added that his daughter was so talented on the court that she “was playing against sixth-graders when she was in fourth grade. Later in her life, she loved teaching kids the game of basketball, and that brought her back to coach Mackey and Christ the King High.”
And when the time arrived for the final games Ms. Droesch would coach, her father recalled, “she told me, ‘Dad, you have to get me up there.’ ”
At Ms. Droesch’s request, after her funeral Mass in St. Francis de Sales Church in the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., a reception was held at a Knights of Columbus hall. More than 300 people attended.
“She wanted her friends and family to gather and celebrate her life,” her father said. “Her life was her family.”Marvin Pave can be reached at email@example.com.