Remembering Mr. D
The Maimonides School family continues to mourn the loss of a giant in the annals of the school. Ernest D'Agnelli passed away unexpectedly on December 1st at the age of 64. Known by all as Mr. D, he was in his 42 years as physical education teacher at Maimonides.
Mr. D. joined the faculty only months after graduating from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst -- and he never left. During his first eight years, there was no gymnasium on campus, and phys ed classes took place wherever space allowed -- classrooms, the lunchroom, Brookline High School, community centers. But that didn't deter Mr. D from developing the creative and genuine approaches to activity so that all would feel included and benefit. He originated games. He gave everyone a nickname. And though a non-Jew, he grew to value and even understand the greater mission of Maimonides School. "A day without mincha is like a day without sunshine," he would say as he secured the gym doors in deference to tefillah.
The opening of Fox Gymnasium in 1986 changed the culture of the school and expanded the physical education repertoire, Mr. D's legend grew with the school, and spread to the Brener Building when it opened for the younger grades in 1997. He was honored by the school with a Pillar of Maimonides Award in 1995, and 11 years later the Class of 1996 invited him to lead games at the 10-year reunion. That was the esteem and affection in which he was held by all alumni.
Mr. D was not directly involved with interscholastic sports at Maimonides. But he laid the foundation for student-athletes in all sports, all seasons, with not only a love for competition but also an appreciation of sportsmanship. And there were specific benefits. As Yitz Steinberg '93, all-time leading scorer, remembers, "If we had a free and the gym was open, he’d be running up and down the court with us. And even then he was teaching. After every game we’d debrief. He’d say, 'Remember that play where I beat you off the dribble and scored on an easy layup? Remember that play where I beat you to the rebound? Here’s how I did it, here’s how you defend it so it doesn’t happen again.' He was always teaching. He knew that basketball was important to me and he took every opportunity to teach me what he knew about the game."
There is a giant hole in the Maimonides community today. We are grieving, but we can best fill that hole with a weekend of basketball and friendship, of intense and respectful competition, appreciation of teachers and friends, a Shabbat of introspection and renewal, and a commitment to the ideals represented by our teacher and friend.