Coaching in high school is so markedly different than it is in the media-scrutinized college and professional ranks that calling both the leader of Maloney High and the Boston Celtics “coach” borders on ambiguous.
Nobody coaches high school sports for financial gain. A dear friend of mine who coached multiple sports at a vo-tech school once determined that he made in the neighborhood of 5 cents per hour when he considered the time he expended.
No, paychecks are not the purpose. If they sought to supplement their income, busing tables would undoubtedly make more sense. Coaches love kids and want to help them build a foundation for life through sports, the same way that sports helped turn them into the benevolent adults they’ve become.
It’s not accurate to say they’re all wonderful. I’ve always put them into two categories — good and great — because even the worst of them from standpoints of strategy, communication or technical knowledge are still giving their time to impressionable teenagers.
On Monday night, I had the opportunity to work among two of the very finest in the business in Maloney’s Howie Hewitt and Bristol Eastern’s Mike Giovinazzo.
The most amazing aspect of their coaching careers, which both span well over a quarter-century, is that they both coach basketball and baseball. I’m not convinced there’s another individual in the state who administers both. First of all, the seasons overlap. With the possible exception of football, those two sports are as labor-intensive as sports get.
Giovinazzo has retired from teaching but coaching remains such a profound passion that it represents a huge bloc of his daily schedule every winter and spring. Hewitt calls himself semi-retired, if coaching two major sports and administering Maloney’s athletic department can even remotely be used in the same sentence with any semblance of retirement.
Another interesting aspect of their interaction is that no matter how the conference structures have changed over the years, the Bristol and Meriden schools have always been in the same divisions.
“CCIL (Central Connecticut Interscholastic League)? Colonial Conference? Always,” Giovinazzo said. “Those rivalries have been constant. That goes back over 50 years.”
Giovinazzo started coaching baseball at Eastern in 1975, then added basketball to his agenda eight years later. Hewitt is in his 29th year coaching varsity basketball but coached the freshmen for the 10 years preceding that. He took the varsity baseball reins in 1995 after paying substantial dues.
“I was a sub-varsity guy for a long time,” Hewitt said. “I had two legends ahead of me — Eddie Zajac and [Norb] Fahey — and I had to wait my turn.
“But we’ve been coaching against each other forever. They’re always our toughest games.”
Maloney has held the upper hand in basketball. My records go back to the 1997-98 season and Monday’s 58-45 Spartan success gives Maloney a 25-8 advantage over that 17-year period.
“There’s a great mutual respect there,” Giovinazzo said. “I think he’s a great coach. I know he does a great job in both sports. Whenever we play them, I know we’re going to have to be at our best.”
But winning and losing are not the ultimate barometers in evaluating the careers of such men. The competitive spirit burns fervently within each, but it’s more about helping boys become men. What you have here are two dedicated public servants who have positively altered more lives and you cannot count them as readily as wins and losses.
Hewitt assessed himself as “the maniac on the sideline,” referring to his relentless back-and-forth pacing in urging the Spartans to maintain their defensive intensity but become more disciplined in their offensive sets. He chastises them about their minuscule shooting percentage from behind the arc, an error in judgment or a rushed foul shot. But when the game ends, the educator and humanitarian within him surfaces in the form of calm, well-thought-out conclusions.
“It’s going to get like this in college, it’s going to get like this in life and you’ve got to stand up and play,” he said. “Their parents do a much better job of [preparing them for life] but I know we have guys with talent that are riding on their talent. When me and him go up to get that job and we’re equally talented, we need you to understand what you have to do to get it. … You have to work for everything you get.”
Giovinazzo doesn’t bubble with joy when he loses, but he’s ever the gentleman, and nobody knows better than him that tomorrow’s going to come.
“I’ve got a great life,” Giovinazzo said. “I play golf in the morning, eat lunch, take a nap and go to practice. It’s what I do. Retirement has given me the opportunity to at least be able to relax a little bit and put more effort into coaching but it’s always something that I love doing.”
This afternoon, both Hewitt and Giovinazzo were back in the gym and stressing fundamentals in a way that their players eventually will recognize is steeped in love, and from that love productive young lives continue to blossom.
The State of Connecticut dishes out big bucks for foster parents. Organizations like Big Brothers, Big Sisters revolve around recruiting people who have what it takes to help kids. With Mike and Howie, we are blessed with individuals who are providing these services for a comparable pittance. We should all hope they keep coming back for more.