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The legend goes on

The octogenarian, at his birthday party, said, “There would be more people here, but it appears that I have outlived most of them.”

I was in attendance on March 2 at the Basketball Hall of Fame when an 80th birthday was celebrated and the place was packed.

When someone has been involved with education and coaching for more than 40 years, many of the young men and women he has influenced are still around to remember and appreciate their time under his guidance.

That was the case when Pittsfield native and North Adams State College (MCLA) legend Joe Zavattaro, after landing at Bradley Airport, stopped in Springfield to meet up with an old friend for a quick lunch.

He and his wife, Sharon, were greeted at the door of Samuel’s Sports Room by former teammates, students, ballplayers, co-workers and friends. It was a surprise and, for the first time in Joe Zavattaro’s life, he was speechless.

We all go down memory lane when we get together with old friends, but this was more like “memory highway.”

Zavattaro’s former teammate at Pittsfield High School (class of 1949), Ed McMahon, had a captive audience: “Joe was on the team in ’49 when we won the Berkshire County crown. All five starters are still alive.”

If you think of it , that is quite an accomplishment in itself. Dave Morehead, Bob Taylor and Bobo Quadrozzi rounded out the lineup.

Coach Zav began coaching baseball at NASC in 1963 and took over the basketball job in 65. He retired in 1995 with over 500 wins and 11 MASCAC titles. He is in every coach’s hall of fame in Massachusetts and was a member of the inaugural class of the MCLA hall in 1998.

Mike Martin of Springfield stopped in briefly before heading to New York to take in the Brown-Columbia game. Martin played three seasons for Coach Zav in the ’60s, and his son, Mike, is the head coach for Brown.

“Your son is doing a great job, good luck today!” Zav shouted as Martin left.

The Zavattaro bump must have worked, as Brown hit a triple at the buzzer to pull out the road win .

There were many baseball alums wishing their old coach well, including Bob Zanetti and Bob Montagna of Springfield, Dan Caritey and John Broderick of Pittsfield and many from eastern Massachusetts.

Paul Kujawski, former state representative from Webster, was the master of ceremonies. Paul was also a member of the first MCLA Hall of Fame class along with his former coach.

Jim Kane of Southbridge, who played both baseball and basketball under Coach Zav, stirred up the coach’s memory: “Jim Kane had the highest arching set shot I have ever seen, and he was a pretty good pitcher also.”

John Barrett III, former North Adams mayor, had some nice words for the legendary coach: “To witness the path that the school took athletically during Joe’s tenure was remarkable; in the early years money was tight, but he kept the programs not only alive, but saw them flourish. All the honors that he has received over his career are more than deserving. He is one of the most respected baseball men in New England.”

Many of the guests who had trouble remembering faces were seen asking Coach Zav to help them put names to the faces, and Zav was batting 100 percent: “I have all the team pictures of my teams and I look at them often. All these guys worked hard for me and were part of my life, I won’t forget them.”

It is not often that the guest of honor at an 80th birthday party is the sharpest guy in the room, but that was the case on this day.

“I miss the college; I miss it everyday. I am blessed to have made so many friends in my years in North Adams. Jeff Puleri (Lee native and current baseball coach) is doing a great job, and he keeps me involved with his program”, Zavattaro added.

The coach and mentor of so many young people has had some physical setbacks as of late, but the former catcher doesn’t seem eager to cramp his lifestyle; he blocks the plate and goes on. He personally extended an invitation to all to return for his 90th birthday party.

We will be there, Coach; make sure they get a bigger cake.

Editor’s Note: Dick Syriac played on Joe Zavattaro’s NASC basketball team from 1965-1970.

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Posted by on March 7, 2013. Filed under Berkshire Sports Guy,Columns,Opinion,Sports. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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