Eye on the Ball: Helping young people through sports

BOB DeSTFANO PHOTO | Ed Mangiarotti with his hall of flame plaque.

BOB DeSTFANO PHOTO | Ed Mangiarotti with his hall of flame plaque.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of doing this writing thing a long time ago.

As I’m putting together this column, I’m sitting on the balcony of a hotel in the Florida Keys overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.

Is this the way all writers live?

These views also make me wonder if maybe Shelter Island isn’t the most beautiful spot in the country.

Back to work: Before leaving the Island last week, I spent some time with Ed Mangiarotti, a man who fits Eye on the Ball’s description of a worthwhile story — an Islander with an interesting sports background.

This June 21 will be Ed’s 88th birthday. He came to the Island over 40 years ago, 1973 to be exact, and spent his entire career as a head coach in football, baseball, basketball and golf. Ed’s final job was eight years as the starter at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club.

Ed was in high school from 1941 to 1945, which of course, were the World War II years. He attended Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx but, unfortunately, the school didn’t offer a sports program. However, that didn’t stop Ed. He competed in basketball, baseball and football for the local American Legion teams.

After graduating from high school, Ed enlisted in the Army and was posted to Alaska. While there, Ed still played all sports for the base teams.

After his honorable discharge in 1947, the energetic Ed wasted no time. He immediately enrolled in Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. While there, he credits a staff that greatly motivated him. Staying on schedule, four years later in 1951 Ed graduated. Among the many sports highlights from his college years, he chose to remember that he played basketball against the legendary Hall of Famer Bob Cousy.

His first job was as athletic director at Lakemont Academy in Lake Seneca, New York, He was a winner right out of the box; that 1951 team won the basketball championship and were all-conference football champ­ions the following year. Quite a start!

Much more importantly, in 1952 Ed was introduced to a young woman named Joan on a blind date. Like everything else in his life, he wasted no time in building a relationship and the two were wed the following year. They raised three children, Pamela, Celeste and Ed. Now they have eight grandchildren, and are delighted that all the family is easily accessible on Long Island. It makes you think that theirs was one of the most successful blind dates ever.

Ed was so dedicated to sports throughout his life that he worked both summers and winters, and always as a head coach. His longest reign was at South Huntington’s Walt Whitman High School where he taught physical education and coached football, basketball, baseball and golf for a total of 34 years. In the summers, along with other duties, Ed was supervisor of the Pierce Summer Camp in Roslyn, New York for 30 years.

Yes, this is a man who knows a little something about winning and losing. Coaching four sports for most of his life, he’s enjoyed his share of triumphs.

Which brings me to the most exciting year of his life — what you might want to call his “trifecta year.” In 1974, at Walt Whitman High School, Ed’s football team was undefeated and took honors as the Outstanding Public School Team in Suffolk County. They were also awarded the Rutgers Cup, a prize emblematic of the best public school team in the county. The third part of the trifecta was Ed being chosen by his fellow coaches as Coach of the Year.

That amazing year of sports victories and awards was a highlight right up to 2011, when Ed was inducted into the Walt Whitman High School Hall of Fame.

My final question to Ed was, “If you could have had it, what would have been your ideal job in life?” His answer came swiftly: “I had it.”

He said success for him was having the privilege of working with so many young people and of being some help in a small way.

He feels it is not only a privilege, but also a responsibility to help guide our youth in the right direction.

Ed’s ultimate statement to me was, “Nothing pleases me more than getting a phone call or email from a former player or student. It makes my day.”