Roach's words are a reminder how H.S. coaches influence, inspire us

There is no vocation under more siege than high school coaching, which has emerged as humanity's contribution to an endangered species. It's hard to imagine another fraternity that logs more hours and fields more complaints for pay that makes minimum wage Rockefeller-like by comparison.

And that's what makes small moments of grace such large moments of inspiration.

I was scrolling Facebook the other day when I came upon a tribute from Shawn Roach, a New London High grad, who played during the memorable year of 1994, when the Whalers completed quite the daily double: basketball title in March, baseball championship in June.

This is what Shawn wrote:

"Thank the lord above that I was fortunate enough to learn to be part of something bigger than me. Something bigger than all of us. Something that taught us to fight and not quit until our goal was achieved. That goal still shines in my professional life to this day, that goal still defines me. That goal still is the deciding factor in how I raise my kids. The goal was you work your (butt) off until you have nothing left and then your brother picks you up, matching your effort and goals. I'm so grateful to have been a part of this group.

"Thank you to coach (Ralph) Roggero, coach (Craig) Parker, coach (Gil) Varjas, Mike Buscetto, Mr. (Jim) O'Neill and others who taught a bunch of kids to play for one another regardless of the outcome. Put the team above all and trust the outcome. Twenty-five years ago we were the baddest cats on the block.

"We still represent that banner. We don't hang conference banners in New London, only state championship banners. Nobody handed it to us. We earned it. I miss those days. We made lifetime friends. We outworked everyone. The coaches made sure of it. Twenty-five years of alpha dogs leading their respective communities.

"Love and miss every one of you. The lessons taught never can be matched. In fact coach Ralph would probably go to jail for how he got his message across, but I wouldn't change his message or his delivery for anything. Personally, looking back, I wouldn't have had it any other way. Thank you for being hard on us.

"We need a reunion to celebrate our accomplishments. I say Tony Ds dinner to reminisce the good old days. Anyone down? I'd go to war with all of you tomorrow."

Roach probably has no idea the power of his words, how they don't merely apply to his coaches at New London, but coaches everywhere, all of them who truly give a damn about kids. Roach's words show the influence coaches have and how they inspire their players for the rest of their lives.

It might even make all the sniveling and pettiness coaches hear worth it.

I loved that 1994 group. The basketball team had Tyson Wheeler, a team that started what O'Neill, the athletic director in Whalerville at the time, called "four guards and a soccer goalie." That "goalie," Mark Tryon, actually threw down (for my money) the single greatest dunk in the history of Conway Gym that year.

It was also Roggero's last season. I didn't fully appreciate his wisdom until now later in life when the two of us have become very good friends. Ralph's advice seems like something I should memorize every time I hear it.

The baseball season was equally fun. Cavan DePeter barely gave up a run all year as a starting pitcher. Derek Rock took over in the playoffs. Roach, Joe Bustamante, Jason O'Reilly, two kids named Luis Martinez and the late Sean Duzant, played brilliantly for Varjas, Casey O'Neill and Kevin Willoughby.

Never forget the last out in the state championship game. New Fairfield had two on and two out, down 5-3. Ground ball to third to Martinez, who has the occasional throwing disorder to first base. The entire dugout yelled "DON'T THROW IT!" in unison, as Martinez was able to get the final out via rundown between second and third. Another green and gold celebration.

I'm just so happy Roach took the time to reminisce. His words resonate. Not just happy memories, but a very necessary message to his coaches. And coaches everywhere:

We appreciate who you are and what you stand for.

And we'll never, ever forget you.

Thank you, Shawn.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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