If Nocito was in your gymnasium, it was a big game
There is no way to properly or completely frame Tony Nocito's officiating career without the voice of Craig Parker, the 25-year coach at New London High, who all but narrated Nocito's vocation with one line:
"Awwwww .... come ..... onnnnnnnnn ... Tooooooooo ... Knee."
It got to be almost musical at times, Parker pleading for a call, knowing Nocito was always affable enough to converse. Sadly, we've heard the last of it — unless perhaps next year we beg Parker for an encore, maybe aimed some other guy named Tony. Nocito, after 35 years as one of the greatest officials in the history of this region, has decided to retire. He'll be missed.
"It's time," Nocito said recently. "Think about it. Thirty-five years. You look at time. At what you do. It's time to put it on the shelf. You don't want to be the guy out there going, 'I still may have it.' You want to go out and be the guy who said 'I did it.'"
He sure did. Nineteen Eastern Connecticut Conference championship games, nine state championship games and the 2017 CIAC Official of the Year.
"The best thing about Tony is the way he'd communicate," Ledyard coach Dave Cornish said. "I like to dialog during games. Some refs don't like that. But you can talk to Tony. He's very honest. He'd come by and say, 'I missed that one, coach.' That's what made him a really good ref."
Nocito, born in Newburgh, N.Y., moved to New London in grade school. He graduated from New London High and the old Thames Valley Tech. He's become the Production Supervisor for all the shows and events at Foxwoods.
"I learned basketball when I was 18 in the mid-80s. I started coaching in the Martin Center," Nocito said. "Rec league. I remember Mike Buscetto very well. I was an assistant coach. I helped out Mike Murphy on the Celtics."
He began to officiate girls' basketball and later joined his current IAABO (International Association of Approved Basketball Officials).
"My first game was in a men's league, an over-30 league at the Martin Center," Nocito said. "One team had Jere Quinn, Gary Traystman and Scott Schoonmaker. The other had James Johnson, John Delegrange and Rob Hall. Now I'm officiating and late second quarter, Delagrange and Schoonmaker are fighting each other. I threw them both out. Nice way to start, right?"
Nocito, a fixture in big games around here, has two fond memories of ECC championship games past.
"My first one was in 2008 and I was nervous as all could be," Nocito said of the NFA-New London game at Conway Gym that left hundreds of people in the parking lot unable to get in. "R.J. Evans against Allan Chaney. Me, Josh (Tiven, an NBA official) and Tony Jiggs (Gigliotti, who retired last season). I'm trying to find a parking space. I couldn't. Long line out the door. I'm thinking, 'I hope they know I'm reffing.' I was nervous I'd never get in. In that game, Josh made a big out of bounds call at the end of the game and I paid attention to his demeanor. I always followed that lead."
Nocito continued, "The other game I remember was first time they moved the ECC (finals) to Waterford. NFA was up a point. New London got the ball with 35 seconds left and held it. Then they called a timeout. The place is mobbed. As New London is ready to inbound the ball, I see everyone in the gym stand up. The hair stood up on my arms. I thought, 'if you blow the whistle now, you better get it right.'"
Nocito's reputation grew to the point of the ultimate compliment: If you saw him enter the gym, you knew it was a big game. And the game never got too big for him. Because he was never too big for it.
"My demeanor came from my mentors," Nocito said. "Henry Gunther, Jimmy Dugan. Dave Boland. And now my biggest mentor is Jack Barclay. Jack was a great, great official. He taught me so much. You have to listen to the guys who have been there. And be human. Because we are. Respect the players and coaches. Respect the game."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro