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Jim Leone: the wind beneath the wings of St. Bernard

And he thinks he gets to go quietly. Ha. Good one. Not after 40 years of teaching and coaching, 40 years of doing the Bette Midler thing at St. Bernard: the wind beneath its wings.

The School On the Hill is minus one of its cleanup hitters now. Jim Leone, a 41-year theology teacher and football/wrestling/baseball coach, has opted for retirement — and just in time before having to learn Google Classroom, too. (Smart man.)

This just in: Leone doesn't want a party. It fits with his unfailing understatedness. He'll have to settle for hosannas.

"He always wanted to be in the background. Such a humble guy," said Bill Buscetto, Leone's former student who became the school's athletic director and baseball coach — with Leone as his assistant. "I don't want him going quietly."

Buscetto has come to the right place.

"Even though he went to NFA, Jimmy became a loyal scarlet-and-gray guy," former St. Bernard teacher/all around legend Art Lamoureux said. "I'm sorry for the school. Forty years. The kids identify with him. As a theology teacher, they sought him out on any number of problems. A great moral builder for them. A humble man."

Mike Nystrom, St. Bernard's longtime girls' basketball coach and childhood friend: "People like him. They want to be like him. Growing up, everyone wanted to hang out with Jimmy."

Leone coached three sports on The Hill, notably an assistant baseball coach under Jim Powers, Mike Garvie and Buscetto. In 2007, Garvie was ejected from the state semifinals, leaving Leone as the head coach in the championship game. The Saints won, leaving Leone as perhaps the only coach in state history with an undefeated record and a state title, too.

"He's the reason I came back," Buscetto said. "The (baseball/AD) job was open (after the 2007 season) and a few people called me. I called him. He said, 'you gotta do it.' I said, 'then you have to coach with me.'

"So the year after St. Bernard won the state title, we beat Old Lyme in the semis. He goes, 'I was hoping you'd get tossed so I can coach the final on Saturday.'"

Every athletic department has its Rushmore candidates. But it sure feels as though St. Bernard has enough for two separate sculptures. Jim Leone is right there. So is Lamoureux, Powers, Dave Pesapane, Bob Demars, Bud Smith, Nystrom, Doug Sharples, Rich Pagliuca and others unintentionally omitted. There's something noble — almost mythical — about people loyal enough to stay in one place, despite making less money than colleagues at other institutions.

"All just good men. All of us knew," Buscetto said. "They might be hard on us, bust our stones, but they cared about us genuinely. When you work at St. Bernard, it's for peanuts. You're paid half of what the public school teachers make. But they believed in St. Bernard. I don't know if you'll ever see a group like that again. Just legendary."

Leone graduated with a theology degree from Trinity College in 1978 and began at St. Bernard in the middle of the 1979 school year. He never left. That's a lot of chalk, loose leaf notebooks, bus rides, inside jokes and lesson plans.

"I've known him since we were 11," Nystrom said. "We played on the same basketball team at St. Patrick's. We even dated sisters. There are 100 stories I could tell, but none you can print."

Now the humble man heads to retirement, having honored the Book of Timothy, which he undoubtedly taught many years in his classroom. Jim Leone fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. What else is there, really?

You'll note we've come this far without quoting the guest of honor. This is intentional. Leone is far more comfortable with letting others tell his story, perhaps because he knows that dust you are and to dust you shall return.

"The perfect assistant coach," Buscetto said. "He was tough on us, but you could talk with him. Coach Powers was the hard edge guy, making us better. But Jim Leone is the best. So many good times and laughs. He's just The Man. I don't that you'll find anybody with a bad thing to say about him."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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