RIP Dave Pesapane: Educator, football coach ... and just a regular guy
There aren't many stories from the great old days at St. Bernard that, directly or tangentially, didn't involve Dave Pesapane, who touched the School On The Hill as a math teacher, guidance director and perhaps most notably, the only man who ever delivered a state football championship to a place with estimable sports lore and legend.
And it was with sorrow that many of us who knew him learned of Pesapane's recent death. "Pez" died at his home late last month in Raleigh, N.C. at 75.
"He always had the best interests of the school at heart. It's something he was very well known for," said the forever conscience of St. Bernard, Art Lamoureux, its former athletic director and legendary English teacher. "We recognized the mission of the school: teach the faith, teach the best academics we could and saw athletics as a co-curricular. Dave wanted athletics to be the best they could possibly be. A compassionate, stand-up guy."
Pesapane attended Notre Dame of West Haven, played football at Boston College and coached under the great Larry McHugh at Xavier before finding his way to Uncasville. He coached the Saints to the 1978 state championship — but perhaps more significantly legitimized the football program at a time when the Saints were fighting more heavyweights than George Foreman against the state's best and biggest Catholic schools.
"Pez was committed to working with people and their families," said Bob Demars, the former athletic director at Putnam who was an assistant coach in the Pesapane Administration. "During the preseason, every year he invited all his coaches and their families over for a cookout. It was more than saying 'goodbye girls' for the season. He involved everyone so that when you went to the games, our entire families were there."
Demars said that the families were all successful finding the Pesapane residence mostly because Pesapane wasn't the one giving directions. Ironic how the man who didn't need a clipboard to scout and knew the whereabouts of all 22 players on the field wasn't so great about distinguishing Wilton from West Hartford from Willimantic.
"A good man. With a big heart. Lot of fun to coach with," Demars said. "Come game day, he knew every position, offense and defense and exactly where they were supposed to be. But then again, ask him for directions and you'll get a scenic tour of New England."
Leo Facchini, who coached with Pesapane from 1984-88, said, "Pez brought a different perspective here. He had big-time college experience. And cut his gums with Larry McHugh — and all for the better. His practices had no wasted time. I remember the first year at camp we ran the option. Everything we did was sequential and had a purpose. It wasn't helter skelter."
Pesapane later resuscitated the program at Montville — never forget the day the Indians went to Cannamela Field in 1996 and beat New London — and later coached at Coast Guard. The man knew football like Goodman knew the clarinet.
"Dave didn't always get the biggest kids," Lamoureux said. "He made the most out of them. He never lamented that he didn't have the biggest or fastest. He played the 'mosquito' defense. The kids ran sprints in an effort to all get to the ball carrier. It's one of the ways he made the game fun. We got to be known for our defense."
Pesapane is perhaps the only human being who ever dotted our corner of the world who loves Boston College more than your humble narrator. Never forget the game we attended, the season opener in 1999, with fellow Bald Eagle Tom "Red" Sullivan.
Sully and I spent most of the game listening to Pez coach from the stands. So did everybody else. One guy even asked why he was in the bleachers when he should have been on the field. BC won the game by a point when the Baylor kicker duck-hooked an extra point in overtime, thus prompting these three dopes to begin jumping around as if our shorts had just caught fire.
"One of the all-time greats," said The Day's Dave Davis, who was a member of the team (East Lyme) that the Saints beat in the 1978 championship game. "I can't believe a guy who hated losing to them so much in the state championship game came to enjoy that coaching staff as much as I did. I didn't care who they played. If I drew a Friday game to cover on the hill, I was happy."
It was that way with Pez and his guys. Dave Pesapane: Special Olympics volunteer and devotee, loyal BC alum, all-time St. Bernard great and wearer of what Demars called a "yellow, Yogi Bear kind of hat that we all loved."
RIP to, in Facchini's words, "a good guy and a regular guy."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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