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    Sunday, October 02, 2022

    Bob Bono's time at Coast Guard? 'Tremendous!

    New London — The concept of "Everyman" is a familiar prototype in fiction, the protagonist whose common, modest traits cultivate the audience's easy identification with him. Everyman often confronts and succeeds the hero's journey, but faithfully maintains his humble demeanor.

    Our corner of the world has living proof that Everyman isn't necessarily fictional. He is real, evidenced by the dozens who celebrated Bob Bono's professional life Saturday night at the Birdseye.

    And it was, to use Bob's favorite word, "tremendous."

    Where to begin with the region's No. 1 sports guy? He's so much more than his 35 years at Coast Guard. "Bones," as many of us call him, was the academy's bridge to the sports community. He's affectionately known as "Prez" around Waterford youth baseball, where he coached the Little League "Black Sox" for many years. He ran the perennial state championship Babe Ruth program. And he became a pied piper in Waterford for coaching other people's kids — even when yours are grown — the single biggest reason why the high school has a wildly successful sports program.

    Bob Bono's life is the definition of the hero's journey, while faithfully maintaining his humble mien. In a region of hard markers, nary is heard a discouraging word about an uncomplicated man among whose greatest gifts is understanding complicated people.

    "There are a lot of stats and metrics we can point to on the basketball court but I believe his impact on hundreds of future Coast Guard officers is the most important stat of all," Coast Guard athletic director Dr. Dan Rose said.

    "Bob has been a key member of the CGA sports family for 35 years. His contributions in basketball have led to 368 wins and three of the four NCAA tournament appearances in program history. He has recruited/coached and mentored countless cadets that have gone on to distinguished military service. A trusted friend and colleague to all. Always there when you need help — positive, no-nonsense and people centered. Bob's greatest talent is his ability to understand and deal with people."

    Bono was there in the Harold Pressley days at St. Bernard (and looked a lot like Gabe Kaplan from "Welcome Back Kotter"). His time as the associate head coach at Coast Guard produced the greatest team athletic accomplishment in the history of the institution: the men's basketball team's 2008 Elite Eight run. He was the perfect complement to head coach Pete Barry, two men whose senses of humor were like their American Express cards: They never left home without it.

    Barry, on the night 10 years ago the Academy honored Bono's 25 years of service, said in tribute, "The losses got so bad some nights, I couldn't drink. But you gave me so much in my life. I hate to get emotional. But it's difficult being a living extension of tradition. The tradition you've given this place is ongoing."

    Barry and Bono were their own floor show. The players were entertained daily. Barry was into "TQM" ("Total Quality Management") while Bono educated non-natives to the region that a big sandwich is called a grinder. The 2008 team actually ran an offensive set they called "grind-uh."

    Barry's departure led to Kevin Jaskiewicz, who led the Bears to the conference title and NCAA Tournament in 2020. Jaskiewicz played for Bono at St. Bernard.

    "Bob had an impact on a multitude of people not just basketball players. Other coaches, instructors, cadets and other cadet athletes," Jaskiewicz said. "That impact presents itself when people come back to the Academy and they stop in the office looking him. It just happened last week. He is the reason I wanted to coach."

    At the same party 10 years ago, Jaskiewicz said, "Bob had the unique ability of being someone who could put his arm around you and tell you everything would be all right and at the same time, put his foot up your behind."

    The retirement party was a surprise and pulled off seamlessly by his family. It was the perfect tribute to our No. 1 sports guy because it turned into one of the No. 1 sports nights of the year. The Eye was abuzz at one point watching the fateful eighth inning at Fenway Park, UConn-Wyoming coming down to a two-point conversation and Clemson-NC State in overtime. All happening at the same time on mutliple TVs. It was as if the universe wanted to make The Eye the center of the universe for a night, maybe the best tribute of all for why we were gathered there in the first place.

    And so Bono leaves Coast Guard as its most reassuring presence among hectic military life. From the Black Sox to the Birdseye.

    The hero's journey, indeed.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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