I first heard the news on Wednesday, Jan. 24, from — who else? — my youngest son, Robby. I have to say, for a 24-year-old living and working in Manhattan, and leading a very active social life, he still keeps up with all sports at all levels more intimately than any other human I know. He sent out a family group text containing Sean Patrick Bowley’s GameTimeCT tweet, which said, in part: “Three-time state championship coach Marce Petroccio is leaving Staples to become the next head football coach at Trumbull..”
From that shocker I scrolled around online to a bunch of other accounts of Coach P’s departure, and what blew me away was the oft-mentioned fact that he’d been head coach at Staples for 25 years. Twenty-five years!!! Are you kidding me??? A quarter of a century!!! Why did it seem to me that Marce had just ridden into town on his white horse to save the Staples football program — which had won a grand total of 11 games in the seven previous years?
His timing, from my own selfish point of view, couldn’t have been better. My oldest son was playing on the Staples freshman team in 1995 — Petroccio’s third season as coach of the Wreckers. My youngest son’s final season at Staples was 2010. For my three sons, Matt (class of 1999), Greg (2002), and Robby (2011), Coach P was the only head coach they ever knew.
And oh, did that man — and those teams — have success!
In 1997, Petroccio’s fifth season at the helm, Staples — behind all-state quarterback Mac Devito — won its first FCIAC championship since 1975, and appeared in the Class L state final. That was the beginning of a run of 13 state playoff appearances over the next 20 years. All told, during the Petroccio years, Staples played in eight state championship games, winning three titles — and in seven FCIAC championship games, winning five.
Just a couple of days after Robby texted me the news, my friend Tom said to me, “Hey, did you hear Coach P is leaving?” I got the same question a day later from Tim the Trainer at the gym. And from Fred, the Connecticut News 12 sports anchor, at the dog park. They all asked me what I thought about Coach P heading to Trumbull. And I’ll admit, my first reaction — please don’t get mad at me, Marce! — was “Traitor!”
But I immediately realized how ridiculous that was. What coach doesn’t want to return to his alma mater? There are endless examples of coaches who’ve become icons — at every level — who wanted to cap off their careers by returning to where they started. Marce grew up in Trumbull. He played Pop Warner there. He was a senior on legendary coach Jerry McDougall’s first state championship team. Later on he served as an assistant for McDougall, whom he idolizes to this day. (McDougall passed away in 2012.) So when the Trumbull opportunity presented itself, it ultimately was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
But before returning home, Coach P gave his heart and soul to the Wreckers. He was a mentor, an inspiration, and a best friend to hundreds of young men who played for him — including three with the last name “Herman.”
So Coach P, a great big “Thank you!” All the best! The first time Trumbull comes to play Staples, you’ll get a huge, well-deserved ovation.
But just a word of warning. I’ve got a grandson in town now, who’s 10 months old. He’ll undoubtedly be playing for the Wreckers, class of 2035. And he and his buddies will be out there trying to kick your butt.
“The Home Team” appears the first Friday of every month. You can also keep up with Hank’s adventures on his blog, “Beagle Man,” on the Westport News website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/ To reach Hank, e-mail him at DoubleH50@gmail.com.