The pay, some estimate, works out to about two dollars or less an hour. The days are often long, coming after a hard day at work. Family parties are missed, vacations are delayed and dinners often are eaten at odd hours of the night, if at all.
What is it that keeps high school coaches coming back each year? What draws them back to the fields, courts or track ovals? For a few area coaches, those frequent seasons have added up to 25 years to more than four decades of lending their expertise in their respective sports.
The one common theme echoed by the coaches interviewed on this topic was their love of the sport was a major reason for their longevity. That’s only a smidgen, however.
Recently retired swim coach Bruce Calvert, who was honored at two banquets this past week for 41 outstanding years at Cumberland High, says as his career continued, the seasons just started to blend into each other. Besides his passion for swimming, he also enjoyed watching the progression of his athletes over the years.
“A lot of these kids I taught them how to swim when they were like six years old during our summer program at the school,” said Calvert, during Cumberland’s team banquet on Monday night, organized by current coach and former student/athlete Heidi Josephson. The 67-year-old coach was also recognized at the R.I. Interscholastic League’s Swim Coaches Association banquet on Wednesday night. “A lot of them turned out to be pretty good swimmers. Having known most of kids at a young age and seeing them develop, it kept me going. I just wanted to see how well they were doing. I have stayed in touch with a lot of these kids and they have stayed in touch with me over the years and they have children themselves now.”
George Briggs, who has been coaching track & field/cross country at Woonsocket for 38 years, never figured out how much money he was actually getting paid for the long hours he dedicates to the program. Due to budget restraints, the Villa Novans have three coaches for the boys’ and girls’ teams, thus increasing time to their weekly schedule.
“I never really thought about how much I make (an hour),” Briggs said. “Sometimes it just seems to go on and on. The other night I got home from practice at 6:30. Sometimes there’s coaching clinics, there’s Saturday practices. Sometimes it never ends. I certainly don’t do it for the money.”
Briggs began his coaching career in 1973 with then-head coach Ira Brown. Along the years, he’s partnered with other coaches such as John McLaughlin, current Blackstone-Millville Regional coach Kevin Maloney and the late Bobby Doyle, the legendary R.I. marathoner. He presently works with girls’ coach Dan Richard, the indoor season’s Coach of the Year, and weight coach Marc Piette, a former standout athlete from Woonsocket.
Briggs says the working relationships he’s developed with his coaches each year, has certainly made it easier to come back.
“I started teaching in 1973 and the opening came with Ira Brown and I jumped all over it,” said Briggs, who played basketball and ran track at Woonsocket. “Coaching with Ira was a pleasure. Over the years, everyone that I coached with was just a good fit. I have worked with some outstanding coaches. I’ve always had good coaches to work with.”
The longtime Woonsocket coach has seen his share of athletes earn scholarships or generous financial aid packages because of their successful careers, such as distance ace Corey Brunelle (Providence College), weight thrower Craig Pearce (Princeton) and hurdler Damian Pietrus (Harvard). That’s also what gives him satisfaction coaching.
“If we can help kids get to college, you look back and it makes it all worthwhile,” Briggs said.
“Skee” Carter has been involved with Burrillville athletics for nearly three decades, coaching middle/high school cross country, middle school basketball and high school baseball. His longest stint has been with cross country, which he has done for 27 years. He has been the baseball coach for 22 years and recently ended a 21-year career for the basketball team.
“I just enjoy being with the kids,” Carter said. “I still like the competitive nature of sports. I just have always been involved with sports.”
Carter, a retired sixth-grade teacher, will turn 65 in September. Of all the sports he coaches, baseball consumes the most time, at least 20 hours per week when you factor in practices, games and travel time.
Carter is a former player for the Broncos, earning all-division honors as a third baseball in 1964. Like most former athletes, coaching just seemed to be a natural fit.
“I have really never thought about retiring,” said Carter, whose Broncos won a Division II state title in baseball in 2007. “I still get in the cage and throw batting practice. I throw at a shorter distance and duck behind a screen. Some days I throw over 200 pitches.”
The Burrillville coach has mentored some talented athletes over the years, including Tim Norton, who pitched in two state finals for his squad and now is involved with the New York Yankees organization. But it’s not just those special breed of athletes that gives Carter great joy in his coaching.
“To see the kids enjoy sports and see how they come together as a team makes it worth it,” he said. “To see them come together and see how they change and how they mature over the years.”
There’s another reason Carter has been coaching for so long – “I’m just a sports nut. I still work three of four nights a week working the shot clock at basketball games and supervising wrestling matches. In the spring and summer, I referee three, nine-inning games for the Burrillville Men’s Softball League on Sundays. I stay involved in a lot of sports.”
George Nasuti, the current athletic director at Woonsocket and a principal at Bernon Heights Elementary School, has also coached several sports at different levels for 27 years,
“Coaches are a special breed,” he said. “We have it in our blood. Coaches are teachers. They enjoy being out there and seeing athletes improve.”
Nasuti, a former star athlete in football and baseball for Woonsocket in the late 1970s, now works as a volunteer, non-paid assistant coach for the school’s football team. He also worked as a volunteer for the North Smithfield baseball and basketball team when his son Chris played there.
During the years, he’s worked as the varsity head football coach at WHS and once was the head baseball coach at North Smithfield. He’s also coached various sports at the youth level.
Nasuti indicated it was never for the extra income when he did receive a paycheck for his services as a coach.
“Years ago, some coaches and I were totaling how much an hour we make,” he said. “I think it was less than a dollar an hour. No one ever coaches for the money.”
The growth of the athletes mentally and physically throughout their high school careers is what makes coaching special, says Nasuti.
“That’s a big one,” he points out. “Another part is when they come back home after college. The first thing they do is look you up. I see hundreds of kids. They’ll see you, still call you coach. I get a lot of that. That’s something that kinds of keeps you excited about coaching.”
One of those athletes that Nasuti had the pleasure of watching mature greatly over the years on the gridiron was current Woonsocket football coach and assistant principal Carnell Henderson. Henderson starred for the Villa Novans in the early 1990s and later at Boston University.
“When he first started, he was this tiny athletic kid,” Nasuti said. “He blossomed as a senior with his brother (Curtis) coaching. He was one of them, but I’ve seen hundreds of kids’ blossom every year.”
Nasuti got his first coaching gig at Cumberland in 1983, right after graduating from Springfield College. He worked as a freshman football coach under head coach Bob Humphrey and also worked alongside Tom Carlson, who was in his first year as the varsity football coach.
“I learned a lot from Bob and Tom,” he said.
Nasuti recently attended the Rhode Island Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association banquet on Wednesday that honored Cumberland's longtime wrestling coach Steve Gordon, at the helm since 1969, as the Male Coach of the Year.
People like Gordon, and even Cumberland track and cross-country coach Tom Kenwood, another veteran of 35-plus years, are more examples of the reason coaches will maintain their longevity to a program.
It’s called passion.
“I was sitting there at the banquet and looking at Steve Gordon and he’s the same guy I remember when I was in high school,” Nasuti said. “He’s still got that energy.”
Said Briggs in closing with his thoughts, just before meeting his team for practice – “Honestly, I didn’t know how long I would be coaching. I still love it very much. I am leaving in a half an hour and I’m still looking forward to it.”