This is a feel-good story. It’s mostly a feel-good story because it is about a man who loves his community and loves to give back to it. One can’t help to feel good in the presence of a person who makes the comfort level at a sporting event feel as easy as a favorite TV chair.
Coachie DeCarolis has worked at 1,000 youth and high school sporting events in the City of Bristol – mostly for his Bristol Central Rams.
His first event was basketball back in 1989. He handed out water and towels to the players on the Bristol Central basketball team. His nickname, “Coachie”, was given to him on the first day of school as a freshman.
He is also known for sprinting around the field during football season as the ball handler and working the pits at track and field events. His hardest sport is basketball though. “Running the clock is very interesting because you can really screw up and the fans can really go after you for it.”
Coachie announces starting lineups and senior nights for BC Basketball. He lives inside of every game. He is as much a part of the team as the junior at the free-throw line. But his school allegiance disappears once the clock is flipped on.
“The one worse loss I had was running the score clock against Bristol Eastern and someone hit the winning shot at the buzzer. I actually had to run into the trainer’s room for a few minutes. I did not want to talk to anyone for the whole night. The kids came to me and told me that I did it right. There was nothing I could do about it. The shot was good.”
A few of the athletes tell me that Coachie is the only one who knows how to measure and rake the pit right. They love his humor and attitude. Oh, and his school spirit – he’s got lots of that too.
He’s constantly dispersing words of encouragement. His jokes keep them loose and straight. They all know when a joke is meant to restore the order needed to conduct such contests.
He collects the numbers and shouts them out to their owners. He’s a stats nut. You have to be to last through 1,000 high school events. You have to love numbers. You have to love kids. He knows most of their names.
When another jumper lands in the pit, kids begin flinging numbers around. It can be confusing. “What is this? Guess the distance? We’re not giving away prizes,” Coachie yells as he takes another measurement. Only his numbers count and he’d rather they were the only ones being circulated.
He’s a hockey nut too. He Facebooks goals and game results every night during the season. During a pause in the practice jumps, a couple of guys gather around and they talk Bruins/Rangers.
The athletes also talk to him between practice jumps. They ask about the placement of their feet. He advises.
It’s almost time for the meet to begin and for the jumps to count for real. “Ok that Frisbee has to be put away or it’s a toy for the dog to play with.” There are lots of smiles and laughter from everyone – even the Frisbee throwers.
He announces to all that practice jumps have concluded and the meet is about to begin. He shouts out the names of those who are UP, ON DECK, and IN THE HOLE. And then to each athlete before their first attempt, “Good luck. Your journey begins.” And then just before their last attempt, “Your journey concludes.”
He gives the go signal. Watches the line. Measures. Shouts the result. And records the distance.
He’s wearing his trademark hockey jersey. He’s been wearing one every day since 1997. It’s the Penguins today. He has a favorite team but he represents them all. It’s the same with the schools and the kids on the court, on the track, on the field. He has his favorite but he represents them all. He represents fairness and integrity.
You would think his personality would have faded by now. That the kids and the coaches and the officials would have worn him down like an eraser. Nope. He looks brand new. He’s never distracted or bored. Heck, I can’t even ask him questions. His focus is impenetrable.
When it’s finally over, all of the clipboards meet and tally numbers. Coachie reviews his entries with the team managers. The numbers finally tell their story and the results travel throughout the group of Central athletes and supporters.
When it’s over he runs into the equipment shed for a bit of privacy. I follow. No recorder, just a pat or two on the back. He wasn’t sure how’d he react at the end of 1,000. “I just need to step into here a minute.” He’s emotional. And then the chants and cheers from outside: COACHIE! COACHIE! COACHIE! Dark shades hide tears – some happy – some sad.
He’s happy for the sense of pride and accomplishment – happy for the adoring coaches and athletes who rely on him to keep order and create excitement. Sad, I believe, because #1,000 has been a source of motivation and anticipation for so many months and now the hyper air is finally being released to mingle with that of the chilly evening.
The athletes, parents, and coaches are lined up on both sides of the runway leading to the pit. He’s presented with a plaque and shirt commemorating the milestone. He assures all that he is not retiring yet. There are more cheers.
And then the hugs. Grown men. Almost grown boys and girls. And they want pictures as well. They sprint towards Coachie for a group hug. They are his group. Coachie’s group. And he loves them all the same.
The kids are instructed to get on the bus for the short trip back up to Bristol Central – but first, another short trip. Coachie is known for handing out candy at some of the larger events. This one falls into that category.
It’s only a few seconds between the unzipping of his candy-filled duffle bag and a swarm of student athletes returning from the nest with fistfuls of gummy-worms and fun-sized candy bars. I risk a concussion diving for my share.
I’m among the last to leave. A few others trickle down from above to give smiles, hugs, and handshakes. He thanks me and seems to apologize for the long afternoon. I tell him that I’m not there because I have to be – I’m there because I want to be.
There are communities – elbow to elbow – throughout the country where similar activities occur every afternoon as academics roll into sporting events. They are overseen by dedicated people who love the sounds and the sights of a dribble, feet landing in a sand pit, and bodies colliding into other bodies to win a contest.
And sometimes, in the luckiest of those places, there are folks like Coachie DeCarolis. It just happens that Bristol, CT is the luckiest of them all. They have the original.