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Gilbert says good-bye to Vaccari

POSTED June 19, 2012
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

                                                       Gilbert says good-bye to Vaccari

            Most people would have been home on the couch waiting for the time to come. Mary Ellen Vaccari isn’t most people.

            “Mary Ellen was in labor and we were at Torrington High School in the middle of a five-game volleyball match,” said current Gilbert School volleyball coach Cindy Fixer who was Vaccari’s assistant at the time. “Candy Perez was refereeing the match and she told Candy to hurry up or she was going to have the baby on the table.

            “Mary Ellen gave one of her players, Joyce Gallo, a quarter and said to call Leo (her husband) and tell him the baby was coming. She then drove home and went to Charlotte Hungerford Hospital and had the baby.”

            The story has a more humorous touch to it now, particularly when told by Gallo who relayed the drama at an end of the year banquet recently where Vaccari was honored after 36 years of teaching, so many of those seasons also spent coaching Yellowjacket athletes.

            Vaccari is retiring at the young age of 58 and Gilbert is much the lesser for it. Oh, you may see her help out coaching, she has a hard time saying no. But, for right now the regular coaching career is over.

            ‘My dad is sick and the whole timing thing with coaching doesn’t work,’ explained Vaccari.

            It can be safely assumed that Gilbert never knew what it was getting when Vaccari was hired in 1976. The school liked what it saw and it hoped but you can never plan on what Vaccari ended up giving.

            There was hardly a sport she didn’t coach. In 1985 she took over the golf team and kept at it right until the end, 27 seasons. There was an enviable stint as volleyball coach that included the Class S title in 1986 and a runner-up finish to Stamford Catholic in 1983. She was girls varsity basketball coach for five seasons and handled the softball team for a year.

            There’s more. For eight seasons Vaccari coached the track and field team (1977-85) and heck, there was even a two-year stint as the cheerleading coach.

            “When (Gilbert) interviewed me it was not much as a teacher but about coaching three sports,” said Vaccari.

            Golf was the life-long love and the natural considering her background. Her father, Stan Stazowski is the legendary long-time former pro at Green Woods Country Club. But volleyball came to take its place alongside the golf.

            “There was always something about volleyball that intrigued me,” said Vaccari. “That 30x30 piece of gym floor and six people having to survive in there.”

            And Vaccari was always a student of the game. Any game.

            “She was a stickler for details and performing the skill correctly,” said Fixer. “She can see the littlest thing. She is so good at the mental part of the game. She would give the kids little cards with quotes on them. It was like having your own psychologist.”

            When all was said and done, Vaccari was inducted in the Connecticut Volleyball Hall of Fame.

            She loved golf as a child and has always appreciated the nuances of the game.

            ‘You are playing against the course and you need to manage yourself,” said Vaccari. “Your opponent never gives you everything. It is such a disciplined sport – the honor and the respect.”

            There were a couple of Berkshire League titles along the way in 1985 and 1983. Maybe none as special as watching her son Adam earn All-State honors. If almost having a baby at a volleyball match didn’t stop Vaccari either did having kids around.

            “Coaching sports was long with the kids and Leo wondered about letting me go,” said Vaccari. “But, I coached with Adam and Audra on my back in a back pack.”

            Vaccari will be the first one to tell you the rewards have been immense, far beyond the titles. She saw and helped nurture a multitude of great athletes like Lisa Brochu, Sue Holcomb and AJ Bunel.  She was instrumental in furthering girls’ opportunities at Gilbert during a time when equality with the boys was just a dream.

Then there was the joy of watching family not just participate but excel.

            “Watching my kids go through Gilbert and sports while I was coaching was an added benefit and they never seemed to mind,” said Vaccari. “And they all (Audra, Alesia, Adam) made All-State. I had the opportunity to experience that.”

            Alesia and Audra were part of Gilbert’s 2000 state championship volleyball team in which Vaccari was an assistant to Fixer. Alesia went on to earn All-American honors at Springfield College and Audra All-New England honors at Johnson and Wales. Adam earned state champion honors in golf at Gilbert and played at UConn.

            In a career of accomplishment, Vaccari leaves with one frustration.

            “I wish our kids weren’t pulled in so many directions these days,” she said. “It was so wonderful the first 15 years. When kids came out for your sport they ate, slept, and drank it.”

            While today’s youth may be pulled in many directions, Vaccari was pulled in just one and that road led to Gilbert. She almost had a baby a volleyball match and coached with her kids in a back pack.

            It was all about kids and commitment. For 36 years Vaccari did it all and did it well. Look, learn and say thanks. You can bet the Gilbert school and Winsted community has and will continue to do so in the future.

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