Honoring a local legend

WARREN – There’s still a seat open for Tony Napolet in the John F. Kennedy Eagles football coaching office.

“We don’t sit in the chair,” current Eagles coach Dave Pappada said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and everything he’s gone through health-wise. The kids loved him in 1963 and they loved him up until the last game he ever coached. They have the same respect, and that’s amazing.”

Napolet, who coached in the area for 29 seasons at Niles McKinley and JFK, will be honored for his lengthy service to the sport he loves when he will be among six inductees into the Ohio High School Coaches Hall of Fame Friday in Columbus. He was nominated by Pappada and a collection of other coaches who felt Napolet’s induction is long overdue.

Napolet has dealt with numerous health issues related to diabetes in recent years but plans to be in attendance for the ceremony. He’ll receive 10 minutes to speak after being introduced by Pappada.

“It’s really nice because your peers put you there,” Napolet said. “I’ll thank everybody and that’s it. I’ll leave it at 10. I have lots of stories, but I’ll save those for later.”

Napolet began coaching in 1963 as an assistant for Niles coach Tony Mason. He accepted the head coaching position at JFK in 1970 and compiled a 26-2-2 record in three seasons before returning to Niles. Shortly after a six-year stint at Niles (1973-78) he coached at St. Mary’s Junior High School. In 1991 he returned to JFK and led the Eagles to a state championship that year.

Napolet resigned after the 2011 season because of health issues. He finished with a career record of 214-104-3 that included 12 appearances in the state playoffs.

“It was a tremendous ride,” Napolet said. “I made a lot of long friendships.”

Pappada was a player on the 1963 Niles team that won the Associated Press state championship. In 1991 he was an assistant coach on JFK’s state championship team.

“He (Napolet) went to Marquette, which is in Milwaukee, and my mom is from Milwaukee,” Pappada said. “It was like fate. You won’t find a better coach than ‘Nappy.’ He’s not only a great coach but an impressive individual.”

Several coaches from the area spoke in Napolet’s behalf for induction, including Pappada, Jim McQuaide of Solon, Reno Saccoccia of Steubenville and Tom Pavlansky of Lakeview.

“A lot of us felt it was long overdue,” Saccoccia said. “Tony has been such an inspiration in high school coaching since the 1960s. He not only helped players, but he helped coaches getting started off in the right direction.

“I never played for Tony, but as an individual he did things the way I like to do things. I feel I try to keep a calm, cool and collected manner, as he did. He was always under control and always had his kids’ best interests in mind.”

Nothing ever seemed to faze Napolet during games. There were undoubtedly times when his emotions surfaced, but he never let the opponent see him sweat under the collar.

Napolet was a delight to work with for reporters because of his easy-going manner. You literally couldn’t tell if the Eagles had won or lost gauged by the way Napolet acted.

“That’s hard to be like that,” Sassoccia said. “He’s so driven. You see his facial emotions, which are nothing like he is on the inside. They’re turning just like other coaches, but he doesn’t show it like them.”

Napolet talks about wanting to get back into coaching on a level lower than high school. Then there’s always that empty chair in the coaches’ office at JFK.

“I talked to him this morning,” Pappada said. “He was on the phone recommending a coach for a job. That’s the way he is. He’s a very approachable guy. Win or lose he’s the same person. Very humble. Just a love for the game of football and a love for the kids and the coaching family in general. I’d say coaching is a calling, and we’re glad he answered the call.”