It’s all connected. Family. School. Community. Football.
This is why folks around here gather on Thanksgiving morning to watch the local high school football team playing against a rival we’ve been playing against since some time back in the Reagan administration, or perhaps the (Teddy) Roosevelt administration.
This is why folks in the Newton community will miss a man like Newton North coach Peter Capodilupo.
Cappy coached his final game against Brookline Thursday morning at Dickinson Stadium at Newton’s “new” high school. His Tigers beat Brookline, 41-13, to finish a 9-2 season — a campaign that started 8-0. Newton North played deep into the state tournament this season, advancing to the Division 1 South semifinal before the Tigers were stopped by mighty Boston College High School.
Capodilupo was never one of those coaches with his personal win-total stamped on his forehead. He doesn’t know his overall record.
“We were around .500 coming into this year,’’ he said. “I’m like a .500 coach. I remember the kids more than the years.’’
As far as we can tell, his overall record comes in at 165-167-1. But for this coach, it was never about winning state championships or creating a Bay State League dynasty. For Coach Cappy, it was about sculpting young souls, leaving a mark, and preparing them for life after high school, life after football. He got to work early every day because he knew he might bump into a kid and have a small, but important conversation. Maybe the kid was having trouble at home, maybe his parents were getting divorced. Maybe he was worried about money for college. Or maybe it was just a conversation about a blocking technique.
Those are the things Cappy remembers most and those are the things he will miss the most.
“I will miss tremendously the day-to-day interaction with the kids,’’ said Capodilupo, an English teacher at North since the early 1970s. “I know how hard it is to end things that we love. We value them more when we have them. But you are always teaching when you are not there. Teaching for the moment. It’s like if you are holding up your little daughter, teaching her how to swim, you know there will be a time when you won’t be there to hold her up. That’s what we do. We teach a kid how to block so that he’ll be able to do it when we are not there.’’
“Cappy’s a great coach,’’ parent Alex DeNucci said as he stood around a turkey tailgate near the school entrance. “He really cares about the kids.’’
Parents are witnesses. They know. They recognize a coach who cares. They remember small things — like Cappy sending lengthy, thoughtful handwritten notes of congratulations to kids on other teams at North, kids he did not even coach.
Alex DeNucci is one of five children of former prizefighter and state auditor Joe DeNucci. Joe DeNucci raised his family on Warwick Road in West Newton and Alex, the oldest boy, was a football player at North when English teacher Peter Capodilupo took over as coach of the Tigers in 1984. Thursday, Joe DeNucci watched two of his grandsons, Andrew and Joe DeNucci, playing for North, playing for Cappy.
That’s the way it is at North. Generations. Hundreds of kids. Thousands of kids. Kids from Our Lady’s, St. Bernard’s and Corpus Christi. Jewish kids. Metco kids. Italian kids (mushes and jivels) from a waterless Newton area known as The Lake.
Cappy coached them all. He taught them all.
“I love that part of it,’’ Capodilupo said. “Being here on a day like today and seeing the parents and grandparents of kids who played here. Seeing moms come back who used to be cheerleaders.’’
They came back to North Thursday. Ex-players and former students joined current North players and formed two lines at the south end zone, greeting Coach Cappy as he jogged onto the field before his final Thanksgiving kickoff.
Typically, Capodilupo had family all over the premises. Capodilupo’s first cousin is longtime North baseball coach, Joe Siciliano, whose Tigers won the state championship last June. It’s safe to say that Capodilupo and Siciliano lead the Bay State League in aggregate victories and vowels. The family connection doesn’t end there. Cappy’s wife, Rita, has been part of the Gridiron Club, his daugher Gina (former North field hockey captain) has video duties, son Nick (captain, 2001) is a coach on the football staff, and son Edmund was captain of North football in 1995.
Cappy even has connections in city hall. Setti Warren, Newton’s impressive young mayor, was in Coach Cappy’s classroom a couple of decades ago and Warren spoke fondly of Capodilupo when Cappy was honored at the 30th annual Thanksgiving Luncheon at Brae Burn Country Club this week.
“Coach Cappy taught me Shakespeare,’’ said Warren.
“A great kid,’’ remembered Capodilupo. “He wasn’t really a great student, but he was a rocker and a talker.’’
Coach Cappy stayed on message through his final day. There was one last team breakfast at the Sons of Italy club at 6 a.m. One last pregame pep talk. One last mohawk.
Yes. Mohawk. It’s a tradition at North. Mohawks for Thanksgiving.
“I’ve only done it four times,’’ Capodilupo said after Thursday’s game. “My sons called me last night and said, ‘Dad, you’ve got to do it, it’s your last game.’ So one minute before we came out today, I did it. Our theme here is that you play hard for your brothers. They’re all brothers. So I did it for them and kept my hat on until the game ended, until just now.’’
One last day on the sidelines. One last well-earned handshake at the end of the game. One last team photo.
Capodilupo’s legacy isn’t in the trophy cases that line the corridors at Newton North. It’s in the hearts and minds of his students and his players — kids who become adults and remember how to do things when he’s no longer there.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org