This is the third in my blog series Heroes in Health. The first two in this series (linked below) examined two recent heroes who have helped me and others on our path to health. https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/06/10/heroes-of-health-series-episode-2-corey-the-cycling-king/ https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/05/13/heroes-in-health-episode-1-mother-of-weight-loss-and-a-freestyle-life/
On this one I reach back almost 40 years to examine the lessons learned from four men who were then as they are now on the cutting edge of fitness and health: the four football coaches of Northern Burlington Regional High School in the late seventies – Coaches Charlie Pirrello, Hank Kearns, Carmen Pastore, and Gary Smith. Beyond football, these four men taught me more than fitness. They taught me and others how to be men, to put team before self, and to judge on merit not title, race, or creed.
Coach Charlie Pirrello, the head coach of the fab four is a legend in NJ High School Football. The 2018 inductee to the NJ Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame he has led 7 teams to the State Championship in his 50 years of coaching. The first of these was led by my 1981 class that won on the last play of the game. Unfortunately, I had moved to Texas after my Junior season and missed it. But I still felt part of the team and loved seeing my quarterback (I was a Center), Chris Warrington throwing the winning pass!
Hank the Tank Kearns, the Defensive Coordinator and JV Coach, was equally a big influence in my life. His nickname Tank was an understatement; he was more like the Hulk. I still remember when the linebackers were not deploying correct tackling form, he jumped in there without pads and flattened the running back! Hank is still a fitness inspiration to me. I follow he, Coach Pirrello and Pastore on Facebook and Hank is either biking or doing some other fitness activity.
Carmen Pastore was the Offensive Coordinator. A former college football quarterback Coach Pastore helped orchestrate our vaunted Veer Option Offense that first came into vogue in 1975. It was cutting edge then as it is now.
Last was Coach Smith who taught the backs. My brother’s coach, I remember him for his humor. One day I went up to look at the depth chart. Instead of seeing Donnie and Gary Grier the names on the list where Abnormal and Normal Grier. He gave me the nickname Abnormal because of my intensity, the fact that I was on the line, and the way I yelled at the top of my lungs “Huddle” when gathering the team. I wore that name like a badge of honor since I was a gruff lineman and linebacker while my brother was a defensive and offensive back.
The Fab Four are great coaches and leaders of men for these four and many other reasons:
- Constantly striving for excellence through learning and adapting. The coaches of NBC were constantly looking for new ways and techniques to get better. I looked forward to each summer training sessions when the coaches would return with the latest fitness techniques. Two I remember distinctly are the Total Fatigue Weightlifting Circuit and interval running with proper technique. Total Fatigue included completing a circuit of weightlifting that went from largest muscles (legs) to smallest muscles (triceps). I still do the regime today since it has become one of the key approaches to gain muscle mass and endurance. Back then it was new. They also emphasized negative training (2 seconds up and at least 4 seconds down). Next was interval training where we first practiced our running form (I still attempt to run like Hank the Tank taught me to this day) before completing sprint intervals. One last thing that sticks in my mind is there willingness to adapt when something did not work. One year our football camp included three a days and we really worked hard – overly hard. The coaches realized that we worked out too much resulting in a few injuries. The next year they adapted when they added a rest period in Coach Pastore’s pool which resulted in a better record.
- Inspiration is as important as perspiration. Each year the coaches made a playbook that we needed to memorize from cover to cover and guard with our lives. The secret sauce of the playbook was not just the cutting-edge plays from the Veer Option, it also contained fitness and nutrition tips and life lessons. I wish I still had that playbook because the quotes were so inspiring. But you can get a good feel for them by reading Coach Pirrello’s Twitter feed. Here is one recent one. “I am your coach. When you get discouraged, I will encourage you. When you come up short, I want to help you come up big next time. And I will never give up on you even if you give up on yourself.” Charlie Pirrello. He never gave up on us and today I still draw inspiration from these four great men.
- Judge each man by his merit. The late Seventies and early Eighties was a difficult time to coach. The drug culture was in vogue. In addition, there was sometimes difficulties in race relations. NBC had one of the most diverse teams in the state having McGuire Air Force base in our school. Also because of McGuire Air Force Base, we had new people coming into team each year. I remember distinctly the day Willie Drewery joined my class in my Sophomore year. Unknown to the program at the time, he was welcomed in with open arms and became a linchpin. He later went on to a Professional Career. The coaches never differentiated on race, creed or color. All that matter was your football ability and the content of your character. One way they enforced this is making the team hold hands in the huddle and by teaming up weight training partners from different races and cultures. Lastly, our pre-game ritual included listening to equal doses of Bruce Springsteen and Chic that had a big hit at that time. In this way, we avoided the fighting that went on in some of our rival schools.
- Care for Each Player. The coaches spent time with each player if they gave a 100% and strove to be a team player. My brother was a football talent, playing Varsity his sophomore year. I was less of a talent playing second team Varsity and first team JV. Even so the coaches never neglected me and worked with me to make me the best player I could be. ,They also were always there for you. I still have the note from Coach Pirrello to my new football coach when I had to leave for Texas for my Senior Year. I still choke up reading it and the care Coach P gave. I was never going to break Franco Harris’s Freshman Rushing record like my brother, but he and his coaching staff still treated me with the same respect and care. To this day, one of my greatest awards is winning MVP for the Junior Varsity team my Junior Year. To me, winning that award for NBC was the highlight of my high school athletic career and one of the highlights of my life.
One last thing to say. Charlie was not only my coach. He was more importantly my World History teacher and one of the best teachers I ever had. He was just as inspirational and engaging in class as he was on the field.
40 years is a long time and a blink of the eye. Whatever the years, the fab four still shape the man I am today!