WATERBURY — Art Nunes touched the lives of countless players over his 21 years guiding the Naugatuck High School boys soccer team as head coach. Nunes, who announced his retirement following the fall season, was honored Feb. 6 not just for the lessons he taught on the soccer field but for the life lessons he shared that had a positive effect on so many young men in the borough.
“As a player you didn’t quite realize at the time that you were playing for a legend,” former player and assistant coach Brian Mariano said. “And when I joined the coaching staff it still didn’t hit me as to what makes coach Nunes so different.
“I’ve known him now as a player and now an assistant coach for over 20 years. The one thing that stands out to me is he didn’t just coach soccer, he coached life and it’s those skills that have helped me to become a better person. It wasn’t just about soccer with coach Nunes. It was so much more than that. Every day was an opportunity to share another life lesson. Helping us grow from boys to men.”
Mariano was one of many former players who came to the Pontelandolfo Club in Waterbury to honor the man with the booming voice who accumulated a record of 331-50-22, 14 NVL championships and two state titles in his 21 years on the sidelines.
“I feel humbled, looking out and seeing so many people that mean so much to me,” Nunes said. “Friends, colleagues, former players, present players and a wonderful and supportive loving family.
“When I took this job 21 years ago I never thought it would have this kind of impact on my life. It turned out to be the most rewarding job that I could have ever taken. I loved every single minute of it.”
Nunes’ soccer legacy stretches back beyond his 21 years as a coach. As a student at NHS, he was among the youth that petitioned for the formation of the soccer team and played on the first varsity squad. He also helped to form the Naugatuck Youth Soccer program.
Nunes’ coaching career at NHS began in modest fashion in 1995 when the Greyhounds finished 9-7. Never again would Naugatuck come close to that loss total over the next 20 seasons, which includes an unbeaten streak that reached 48 straight games.
NHS Athletic Director Tom Pompei, who introduced Nunes in a moving an often times emotional speech, credited Nunes with shaping what Naugatuck soccer is today.
“From the bottom of my heart, thank you Leonor, for sharing Arty with us for all these years,” Pompei said to Nunes’ wife.
As he looked back over the last 21 years, it was much more than the wins and titles that stood out to Nunes.
“One of the things I loved the most was watching a wide-eyed freshman four years later leave the program as a mature, respectful young adult,” Nunes said. “Over those years I was lucky enough to have some of the best coaching staffs that anyone could have asked for. The one hope that we all shared was the lessons that we taught them on the field would stay with them for the rest of their life.”