Naugatuck loses a legend

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The late Ed Mariano, left, and Bob Burns are pictured at the Continental Room in Naugatuck for the Naugatuck Hall of Fame dinner in 2006. Mariano, a former educator, star athlete and coach in Naugatuck, passed away Sunday at the age of 88. –RA ARCHIVE
The late Ed Mariano, left, and Bob Burns are pictured at the Continental Room in Naugatuck for the Naugatuck Hall of Fame dinner in 2006. Mariano, a former educator, star athlete and coach in Naugatuck, passed away Sunday at the age of 88. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — The first time I met Ed Mariano, I knew then that I would never meet anyone like him again.

To say that Ed was a self-made man is an understatement. He bore the qualities and characteristics of someone you would want to emulate. Without a doubt he left a legacy on the borough of Naugatuck that will live forever.

It’s a sad week in the borough, as family, friends, former players and comrades lost a legend that this town will long remember. Mariano passed away on Sunday at the age of 88. He leaves behind his loving wife of 56 years, Dorothy, along with six children and 16 grandchildren.

“This is a very big loss to the town of Naugatuck,” Naugatuck Mayor Bob Mezzo said. “Ed led an amazing life and his commitment to his family and the town will long be remembered. He was one of the finest examples as an educator and coach involved with the students and teachers he mentored.

“I was fortunate enough to grow up in an era where people like Ed helped to mold the future of this community,” Mezzo continued. “His wife, children and grandchildren are as much involved in the community as he was — and that is his legacy.”

Mariano was a three-sport athlete and captain of the Naugatuck Greyhounds in the 1941-42 year as a quarterback in football, a guard in basketball and a catcher in baseball. He led the basketball team to the state and New England championships.

Mariano went on to join the Navy and was a veteran of World War II. Following his service to the United States, he enrolled at Arnold College in Milford and was a catcher on the baseball team with one of his longtime teammates, Andy Robustelli.

In 1952, Mariano climbed the ranks as a baseball umpire. He worked the Class D League and then the Gulf Coast League in Texas. When he was about to be promoted to Triple-A, Mariano made a career choice that brought him back home to Naugatuck as an educator — first a physical education teacher, then a principal.

“I remember Ed as being a great leader,” said Gordon Rossi, a director of the Naugatuck Hall of Fame. “I was the president of the Naugatuck Teachers Association and Ed backed up the teachers 100 percent. He was a man of his word.

“I had him as a teacher, imagine that,” Rossi continued. “He had an influence on so many of our lives in Naugatuck. He was such a great family man. Everywhere he went he was loved by the kids he was like a father figure to us. He always had such great stories.”

Rossi shared one.

“A group of us teachers at Salem School got together to play basketball up at Andrew Avenue School when Ed was principal,” Rossi recalled. “And I still remember, even at his age he took the ball at half-court, set up a two-hand set shot and drained it. He still had that shooting eye; it was amazing. The one thing I will always remember about Ed is he always had your back.”

Mariano spent 13 years coaching the Greyhounds on the hardwood. The 1959-60 team, led by All-State star Billy Rado, went 19-3 and reached the Class L semifinals. He stopped coaching in the mid-1960s to take over as principal at Andrew Avenue School.

“I was in the first four-year class at Naugatuck High School that is at the present location,” said John Minnicuci, who played under Mariano. “Coach Ed was certainly a legend. He was not only a special coach; he was a special kind of person. I was very fortunate to have played for someone like Ed. His primary goal was not wins and losses — it was about developing kids to be pillars of the community.

“He was tough and deliberate but got his point across,” Minnicuci continued. “He was revered and still is today. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with him the last week or so and I will always remember him as a man of his word and a man of integrity.”

Mariano was inducted into the Naugatuck Hall of Fame in 1974, the third class of inductees. He was also a member of the Connecticut Football Officials Association Hall of Fame. He spent more than 30 years as a college baseball umpire and football referee.

In 1981 he was the third base umpire when Ron Darling of Yale and Frank Viola of St. John’s hooked up in an extra-inning no-hit affair that ended in the 11th inning with a Yale defeat. He went on to umpire in the College World Series that year.

In 2005, Naugatuck honored Mariano in the only way possible by naming the gymnasium after him. On Jan. 7, 2005, the night of the dedication, his grandson John Mariano scored 33 points to help Naugatuck defeat Sacred Heart in a touching tribute.

“I always called him Coach,” said Bob Sagendorf, a fellow Naugatuck Hall of Famer. “He was a great coach and educator but not many people realize that he was an incredible official. He was an oracle to a lot of young men who went into the field of officiating. He was a role model to them on what an official should be and how they should conduct themselves.

“He was a man of integrity — such a man that you don’t see today,” Sagendorf continued. “He was revered for not only his knowledge of the game but how officials, players, coaches and even fans should conduct themselves. When I got my start in broadcasting for CBS and then ESPN, he was always there for me in a marvelous, 35-year relationship. He always had something poignant to say to me after the games. He was a great influence on my career.

“The town of Naugatuck has lost a great one in Ed Mariano.”