Longtime coach earns Foley Award winner

John Minicucci
John Minicucci

NAUGATUCK — For borough resident John Minicucci basketball is a great metaphor for life.

“I think it’s a sport that requires a team effort, a commitment to one’s own discipline and development of skills, plus the chemistry that is part of being a five-member squad on the court; the joy of putting all of those parts together and having them come forth in a unified and team effort. It goes on to be a valuable lesson in life. We as individuals have to perform to our best, but it is with a combined effort of everybody that success develops,” Minicucci said.

Minicucci is being recognized for his four decades of coaching and volunteering with the 2015-16 Raymond K. Foley Award.

“I was absolutely shocked when I received the call,” Minicucci said of receiving the award. “It’s an extreme honor. It is certainly something I never anticipated receiving.”

The award, presented by the Naugatuck Parent School Council, honors an individual or group who has demonstrated outstanding service and unselfish dedication contributing to the betterment of Naugatuck children.

Minicucci began coaching in 1967 for the Naugatuck High School boys basketball team. At the time, he was an assistant coach under Charlie Pertero.

“He asked if I would be his assistant and [junior varsity] coach. He put a bug in my ear and it lit the fire. From that point on I coached in a variety of different programs in town and outside of Naugatuck,” Minicucci said.

Minicucci was also instrumental in bringing the Friday Night Basketball League to City Hill Middle School.

Minicucci said he began coaching with the league in 1972, when it was still hosted at the Naugatuck YMCA. A few years later Minicucci, along with his former classmate Jim Miele, approached the Board of Education and the borough with the idea of moving the league to the middle school.

“The YMCA was too small to properly utilize the gymnasium space. We felt that City Hill’s gymnasium would be a better place,” Minicucci said.

In 1976, the league moved to the middle school and officially changed its name to the Naugatuck Basketball Association, which it is still known as today.

Minicucci volunteered with the association for 15 years before stepping down as a coach to watch his daughter, City Hill Middle School Principal Johnna Hunt, play.

“My daughter was playing high school basketball and I wanted to see her games. I retired to be a spectator and watch my daughter,” Minicucci said.

Even though he wasn’t coaching as often, Minicucci still coached a group of Naugatuck boys over the summer for Waterbury’s Pearl Street Basketball League. For the past five years, he has volunteered as an assistant coach for the Naugatuck High boys basketball team under head coach Michael Wilson.

Deanna Balkcom, the chairman of the Raymond K. Foley Award Committee, said Minicucci was chosen because of his commitment throughout the years.

“We really felt like he deserved it. He exemplified what the award is all about,” Balkcom said.

This award comes close to the end of a long coaching career filled with happy memories.

Minicucci said some of his fondest memories are of the two seasons, one with the Friday Night Basketball League and one with the Naugatuck Basketball Association, he had undefeated teams.

However, what means the most to him is the lives he has touched along the way.

“One of the biggest thrills now is when former players I meet on the street come up to me and say ‘hi coach.’ That is one of the most lasting impressions I have of my involvement, they refer to me as coach. I feel thrilled and honored kids I coached 30 years ago still come up and call me coach,” Minicucci said.

Minicucci will be honored at the Foley Award Dinner May 11 at the Crystal Room. The dinner starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35 for adults and $25 for children. Tickets are available at the Board of Education and at all Naugatuck public schools. The deadline to reserve tickets is 2 p.m. on May 3.