Tournament honors longtime coach, teacher

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Fred Scheithe will be honored by the Naugatuck Education Foundation for his years of dedicated service to local children. A golf tournament will be held next month in his honor. He is seen here with his wife, Jeanne, who has helped him coach for several years. -REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
Fred Scheithe will be honored by the Naugatuck Education Foundation for his years of dedicated service to local children. A golf tournament will be held next month in his honor. He is seen here with his wife, Jeanne, who has helped him coach for several years. -REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — Fred Scheithe started coaching middle school girls basketball as favor to a fellow teacher who stepped down to start a family.

That was 32 years ago. Scheithe has long since retired from teaching, but he will not give up the whistle. Nothing can stop him from coaching at this point. Not age. Not retirement. Not even cancer.

“I absolutely love coaching these kids,” he said. “I would do it for free; I really would.”

The Naugatuck Education Foundation will honor Scheithe for his longtime dedication to local students by holding a golf tournament in his name Sept. 19. The tournament will raise money for the nonprofit foundation, which provides grants to Naugatuck public school educators to fund educational programs and activities that are not funded in the annual school budget.

The tournament is at Hop Brook Golf Course in Naugatuck. The entry fee is $100 per player and includes 18 holes of golf, a cart, food and beverages. Registration and lunch is at 11 a.m. and tee off is at noon.

The event is also open to people who do not wish to play golf; they can attend for food and/or drinks and to socialize. For more information or to register, call Julie at (203) 910-1063 or Allison at (203) 868-1427.

On a recent weekday afternoon, Scheithe, the girls basketball coach at City Hill Middle School, sat down in between chemotherapy treatments to talk with a reporter about his extensive coaching career. He doesn’t talk much about cancer, other than to say that he’s kicking its butt with help from wonderful medical staff and the loving support of family and countless friends.

Instead, the 67-year-old retired social studies teacher speaks passionately about the thrill of pulling off a come-from-behind victory, the pride he feels when a student-athlete succeeds and the fun he’s had over a long and storied career.

Mostly, Scheithe talks about the girls. His girls. The thousands of girls he’s coached in basketball, softball and volleyball at the middle-and-high-school levels since 1982.

Pictures of those girls in uniform adorn the walls of the Millville Avenue home Scheithe shares with his wife, Jeanne, a retired middle school math teacher who Fred married a year after he started coaching basketball. The Scheithes do not have children of their own, and the girls have become an extended part of their family. Jeanne attends nearly every game, many practices and even travels on the team bus, helping girls do homework or talking to them about their lives.

Most of the girls in their pictures are now women — many are married, some have children and more than few live out of state. Still, the Scheithes remember every one of their names, their uniform numbers and can tell you something about each one of them.

The women who once called Fred Scheithe “coach” and often referred to Jeanne Scheithe as “mom” are still part of their lives. It is evident in the way they exchange messages on Facebook or in weekend phone calls. And never was it more evident than in January when Fred Scheithe was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

At first, he didn’t want to tell the girls on his City Hill team, but he needed to wear a box on his hip that injected chemotherapy treatments into his bloodstream. Since he couldn’t hide the box, he had to tell the team.

“I told them not to worry, that I’d be fine and it was just something I had to do for a bit to get better,” he said.

Coach was always there — at practices, at games and whenever his girls needed him. And in the end, Scheithe learned he needed them, too.

The girls became his “little angels” whose positivity and fearlessness helped him battle through the toughest game of his life.

“The bonds that you form with those kids are so amazing and so special,” Jeanne Scheithe said. “Those are the kids that are Facebooking him now to check on him with his illness and sending him cards. He must have 200 cards in the living room. It’s parents of the kids, and it’s the kids themselves … Those are the relationships that came out of all those extracurricular activities, which I think are so important, not only for the kids but for you.”

When Fred Scheithe talks about the most memorable moments of his career, he doesn’t talk about big games, good baskets or great defense. He talks about the lifelong friends he once coached. He talks about helping girls overcome adversities in their lives, like the times he helped some of them get out of abusive relationships and poor home situations. And he talks about how he will be there for them, and them for him, forever.

“When you know that you’ve had a positive impact on a kid, that is what matters,” he said. “Those are the kinds of things that make everything worthwhile.”