NAUGATUCK — Very early on Easter Sunday, April 12, heaven gained a very special angel and the world lost an amazing teacher, coach, mentor, friend and role model with the most generous, caring, kind heart. Fred Scheithe passed peacefully at home with Jeanne, his wife, soulmate and best friend of 37 years by his side, along with his longtime friend Wayne Buckmiller and his wife, Nancy, who helped Jeanne through Fred’s last few days.
Fred was born March 16, 1948 in Waterbury, son of the late Clarence and Victoria (Capristo) Scheithe. He served in the Army Reserves during the Vietnam War era.
Born and raised in Naugatuck, Fred graduated from St. Francis Grammar School and Naugatuck High School, Class of 1966. It was there that he met most of his lifelong friends who remained close until the end. His college years at St. Francis College in Biddeford, Maine, resulted in another group of lifelong friends, better known as the “Stella Studs.” To this day, when one of them needed anything, they were right there to help. He cherished his memories, fun times, crazy stories and bonds they shared. He went on the get a master’s and sixth year degree in administration from Southern Connecticut State College. When he had the chance to become a principal, he decided at that time to stay in the classroom, where he felt he had a greater impact on “his kids.” He wasn’t ready to leave behind his passion for teaching and especially for coaching. Both of these spanned a 39-year career, teaching first at Hop Brook School, then for the majority of his career at our beloved Hillside Middle School, until reconfiguration broke up the middle school to establish the intermediate schools. He retired from teaching in 2010 from Hop Brook Intermediate School. Coaching, however, was not something that he ever stopped doing, right up through this past basketball season at City Hill Middle School.
Fred’s first passion was teaching. He had a gift when working with his kids, providing a classroom that was fun, caring and kind, yet challenging both creatively and academically. He guided them through the somewhat unpredictable years, times filled with confusion, awkward moments, hormonal changes and vulnerability. They knew he cared about them beyond just the classroom. The bonds formed with “his kids” have lasted a lifetime, many have become friends and keep in touch to this day. He and Jeanne have been to prom gatherings for pictures, weddings, showers, parties, graduations, class reunions … the list goes on. To have those kinds of relationships years after having these kids as middle school students is priceless.
Fred’s creativity shined in the classroom, always looking for innovative and fun ways to help his kids learn. Whenever we talk to a former student they almost always say the best years of their education were spent at Hillside when it was the middle school. They always bring up the projects and events Fred started. An oceanography field trip to Sherwood Island was part of a unit Fred developed. Before a two-day trip with half the sixth grade going at a time was cut to one day, all kinds of experiments and explorations took place. For many kids, it was the first, and maybe only time, they saw the beach and Long Island Sound.
The UN/World’s Fair was developed by Fred and culminated in a trip to the UN in New York. It was a multi-cultural, cooperative-learning, across-the-curriculum event long before those became educational buzzwords. The kids we see now would tell us the country they did, who was in their group, how they dressed to represent their country, what topics they did for the oral presentation, the dance they may have been a part of, what foods they served. That’s an impact! The event was opened to the public for one night and to the feeder schools during the day. At night, well over 1,000 people would attend. Some didn’t even have a student in the school; they liked and looked forward to the event every year and looked for their heritage display. That too is an impact. The outline of the project was shared freely be Fred to any school that asked and eventually was published by someone and sold in the Teachers’ Store. A similar state fair project was later begun in the elementary schools.
To help the kids learn about trees, Fred instituted a leaf report. The groans of parents can be heard to this day (LOL) but the kids and their parents can tell you most trees and where they are! And then there were the social events, probably an even more important part of middle school. Sock Hops, dances, lip sync contests when “Putting on the Hits” was popular TV show. One group was taken by Fred, Jeanne and a couple of other teachers to Long Island to audition for the TV show.
If there was an event at school, Fred was there. If the kids were playing Little League or soccer or other sports, if they were in a dance recital, if they were playing in a music recital, if they were in a play … just about any event he knew about or was asked to attend would find him there. This continued through their high school and even college and adult years. Those little sixth-graders became lifelong friends.
The teaching family, and it was truly a family, at Hillside Middle School, was something that is rare. We all started teaching within five years of each other and literally went through everything together … fun times, trying times, births of children, graduations, weddings, personal family tragedies, illnesses and deaths.
We socialized together, stayed in the teachers’ room on Friday afternoons with a pot of coffee to talk and laugh, went tobogganing on Dibble’s Hill, went to the then Farm Shop and so much more. A group of the teachers formed a Card Club with a few other friends that played once a month for over 25 years. These people and the students and their families are “our family.” He was blessed to have the support from them throughout his lifetime.
Halloween in 1983 Fred and Jeanne started a small display inside their home which was in the neighborhood they taught in. The kids from school and then their kids would come until the event grew into something that included most of the immediate neighbors and then beyond. More than 1,600 would visit the last few years, coming from all over because they knew Fred had created a safe place to Trick or Treat. He always thought of the kids first.
Fred’s second true passion was coaching, a career that spanned 39 years and something he did right up until the last few months of his life. He told his kids he would be back next year, saying, “I may be in a wheel chair but I’ll be here.”
He coached volleyball, softball and basketball, influencing the lives of thousands of athletes. Friendships with those athletes, athletes from other towns and opposing coaches were a huge part of his life. After teaching his kids, having them in the school for three years and then coaching them through high school, a seven-year relationship often became a lifetime friendship. He watched his kids grow from little sixth-graders to mini adults leaving eighth grade to real adults leaving high school and later college. They are “our kids” and were always welcomed into our home. He was their confidant, sounding board, psychologist, mentor and friend. They knew they were loved.
Fred’s biggest passion was coaching. He just seemed to know how to reach every player in every situation. With every team, he believes in fostering a family like bond. Pizza parties, movie nights with brownies and make your own sundaes, team trips to UConn, UHart and Yale for a volleyball tournament, bowling trips when they needed a break from the sport for a day were some of the above and beyond things he did because he felt it was important. These also served as incentives for hard work and dedication and encouraged team unity. Every team season started with a meet the team night for the players and families where the kids demonstrated a typical practice, the rules of the game, team rules and expectations were discussed, his coaching philosophy was explained, the importance of team play and academics were emphasized, and upcoming planned events were discussed. Open communication was a priority. Each week he gave each player a printed schedule of practices and games for the week. Letters about anything taking place were given. Players could come to him with any problems or concerns, right down to helping choose a college to attend years later.
Over the 39 years, he coached Naugatuck High School volleyball and softball, but the longest of those years were with middle school girls basketball. With softball, he was a volunteer varsity assistant coach from 1992-97 and again from 2002-12. For several years, he was a volunteer coach with the CT Vipers 18U softball team founded by Pete Calandro. Tournaments were played every weekend throughout the summer in New York and the New England area. This too was a family.
Volleyball coaching began as a favor when a JV coach was needed and led to his serving as a very successful JV coach from 1989-98. In 1991, he developed and organized a JV invitational volleyball tournament at the end of the season so the JV players had a way to end their season on a high note. He took over as varsity head coach from 1999-2012, served as chairperson of the NVL volleyball league from 2003-13, ran volleyball camps from 1999-2012, held a coaches clinic coordinated with the head coach of Holy Cross College in Massachusetts. He and the Crosby High School head coach developed the first end of season NVL varsity volleyball tournament, laying the groundwork for all sports NVL tournaments.
For the one year NHS had a boys volleyball club team, he coached them too.
Probably his most loved sport was middle school basketball. The longest tenured coach in the league, he began in 1982, establishing a strong feeder program for Naugy High. When City Hill became the only middle school in town, he provided a smooth transition for the combined Hillside/City Hill players. Over the course of the years, he had several undefeated seasons and league championships, the last one being this past season when his team finished as regular season champs. He played a role in developing some outstanding basketball players, including those who were on the 100-plus NVL win streak teams, and those who went on to play in college. His work did not end with the regular season as he coached the high school girls in various summer leagues throughout the area and in Naugatuck, and worked at many camps. Coaching was a year-round thing for Fred and he loved every minute of it. We even drove back from Maine one summer so he could coach the finals of the summer league and then drove back to Maine the same night to finish our vacation in our favorite place, Ogunquit. This is who he was.
Every team and every class was special in their own way. Of course some were a little more special than others for lots of different reasons. When he was diagnosed with cancer on Nov. 11, 2014, and began his first chemo treatments coinciding with the start of his basketball season, those players became his angels. Each season after that they too served as his angels. Each new round of chemo that occurred over the course of his fight also coincided with basketball season. They kept him going, gave him a reason to push on, encouraged him to fight while at the same time he encouraged them to never give up and to always do their best. Each player got a “No One Fights Alone” bracelet from Jeanne at the start of the season, many still wear them every day. In 2018, Kaylee Jackson and her mom asked if they could have T-shirts made for the team. The shirts with “Scheithe Strong” on the front “We Got Your Back” on the back were unveiled to him as a surprise at their Seymour game. What was just to be for the team became a huge fundraiser when so many people requested a shirt. Fred and Jeanne would not take any money from this but instead insisted it go to St Jude Children’s Research Hospital. $4,000 was raised and a check presented to the senior philanthropic adviser for New England, Chris Pates, who came and spoke about the impact these girls had. Fred was all about life lessons, not just basketball. He was all about fostering a love of the game.
The list of Fred’s involvement goes on beyond these sports. He has been instrumental in getting programs started, coaching new teams that were put in place even if for a year or two, helping so many groups and organizations. Fred was a former or current member of the Exchange Club, National and CT Education Association, Association of Retired Teachers, current president of the Naugatuck Education Foundation and Naugatuck Hall of Fame, member of the NHS Alumni Association, CT High School Coaches Association, National CPR Foundation, AARP and AMAC.
His dedication and volunteerism did not go unrecognized as evidenced by these awards, most of which were also awarded to his wife Jeanne (the Scheithes were a team, always together in all they did): NHS Alumni Association Award (‘88); NHS Coach of the Year (‘93); NHS #1 Fans in all areas (‘95); Co-Educator of the Year with Jeanne (2004); Naugatuck Education Foundation Golf Tournament honoree (2015), resulting in over $10,000 being raised through the overwhelming support for him from the community, friends, athletes, students and colleagues; inducted into the Hall of Fame (2016); and The Franklin Johnson Sr. Citizenship Award with Jeanne (2016).
Fred always saw the silver lining, always had a positive attitude, right up to the end. A friend once told him, “Heroes get remembered. Legends never die.” His legacy will live on his in kids.
And you KNOW, if there’s a slot machine or microphone in heaven, he’s already found it!
We wish to thank Dr. Katoch, Karen Hammond, Dr. Savarese, all the nurses, especially Dave and Holly, who all made chemo days fun, and the office staff of the Leever Center for the amazing care they gave Fred. Thank you for giving me six extra years with Fred. You are loved.
Fred is survived by his beloved wife, Jeanne; his sister, Karen (Bob) Allen of Lincoln, Calif.; nieces, Jill (Bob) Lockhart and Tina (Brian) Steincke, both of Laguna Beach, Calif.,
Wendy (Steve) Haydu of Auburn, Calif.; former brother-in-law, Buzzy Diorio, Laguna Beach; numerous cousins on the Capristo and Packer sides, a great-niece and three great-nephews in California. He was predeceased by his parents and sister, Dianne Diorio of Laguna Beach.
All services will be held privately at this time with a large celebration of his life to take place when things return to normal. He was so grateful to have been able to see the car caravan tribute in his honor the day before he died.
Contributions can be made to St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, P.O. Box 50, Memphis, TN 38101-9929 or the Naugatuck Education Foundation, P.O. Box 1717, Naugatuck, CT 06770.
To leave an online condolence, visit www.buckmillerthurstonmengacci.com.