By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News
NAUGATUCK — The borough of Naugatuck is in mourning over the loss of a man that changed the very lives of those around him.
Fred Scheithe, a longtime teacher and coach in Naugatuck, died on Easter Sunday at the age of 72 following a courageous, six-year battle with cancer.
Fred and his wife, Jeanne, met at Hillside Middle School in 1977 and married in 1983. They both taught in Naugatuck for more than 30 years — Fred taught for 39 years (32 at Hillside) and Jeanne taught for 33 years (25 at Hillside). They also were involved in youth athletics in the borough for close to four decades.
Fred Scheithe got involved in coaching as a favor — which comes as no surprise — to a fellow teacher who wanted to start a family back in 1982. That began a journey that impacted countless kids throughout Naugatuck.
Scheithe coached basketball and softball at Hillside. When the middle schools merged, he spent the last nine seasons coaching at City Hill.
Scheithe began coaching at the high school level as another favor, this one to a former student.
Lisa Green had an opening for an assistant volleyball coach in 1988 and sought out her former teacher to help. That began a love of volleyball that lasted 24 seasons, 10 as an assistant coach and 14 more as the head coach. Scheithe stepped down after the 2012 campaign.
Scheithe was also an assistant softball coach at the high school for 17 years under several coaches, including a longtime association with coach Kevin Wesche.
“Fred had a variety of strengths as an educator, coach and mentor,” said Wesche, who spent 12 years as Scheithe’s volleyball assistant while Scheithe served 10 seasons as Wesche’s softball assistant. “As a head coach he was always trying to create a family atmosphere. He would spend hours creating memorable videos to show at the team banquets. He would thank Jeanne for a lot of the camera shots as the two worked together as a couple that embraced all the kids they came into contact with.
“We shared a special friendship, both wearing the head coaching cap and being there to support one another,” Wesche continued. “Fred was always there to support more than their athletic pursuits. He was well respected and always found teachable moments in a variety of situations. He was the kids’ biggest fan and will be remembered for his words of wisdom and the positive impact he had on the community.”
Scheithe’s volleyball coaching career came full circle — he started under a former student in Green and he ended with a former student, Shannon (Mesaros) Russell, who came on board as an assistant before his final season in 2012.
“Having the Scheithes in my life growing up has been a blessing,” Russell said. “Without them, my life would have been totally different. I wouldn’t have had the influence of one of the greatest couples in Naugatuck in my life.
“I will carry the ‘Scheithe-isms’ with me forever,” Russell continued. “His legacy is the decades of dedication as a teacher, a coach, a father figure and friend. The singalongs on the bus rides, the pizza and brownie sundae parties at his house — he gave all of us kids some very special memories that will last the rest of our life.”
Russell said her college and career path came as a direct result of Scheithe’s influence.
“I became an All-State volleyball player, I went to a college showcase in Hawaii, I was recruited to play in college, I became a teacher and a coach, and was inducted into the Naugatuck Hall of Fame, all because of Mr. Scheithe,” Russell said. “I will never forget the influence he’s had on my life.”
Scheithe’s influence was also felt in the classroom and throughout the community. In 2004, the Naugatuck Exchange Club honored Fred and Jeanne Scheithe as its educators of the year. Fred taught social studies and science; Jeanne taught math and language arts.
“I think it’s important that the kids know someone cares about them,” Fred Scheithe said during an interview with the Republican-American in 2004. “Plus, I also enjoy being around them.”
Scheithe was also a member of numerous community organizations, including serving as president of the Naugatuck Education Foundation and Naugatuck Hall of Fame.
When Scheithe was first diagnosed with esophageal cancer in November 2014, just weeks before the start of the City Hill girls basketball season, there was no hiding it from his kids. The team, led by then-eighth-grade captains Mia Rotatori, Hailey Deitelbaum and Shannon Burns, rallied around their coach.
In 2018, the City Hill team, led by then-eighth-grade captains Kaylee Jackson, Julia Kropo and Cayla Howard, raised more than $4,000 for the St. Jude Children’s Hospital by selling T-shirts to support their coach. The shirts were emblazoned with “Scheithe Strong” on the front and “We Got Your Back” on the back.
Throughout his fight against cancer, Scheithe always said that it was his girls on the teams that kept him in high spirits and kept him fighting. Jeanne Scheithe has always called these girls “Fred’s Little Angels.”