‘Little angels’ inspire coach

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City Hill Middle School girls basketball coach Fred Scheithe, fifth from the right in the back row, is pictured with his team at the end of the season banquet at the Continental Room in Naugatuck. The team inspired Scheithe and helped the long-time coach through a battle with cancer this season. –KEN MORSE
City Hill Middle School girls basketball coach Fred Scheithe, fifth from the right in the back row, is pictured with his team at the end of the season banquet at the Continental Room in Naugatuck. The team inspired Scheithe and helped the long-time coach through a battle with cancer this season. –KEN MORSE

NAUGATUCK — There is a distinct correlation between overcoming adversity and athletic success. In between the X’s and O’s on his chalkboard, coach Fred Scheithe found a little magic to bring about a victory that goes beyond what appears on the scoreboard.

The 66-year-old Naugatuck resident and former educator has had the privilege of guiding the borough’s youth for half of his lifetime. The coach has 33 years under his belt patrolling the sidelines, including 17 years as a softball coach at Naugatuck High School and another 24 years coaching the NHS volleyball team.

It all started with his first love: coaching basketball, softball and baseball at Hillside Middle School. When the borough’s middle schools merged five years ago, Scheithe continued coaching the City Hill Cyclones. This year’s City Hill girls basketball team was the most successful in coach Scheithe’s tenure, compiling an 11-3 league record and 12-5 overall after tournament play.

However, what the team accomplished this season goes way beyond what they achieved on the court.

A few weeks before the season started, Scheithe found out that he was in for the battle of his life. He was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor.

The first day of his treatment was also the first day of practice. There would be no way of hiding from the girls the adversity their coach was facing.

“I had this contraption attached to my hip,” Scheithe recalled. “I sat the girls down and explained to them what was going on. They never made a big deal out of it, but they did show their genuine concern.

“I would go to practice after a treatment and they would nonchalantly come over and tap me on the shoulder, ‘Hey coach you OK today?’ Their smiling faces everyday is what got me through this ordeal. They are a special group and I will forever remember them as my little angels that helped me to get through this.”

The City Hill girls took their battle to the court and played with a purpose. Several times this season the team fought back from what appeared to be insurmountable deficits to pull out wins or take it to the buzzer.

The team was led by eighth-graders and captains Mia Rotatori, Hailey Deitelbaum and Shannon Burns. Eighth-graders Evelyn Diaz, Sarah Wisniewski, Nicole Mercer, Katie Brown, Sabrah Cegielski, Kimani Grey, Emily Kropo, Hannah Torres and Hannah Zaharek rounded out the upperclassmen.

Seventh-graders Alissa McNeil, Brielle Bohuniak, Trista Caron, Victoria Hermsdorff, Alondra Lopez and Hailey Russell represent the future of the Cyclones.

Eighth-graders Paige Anderson, Christa Mancuso and Sarah Morain served as team managers.

At the team’s recent end of the season banquet at the Continental Room in Naugatuck, parents, friends and family gathered together to celebrate the success of the season. After the awards were handed out and the speeches were dispensed, Scheithe’s wife Jeanne brought the girls forward to offer a special treat.

There on a sliver tray were 21 cupcakes decorated with little angel jewelry pins signifying Fred’s little angles. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

Jeanne Scheithe told the girls how special they were and it was because of them her husband was able to get through the most difficult time in his life. They will forever be his little angels, she said.

“They took his mind off everything he was going through,” Jeanne Scheithe said.

Scheithe has finished the radiation and chemotherapy sessions without any adverse effects. He is now waiting on the doctors to schedule surgery.

In between the X’s and O’s Scheithe has uncovered the magic formula to overcome adversity. It came in the form of 21 middle school girls who will forever be his little angels.