Posted By: Michael Letendre February 20, 2022
By Michael Letendre for BSHOF with permission
BRISTOL – The Bristol Eastern family celebrated one of their own on Friday night as Mike Giovinazzo was honored before the Lancers battled Lewis Mills in boys basketball action.
Giovinazzo, who is the all-time winningest coach in both boys hoop and baseball at BEHS, was celebrated over a tremendous evening as several of Giovinazzo’s former players were in attendance to pay tribute to ‘Coach G.’
“The biggest thrill I got tonight was seeing players from thirty, forty years ago,” said Giovinazzo. “I mean, that was incredible. And there were kids that showed up that I coached in junior high basketball. That was pretty special. I didn’t realize the magnitude of this. I just thought Bunty [Ray] and Chris [D’Amato] were going to maybe give me a plaque or something. I had no idea it was going to be to this extent.”
“But to see all those guys – from two sports – made it incredibly special.”
Ray and D’Amato, current coaches on the Eastern boys basketball team, both played for Giovinazzo and the special evening was truly overdue.
Before Ray started to speak about his long-time coach and friend, he invited any player that Giovinazzo coached to the floor as the stands emptied with former players from both the basketball and baseball programs.
Players and coaches gathered to honor Coach G ( Photo by Herve Letendre)
“You can see this is his accomplishment right here,” said Ray as he pointed to all of Giovinazzo’s former players. “Decades of players, decades of people have come to honor him.”
To start the special event, Bristol Eastern principal Mike Higgins – one of the many students Giovinazzo taught in his gym class at Northeast Middle School – read a special plaque that was made in Giovinazzo’s honor which now sits next the sports office in the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium.
From there, Ray took the microphone as he continued to honor the outstanding coach and mentor.
“For me, I’ve been around him for quite some time in many different capacities,” said Ray to the capacity crowd. “His legacy is right here. If you think about ‘Coach G’ and what he’s done for the town, both baseball coaches at both schools [at Central and Eastern] played for him. Both boys basketball coaches at both schools played for him. [Eastern’s] football coach, three soccer coaches [as well] and I can’t even count the number of assistant coaches and people who coach at a youth level [that played for Giovinazzo].”
“That’s an extraordinary thing to come from that type of person. All the lessons and legacies that he’s going to have are going to go on for some time, probably through kids and grandkids.”
Both the boys basketball teams from Eastern and Lewis Mills were also watching from the hardwood during the special presentation.
Lewis Mills head coach Ryan Raponey is Giovinazzo’s godson and was elated to be present for the event.
“I appreciate [Ray and D’Amato] having me and my team be part of it. It was a really special night,” said Raponey. “I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it and I’m really happy that I had the chance to be here. Coach G, my godfather, obviously has meant so much to me in regard to my life but also my coaching career. I wouldn’t be in this position, coaching at Lewis Mills as the head coach, if I didn’t have a role model and mentor like that to look up to for all these years as a player and as a coach especially.”
Ray also unveiled a huge portrait of a jersey in a spot which is next to all the 1,000-point scorers in school history.
( Photo by Herve’)
The portrait his last name and his No. 6 glowing brightly on it.
It’s a lasting tribute to one of the most recognized and respected coaches ever in Bristol – a legacy that will continue to shine brightly on the campus at Bristol Eastern high school.
“As we go on in time, things start to disappear a little bit but we wanted to make sure that Coach G would always be remembered because in a lifetime, there’s a handful of people that have shaped what this town really is,” said Ray. “We thought it would be a good idea to make sure, no matter what, no matter how many games are being played, that we have this back here [pointing at Giovinazzo’s jersey on the wall] to make sure that coach is always with us.”
And that drew a long, standing ovation from the crowd at the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium.
Giovinazzo was emotional at times during the presentation, perhaps a bit overwhelmed, as the long time mentor took in all the adulation and praise for the 75 seasons of service he gave to the school as a varsity coach.
But the life lessons those players learned along the way, including all the friendships the players made, was always the most important part of his job as a mentor and coach at Bristol Eastern.
“When you get into coaching, you get into it for certain reasons and the longer you do it, you realize it’s all about relationships and the times that you’ve gone through,” said Giovinazzo. “It has nothing to do with the wins or losses. And when I see a group like this show up tonight, it just confirms that because that’s what it’s really all about. It’s all about the relationships and the things that you did together for all those years.”
After the game, most of that group traveled to Max’s Pizza IV to continue to celebrate a true icon of the city of Bristol: Coach Mike Giovinazzo.
The inscription on Coach Mike Giovinazzo’s plaque reads as follows:
“Coach Mike Giovinazzo dedicated 75 seasons worth of coaching, knowledge, and experience between the baseball and boys basketball programs at Bristol Eastern High School.
He elevated the level of play for both programs and always emphasized scholastic achievement for his student athletes.
‘Coach G’ amassed over 940 victories between the two sports. Two highlights of his career were appearing in two state title championships [in baseball] and winning the 1986 Class L championship.
He awards are numerous, including several Coach of the Year awards and in 2015, he took his place in the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Giovinazzo might have been a coach in name but was just as much a teacher and a mentor. One of the most important aspects of sports for him was that his players developed into young men that succeeded beyond the field and court and made memories and friendships that would last a lifetime.
“For his efforts and achievements, the Bristol Eastern athletic community will be forever grateful for the contributions ‘Coach G’ made to the sports programs on King Street and he’ll forever be recognized as a Lancer.”
Another word on Coach G night
After a grueling game against Mills, Ray continued to heap praise on his long-time coach, mentor, and friend.
“It was a special night,” said Ray after the game. “I told the kids about coach and I told the kids what his legacy was. This will always be his program and I just want them to realize their job is to make sure that they play for each other and play for the Eastern on their jersey and they certainly did that tonight. Coach G means the world to me. I wouldn’t be sitting here if it wasn’t for him in any sport.”
“It’s great to honor him. It’s nice to see his legacy is going to be sitting up there on the wall for many years to come.
One last talk as opposing coaches
The last time Ray and Giovinazzo talked as opposing coaches was on May 21, 2019 when Central and Eastern’s baseball teams played for the final time that year from Muzzy Field – not realizing the longtime coach was soon going to call it a career.
Giovinazzo brought his Lancers into battle against Ray’s squad from Bristol Central.
Eastern won the game 6-2 as the program split the season series.
“We talked at home plate,” said Ray that night. “It’s kind of like, you never know when it’s going to be over so you kind of soak it up. And you kind of want to enjoy it with him. He’s such a good friend. He’s been such a great mentor to me. [But] I never like to lose to him…”