Polechetti, Bongiovanni have done more than just coach

Slightly more than a year ago, the OBSERVER ran a feature story on two college student-athletes and their long-standing friendship. Angela Pucciarelli and Sarah Bogardus chronicled their growth as friends since grade school and the sports they played together.

The article sparked my recollection of other lifetime friendships in the Dunkirk-Fredonia area in which playing sports was an integral part of the common bond between two young people. It has occurred many times before in many decades.

One of the pairings that came to mind began about a half-century ago. It was the time in which rotary antennas for TVs were part of the roof space on house and there were only 12 channels that could be accessed on black and white television sets. There was no cable, no Internet, no computer games. There weren’t any “motorized divisions” of cars dropping the students off at school.

It was the time in which boys and girls walked, biked and ran. Kids in Dunkirk played outdoors in a variety of weather conditions. Boys played ball! They played ball in Washington Park, Sixth Street Playground, on softball fields, in backyards, against cinder block walls, against steps and on curbs and in streets. In that time and in those settings a friendship between two Dunkirk boys began that would affect many a generation later.

Dave Polechetti and john Bongiovanni played sports as kids and forged a close friendship in the process. Although Bong would declare that he had SLA, “sheer leaping ability,” they were not blessed with the stature and athletic talent as teenagers when compared to Angela and Sarah. However, their love for sports and the fun they had in playing carried through as young adults. I played with them and against them. Their athletic ability grew as well as their friendship and trust. Their close ties and love of sports became a “gift” to others when they started coaching young people.

At Fredonia High School, where Dave taught, he and Bong coached together in boys’ basketball and girls’ softball. This appears to be their last year in that role after being an inseparable duo for years. I don’t know the statistics that reflect their coaching years. For example, how many high school athletes did they coach? How many all-stars did they develop?

What are their teams’ won-loss records in each sport? How many championship teams did they coach? How many teams won sectional titles and went on to regionals and states? How many hours, days, weeks, months and years did they invest in teaching and coaching young people?

I don’t know the numbers! To me that’s not what is to be remembered or valued. In Randy Pausch’s book “The Last Lecture,” the late author speaks about his football coach giving him “head fakes.” Pausch states that learning football was a “head fake” or "indirect learning.” He continues, “We actually don’t want our kids to learn football. We send our kids out to learn much more important things. Teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance… The games exist to shape our lives long after we leave it.”

In life’s business, it’s not about the numbers. Is it? It is about the person you become and the people you influence. I am not stating that Dave and John, in all those years of coaching, ever professed that they were shaping young people’s lives. Yet, in my estimation, they were. Whenever I spoke with them in social gatherings after contests, their conversations always returned to what the young person did well, how much they’ve grown, and what he/she had to do better.

As with all excellent coaches, Dave Polechetti and John Bongiovanni taught their teams the enduring values that went beyond the court and field that season. That is what is important. Think of the people Dave and john have influenced. Think of the responsible citizens their former student-athletes have become.

John Crawford is a Dunkirk resident.

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