As a manager for “Petro” for four years, I
can’t stake a claim that I was part of a team that hit a milestone. Nor
can I say that I ever won a state title. I can, however, say that I was
able too experience some of the most unforgettable moments of my life
under the leadership of Coach Petrocelli. Saturday was another…
LEBANON — It was midway through the third quarter when an Alter faculty member and a small group of students placed several large boxes at the bottom of the stands by their team’s bench. Within a few seconds, the white shirts inside were being distributed to students along with gold leafs of paper reading “800.”
For those who were there, the moments that followed Alter’s 71-42 victory were far greater in meaning than the numbers on the scoreboard. Joe Petrocelli (“Petro”), Alter’s only boys’ varsity basketball head coach in school history, had won the 800th game of his 47-year career.
After exiting the locker room following the game, the coach was greeted by his grandson Nicholas, who wasted no time congratulating him on the win.
“Nice beat down, Grandpa,” the young boy said.
It was a moment that seemed to ease the emotional Petrocelli, whose longtime friend, Rob Huesman, passed away on Friday evening.
“When you have all the great players I’ve had over these years, and all the great assistant coaches I’ve had, it’s easy,” the coach said.
Among the many greats who have come through Alter, the Paxson boys are perhaps the most highly regarded. In a town like Kettering, however, it’s almost always a family tradition to play any sport, let alone basketball at Alter.
As a senior on this year’s team, Trey Freshwater join with his older brothers Chase and Zach as part of what might be the only family trio to have been part of three different milestone teams.
In 1998, Chase was part the team that earned Petrocelli his 600th career win, followed by Zach in 2003 who was on the crew that reached 700.
“Zach was the leading scorer in that game,” Mike Freshwater said. With a smile the father of the three (and the Alter JV coach) continued, “I think Trey was the third leading scorer for tonight’s game. It’s pretty neat.”
Sophomore Jaaron Simmons led all scorers with 17 points for the Knights. Following him was Max Zukowitz who chipped in 14 of his own, as did junior Jake Laravie. Freshwater finished with 13.
“I’ve learned a lot from coach, both as a player and as a person,” Zukowitz said. “He’s inspired me to work hard every day and shown me how to be a leader by example.”
According to the most recent update to the record book on the NFHS website, the list of coaches with 800 career victories overall is relatively short. With the addition of Kalida’s Dick Kortokrax and now Petrocelli, there are 47 verified 800-win coaches.
Prior to Saturday’s game, the coach admitted that he wasn’t sure how many years he had left, but said he hoped a few more. As far as the number of wins goes, however, the coach smiled and said, “When you get to this point, it just means you’ve been around for a really long time.”
On A Personal Note: As a manager for Petro all four years in was at Alter, I can’t stake a claim that I was part of a team that hit a milestone. Nor can I say that I ever won a state title. I can, however, say that I was able to experience some of the most unforgettable moments of my life under the leadership of Coach Petrocelli.
Having known the late Rob Huesman as well, it was a bittersweet day on Saturday, to say the least. I still remember how Mr. Huesman would repeat every idea or bit of news that coach Petrocelli would say during basketball camp as if it were his own. Those were the good days; those were the days that made me love Alter High School.
No matter what, Mr. Huesman is just as big a part of who I am today as Petro is. Even more importantly, I wouldn’t change that, even if I could.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not going to be the number of victories that Petro has that will leave a mark on past players or fans; it’s his dedication, determination, and all around love for the game of basketball that will secure his legacy.
Tonight was incredible, both from the perspective of one who has been guided by Petro and one who has been a lifetime fan of his protege. The entire city, school, and undoubtedly Mr. Huesman, is proud of the coach and thankful that they were blessed to be part of such an achievement. I know I am.