Eastern honors Giovinazzo for decades as head coach

Published on Sunday, 20 February 2022 20:44


BRISTOL ― Before its boys basketball game against Lewis Mills on Friday night, Bristol Eastern held a short ceremony to honor Mike Giovinazzo for his 75 combined seasons as the Lancers’ baseball and boys basketball coach.

The gym at Bristol Eastern was filled with people who played for Giovinazzo over his more-than 40 years of coaching in Bristol, as a banner with a navy blue baseball jersey, garnering his name and the number six, was revealed on the wall of the gym.

While gathering such a strong turnout represents a good quantification of how Giovinazzo impacted the Bristol Community, the game taking place that night would have been more than enough. Sitting on one bench coaching Bristol Eastern is Bunty Ray, former student-athlete at Eastern who went on to coach alongside Giovinazzo, while Lewis Mills’ bench was led by Ryan Raponey, Giovinazzo’s godson and another member of his expansive coaching tree.

Even though he is not coaching anymore, his presence and his messages can be found all throughout Bristol sports. Giovinazzo’s disciples sit in head coaching positions at Eastern, Bristol Central and beyond, which for him, is the greatest honor.

“When you get into coaching, you get into it for certain reasons and the longer you do it, the more you realize it’s all about relationships and the times that you’ve gone through. It has nothing to do with the wins and losses and when you see a group like this show up tonight, it just confirms that,” Giovinazzo said.

Giovinazzo amassed 941 wins in his time as Eastern’s baseball and boys basketball coach, more than 600 of which came on the baseball diamond. He was inducted into the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 and continued coaching on King Street for nearly two more decades.

“He continues to be a mentor for me,” Eastern head coach Bunty Ray said. “I don’t think there’s two day we go without talking on the phone, not just talking about sports, but talking about everything in general. I miss sitting next to him because it’s been special. I wish we could freeze-frame that time period.”

Both Eastern and Central’s baseball and boys basketball coaches played and coached under Giovinazzo in addition to the current coaches of several sports he did not lead them in. His influence on Bristol is felt far deeper than high school sports, as he coached American Legion baseball, worked for the parks department and at Northeast Middle School among many other contributions to the fabric of this city.

“The turnout is the most touching part about it,” Raponey said. “I know how he’s affected me, I know how he’s affected coach Ray and coach D’Amato, but to see the turnout of former players from all these years, guys he probably hasn’t seen in a while, show up and embrace him for his moment, it just goes show what coaching is all about. It’s about touching lives and molding good-character individuals and he’s done that.”

Ray said his team’s effort in the game captured the most important lesson he ever learned from Giovinazzo, which is to never quit. Ray reminisced about how his mentor had no issues calling a timeout with three seconds left in a 30-point loss and Eastern captured that Friday night.

The Lancers trailed by 17 points after the first quarter, in what appeared to be another difficult loss in a long season, but bounced back to outscore Lewis Mills over the remainder of the game. Eastern still finished the evening with a loss, but continued to battle until the final horn, carrying on the legacy of the many they honored that night.

“That’s what I love about this team, I’ve always loved that about Bristol Eastern,” Ray said. “Anybody can do it when things are going well. Can you dig in, can you not give up? We could’ve easily lost by 30 or 40 points in this game, but we just kept playing. At the end of the day, when you look at yourself in the mirror, hopefully you see someone like Coach G’s reflection when you’re looking back.”

Now with his name hanging in the gym he coached in for decades, generations of Eastern athletes will be able to understand the impact Giovinazzo left on their school and their city. Even though they may never get to meet the name on the back of that navy blue baseball jersey, they will most certainly know someone whose life he touched.

“The biggest thrill that I got [Friday] was seeing players from 30-40 years ago, that was incredible,” Giovinazzo said. “There were kids showing up that I coached in junior high basketball. I didn’t realize the magnitude of this, I just thought that Bunty and Chris [D’Amato] were going to give me a plaque or something, but I had no idea it was going to be to this extent. To see all those guys from two sports made it incredibly special.”

Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or mhornick@bristolpress.com

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol Eastern on Sunday, 20 February 2022 20:44. Updated: Sunday, 20 February 2022 20:47.