Tourtellotte Boys Tough it Out Against the Saints
By Denise Coffey
Thompson - posted Tue., Jan. 25, 2011
Tourtellotte Memorial’s boys basketball coach Tony Falzarano watched the Bernard Saints practice before the game last Thursday. “Look at him,” he said, nodding at Zack Pierce, the Saints forward. “He’s 6-7.” Pierce actually shows up as 6-8 on the scoring sheet. Falzarano nodded towards another Saints player. “He’s 6-7. They’re all tall. We have short players, but we’re tough. If you’re the toughest team out there, you’ll win.”
Win they did, in a fast paced game that saw the Tourtellotte Panthers out-hustle the Bernard players and jump off to a lead that they never relinquished. It was almost halfway through the first quarter before the Saints got their first basket.
Falzarano, who was on the state basketball committee for 12 years, would like to see public school kids play against public school kids. He thinks it would make for a level playing field.
“St. Bernard’s has 418 students. Tourtellotte has 402.” St. Bernard’s can pull student athletes from 50 communities in southeastern Connecticut.
“Public school kids are at a disadvantage,” he said. “Coaches are at disadvantage.” There’s a big difference between inner city teams and rural school teams. “These kids play all different sports through the year.” He was referring to his spunky team of players. “They don’t just play basketball. We’ll never be equal.” As the chairman of the Board of Finance for a year, he used to fight over the budgets. Now he’s fighting over basketball.
But that night he was wrong. By the end of the first quarter, the Panthers led 20-11. They led by nine in the second quarter. By the end of the third quarter, the score was 42-29. The Saints threatened several times, but were never able to catch up. The final score was 58-46.
Falzarano is proud of the way his team is playing this year. He rattles off the names of his starters: John Ruoppo, Don Scanlon, Shane Gliem, Eddie Kopacz, Evan Touchette.
“Shane Gliem is a defensive stalwart. Steady Eddie Kopacz is an outstanding outside shooter. Evan Touchette is a fireplug, a point guard, the coach on the floor, the head of the snake,” he said.
These five players start every game. They are a close knit group. “These kids like each other. They hang with each other. They go over each other’s houses. I like to see that,” he said.
Two of his junior varsity kids play with his varsity team sometimes. “They get beat up. It’s good for them,” he said. “It toughens them up.”
Falzarano credits the community-minded members of the town with helping his team raise money to attend summer camps. “If we want anything extra we have to pay for it ourselves. The Knights of Columbus have gone above and beyond. They’ve given us their facility to use for dinners and breakfasts. The ballplayers work the event. The proceeds go to the team to pay for summer camps. They fundraise all year long, holding barbecues and breakfasts and dinners. They do whatever it takes, he said.
Falzarano grew up in Bridgeport playing basketball. “I was the only white kid,” he said. He’s been coaching for 37 years. He has coached basketball, football and baseball in Thompson and Putnam. He is a retired history teacher. “I just can’t retire,” he said. “I like to be with the kids. I like to match my wits with the other coaches.”
Senior John Ruoppo
“Senior John Ruoppo is six feet high and six feet wide. He’s a bulldog," said coach Falzarano.
Senior Don Scanlon
"Don Scanlon is six, two. A goody two shoes. He’s a great kid and a great player," said Falzarano. "He’s also a four-year starter.”