Jul 28, 2014

Mariano: The Borough’s Man for All Seasons

Reflecting on a busy life as an educator, athlete, World War II veteran, coach, umpire and, of course, as husband, father and grandfather.

Mariano: The Borough’s Man for All Seasons Mariano: The Borough’s Man for All Seasons Mariano: The Borough’s Man for All Seasons Mariano: The Borough’s Man for All Seasons Mariano: The Borough’s Man for All Seasons

I’ve known Ed Mariano on a professional level for nearly 50 years, and to put that in print – even this electronic version – is a bit scary. For me, at least.

Nearly 50 years?  I can’t believe it.

I caught up with Ed and Dorothy, his gracious wife of nearly 54 years, this week at their home on Round Hill Circle. He looks about the same, only the full head of hair is totally white and perhaps there are a few extra pounds. He told me that I looked good, and I thanked him for the (white?) lie.

Edward R. Mariano is a Naugatuck treasure, an 86-year-old Borough native who continues to share a full life with his spouse, their six children and 16 grandchildren.

As an educator, baseball umpire, basketball coach, three-sport athlete and World War II Navy veteran, he is among the most accomplished and revered Naugatuck citizens of any era. I thought I knew the man well, but I learned a few things during my visit on this rainy afternoon.

As an athlete: As a Naugatuck High senior in 1941-42, he captained the teams in the three major sports – football (he was the starting quarterback), basketball (he played guard) and baseball (he was the Greyhounds’ catcher).

“For me, the highlight was winning the state and New England basketball championships at the New Haven Arena,” he recalls.

The records are there for all to see. Naugatuck edged Crosby of Waterbury, 36-33, for the Class L state title and then emerged from an even closer game to defeat Worcester North, 38-37, for the regional interscholastic championship. No other Greyhound squad has duplicated this sweep – nor will have the opportunity to do so in the future. Connecticut withdrew from the New England Tournament in the early 1960s, a decision that resulted, at least in part, from the brawl that took place in the closing seconds of the Wilbur Cross-Somerville, Mass., title game in 1958.

After World War II service, Mariano enrolled at Arnold College in Milford, and caught for the Terriers’ baseball team that included such notables as pro football’s Andy Robustelli and Allan Webb, John Reardon, the late coach and athletic director for Waterbury’s public high schools, and a pitched named Frank Monardo, who became a sportswriter for the Waterbury Republican.

As an umpire: I was surprised to discover that Ed had launched his umpiring career as a pro, in baseball’s minor leagues, and was on a path to the top.

“I umpired in Class D, in the Kitty League, my first year, 1952. Kitty stands for Kentucky, Illinois and Tennessee,” he says. “The next year I moved up to Class B, the Gulf Coast League in Texas, and I think I was going to go higher the next year.”

What happened?

“I got a telegram from the (Naugatuck) superintendent of schools telling me about an opening in P.E. I had to act quickly. The commissioner of the league told me, ‘I’ve got you all set up for the league in Louisville (the Triple-A American Association).’ It wasn’t an easy decision, but I accepted the position. That ended my pro career.”

As a college umpire, Ed Mariano worked a busy schedule each spring for three decades, officiating games at UConn, Yale, Massachusetts, Fairfield and other ECAC schools. “I was at third base for the (1981 NCAA Tournament) game at Yale, when Ron Darling pitched 10 no-hit innings against St. John’s and Frank Viola, and lost in the 11th inning,” he says.

That was also the year he was assigned to the NCAA College World Series in Omaha, Neb. He recalls working in a four-man rotation and “umpired seven games” in all.

As a basketball coach: He spent 13 seasons as Naugatuck High’s head coach, a period highlighted by the 1959-60 season when the Greyhounds – led by All-State guard Billy Rado and 6-foot-10 Ed Slomcenski – won 19 of 22 games and advanced to the Class L semi-finals at the New Haven Arena.

They’d split with a star-studded Wilbur Cross team (Dave Hicks, Ralph Buccini, Phil Brooks, Bobby Mellotto, Mike Gore, et al.) during the season, but this time the Governors prevailed, 72-61, and went on to capture their fourth straight state championship.

“I really thought we could – and should – have won that game,” he says, remembering an official’s controversial call in the fourth quarter that swung the momentum to the New Haven school.

Billy Rado, he says, “was the greatest basketball player that I coached. So quick, a deadly shooter, great ball-handler. When teams used to try to press us…you couldn’t take the ball away from him. He had enough talent (to play in the NBA).”

Mariano relinquished his coaching position in the mid-1960s to become the principal at Andrew Avenue School, and that’s where he remained until his retirement 23 years later.

However, his impact as an athlete and coach at the high school was such that, on the evening of Jan. 7, 2005, the gymnasium was renamed in his honor – the Edward R. Mariano Gymnasium. To make the night complete, his grandson, John Mariano, scored 33 points to spark Naugatuck to a 79-73 victory over Sacred Heart.

As a U.S. Navy enlisted man: He spent 36 months in the Navy as a gunner’s mate and served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.

“I was on the SS John Smith, a merchant ship, and we were in the Mediterranean. I was in the gun crew,” he explains. “Then I served on the George Washington, a transport ship that carried 3,000 soldiers to Europe. I made 12 trips, or 24 round trips. Then I was aboard the SS John Rutledge, a Liberty (or cargo) ship, in the Pacific. We went to Australia, Leyte Gulf and many of the Pacific islands.”

Did he win any medals?

“The Good Conduct medal,” he replied with a twinkle.

Don’t miss updates from Patch!