TORRINGTON >> In a bittersweet coincidence, Torrington High School’s basketball team celebrated another great season Sunday evening at the Cornucopia Banquet facility while mourners gathered for program-founder Lou Moscaritolo at the Cook Funeral Home following his death on Friday.
Coach Lou started the girls basketball team in 1977, then rang up a 230-131 record with his teams over the next 16 years.
He would have been just as proud on Sunday.
Not only did this year’s version carry on the winning tradition, they’re exactly the kind of people who make it worthwhile, first for him, then for Mike Fritch, who took the reins from Moscaritolo in 1994.
“Coach Lou laid the foundation,” said Fritch.
Fritch took his kids with him to practice as Moscaritolo’s assistant. Now one of them, Erika Pratt, is an assistant as the girls basketball JV coach and another, Mike, is head coach of Torrington’s boys soccer team.
Between them all, Moscaritolo’s spirit still lives, as the next generation, Pratt and freshman coach Barbara Beebe bring their kids to practices while Mike sr. continues to let his girls “surprise him” with great seasons, year after year.
“I love to watch them grow,” said Fritch.
He retires as a teacher at Torringford Middle School after this year, but not as a coach.
Each year, he comes home at the beginning of practices, vowing, “We’re awful.”
This year was typical, seeing the team sprout wings from that point on.
The JV team, under daughter Erika, was undefeated through 18 league games and a non-league title against Avon.
The varsity finished 16-7 after its first NVL championship last year.
“Their commitment, time and effort let us fool everyone through some great wins and disheartening losses,” said Fritch. “Nobody picked us, but we made it to the NVL semis.”
“I love bringing my (little) girls to practice because these girls are such role models,” said Coach Beebe, still bragging about this year’s seniors coming back from 22 points down four years ago in a freshman game against Holy Cross.
“No one likes to lose in THS girls basketball,” underlined Coach Pratt, introducing her undefeated JVs.
They’ll have their chance to prove that again as next year’s varsity.
Meanwhile, this year’s four seniors — Mika Howard, Olivia Morrison, Caroline Teti and Joann Duman — offered a sample of their off-court role-model natures.
Caroline Teti, point guard supreme, quaked in her sneakers for two years as a player.
“She was shell-shocked early, but, after her sophomore year, she grew up,” said Fritch.
“I feel just as nervous now,” she smiled at the podium Sunday. “I have a hard time public speaking. I’m more at home on the basketball court with all the team surrounding me.”
Then she charmed the audience with shy verbal slam dunk after verbal slam dunk on the way to off-court triumph.
“You told me I was overthinking as a JV,” she recalled with Coach Pratt. “Then I thought, ‘Why am I overthinking things?’
“I went from ‘you,’ to ‘Caroline,’ to ‘CareBear’ with you,” she returned to Coach Fritch. “You’re a huge role model in my life.”
Community support is a hallmark of the program.
In a modern slice-of-life example, Teti counted 15 relatives in the crowd one night.
If charm won basketball games, the seniors, too, would be undefeated.
“I had all four years to write this and I waited until today,” grins Mika Howard, then goes eloquent.
“My freshman year, I hardly knew how to dribble a ball,” says Joann Duman after Fritch singles her out as one whose dedication brought her to practice every single day, despite a limited amount of playing time.
She, like the others, sees her own growth as part of the program.
“I like it when you told me, ‘It’s not OK to be OK,’” she said to Fritch.
“Unlike the other seniors, I’m the emotional one,” warned Olivia Morrison at the beginning of her speech. “I’ll probably cry halfway through — or right now.”
Like the back-and-forth of a close basketball game, Morrison wavered, got it back, then wavered again, all with a full dose of the senior charm.
“No one can really prepare you for him,” she grins at Fritch, then credits him with “lessons we can use on and off the court.
“‘Conquer and survive,’” she quotes. “Win one game and persevere to the next.”
She and Coach Fritch give an impromptu demonstration: Morrison gets close to the emotional edge when her speech turns to family and friends. Fritch, in the audience, isn’t having it.
“You can do it, c’mon!” he roars.
“Next year, I’m going to enjoy watching Coach lose his mind over somebody other than me,” she concludes.
Meanwhile, it’s not to soon for Coach Lou to watch down, seeing year after year ahead, from a foundation laid by him before this year’s winners were born.