Amity coach Paul Thees is one win away from No. 500 for his career. His Spartans hope to help him reach that milestone Friday night when they face Lyman Hall at 7 p.m.
Although he’s left an indelible mark in the win column over his 31 years as a coach, his former players say he’s had a far greater impact in their lives off the court.
Thees coached his first 11 years at North Branford and 18 of the last 20 at Amity – broken up by a two-year stint at Trumbull.
While at North Branford, Thees coached Julia Keller in the late 1980s. She now runs a law firm and said Thees kick-started her career by sending a VHS highlight tape to multiple college coaches. After receiving several offers, Keller accepted a scholarship to UMass-Amherst.
“I was one of seven kids,” Keller said, “so my parents weren’t focused on me getting an athletic scholarship.”
According to Keller, Thees was always focused on taking care of his players and making things easier on their families. She said he used to make the bus driver take the team to McDonald’s after road games to make sure they had something to eat.
Tracy Catalanotto-Correale, who played on Thees’ first Amity team in 1992, shared similar stories. She won state crowns in her junior and senior seasons and went on to play at Siena. She said Thees had her well-prepared for collegiate competition.
“He would give us signs from the bench of where he wanted us to go,” Catalanotto-Correale said. “It wasn’t your basic volleyball game.”
Catalanotto-Correale said she first met Thees when she was in seventh grade and he was coaching softball. His unique coaching style stood out to her immediately.
“If you did not run out to first base, you had to run past first base and run to the woods, which was pretty far, pick up a flower and bring it back to him,” she said.
His style didn’t change when he started at Amity. Catalanotto-Correale said if they missed a serve, they had to run laps.
“I remember saying to him,” Catalanotto-Correale recalled, “‘So what you’re saying is we can’t miss any serves? We have to be perfect or else we’re going to be penalized?’ He said, ‘You got it.'”
Deborah Stone played for him at North Branford from 1983-85. She said Thees was so passionate about the game that he himself would practice with the team.
“He was not a ‘do’ coach, he was a ‘show’ coach,” Stone said. “He would be in there running the drills.”
Stone, who went on to coach at North Branford from 2001-2008, said Thees was always devoted to teaching his players.
“You were never afraid of him,” she said. “I understood what he was trying to get us to do.”
And Keller said despite his hard-nosed style, he’s known for showing emotion from time to time.
“He was the type of guy that would have a tear in his eye if he talked about a player leaving or a great moment on the court,” she said.
Whether it comes Friday night or in the very near future, some tears of joy may accompany win No. 500.