Vito DeVito, who spent the better part of four decades as a teacher, coach and athletic administrator in the Milford school system and Yale University, died early Saturday morning at a Bristol nursing home, where he’d resided for over a year.
DeVito, who tested positive for COVID-19, was 94.
“He was always strong as an ox, and never had any major illnesses,” said his son, Mike DeVito. “Even in the nursing home, his legs weren’t working but he was thriving. We weren’t able to visit him the past month or so. But the staff at the facility told us how much they enjoyed taking care of him. When this all settles, and the country is well again, our family will go back up and thank them personally. They’re the real heroes of this thing.”
DeVito was reared in Stamford’s West Side neighborhood, where at the age of 5 he became fast friends with Andy Robustelli. Born 11 days apart in December 1925, the classmates would star in multiple sports at Stamford High, serve in World War II and later attend Arnold College together.
In between, they’d both become professional athletes. DeVito signed with the New York Yankees out of high school, his father signing the contract because Vito was still just 17. Robustelli was drafted into the NFL out of Arnold and played for the Rams and Giants.
DeVito’s athletic career didn’t quite match that of Robustelli, a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee. Though DeVito never bragged about his own athletic achievements, he was certainly no slouch.
He spent his rookie season with Binghamton of the Eastern League in 1943 before serving two years in the war, earning a Purple Heart. He returned in 1946 for two more seasons. Facing Whitey Ford in a 1947 spring training game, he slapped four hits. That summer he batted .324 with 24 doubles, nine triples and 14 home runs for Stamford of the Class B Colonial League
But the Yankees, leery of a $5,000 bonus obligation, cut him following the season. DeVito signed with the Indians and was assigned to the Triple-A San Diego Padres in 1948.
He enrolled at Arnold College soon after, getting his teaching degree and coaching baseball — old pal Robustelli was one of the team’s best power hitters — while spending summers playing minor league ball. Upon graduation, he retired from pro ball to begin his teaching career, though he played for years with the semipro West Haven Sailors.
From 1956 to 1972, DeVito coached Yale’s freshman basketball team, which included a perfect 13-0 campaign in 1965, a club captained by former Amity star Ed Goldstone. He was also an assistant for Yale’s freshman and varsity football teams, where he developed a close friendship with Carm Cozza, until 1991.
DeVito balanced his time at Yale with his high school teaching and coaching. He would spend time at Milford High, Jonathan Law and Foran while raising five children in Orange with his wife of 60 years, Mary. His best football teams came during a three-year stretch in the early 1970s when Law won 27 of 30 games. He left to become the first athletic director at Foran.
In 1986, Foran named its athletic complex in his honor. DeVito’s other awards include a West Haven Twilight League Gold Bat, the Connecticut High School Coaches Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the Greater New Haven Diamond Club and New Haven Tap-Off Club Hall of Fame.
Mike DeVito, a police officer in Milford, followed his father into coaching. He says his greatest honor came as Amity’s head coach in 2004, when he beat Jonathan Law in a game played at Foran’s DeVito Complex with his dad watching from the stands.
Vito DeVito, who spent 20 years of his retirement driving a school bus for local children, didn’t miss a day of work in 55 years. His impact as an educator and coach extends far beyond any trophy case. He took pride in being a positive influence in the lives of generations of young people.
“He thought he had the greatest life in the world,” Mike DeVito said. “He didn’t have fancy clothes or cars or destination vacations. But he had the one thing we all want, which is the love, admiration and respect of so many. I can’t tell you how many people in the city of Milford have asked about him over the years; asking me to tell him they love him. It says a lot about somebody. He took the time and treated everyone great, no matter who they were, athletes or not. He just loved working with and helping kids.”