STAMFORD — The holiday season isn’t quite as bright at Trinity Catholic High School as Crusaders football head coach Donny Panapada decided Monday to step down.
In his six-year tenure as head coach, Panapada guided Trinity Catholic to an overall record of 25-39. The Crusaders captured the Stamford City football championship over Stamford and Westhill three times.
“It was a very tough decision. I’ve been contemplating it for a few weeks,” Panapada said. “I’ve concluded I can’t give the amount of time and effort necessary to do the job well. I love the school. I love the kids. I have nothing but great memories of Trinity Catholic.”
As a player, Panapada, a 1993 Trinity graduate, was a three-year starter on the offensive and defensive lines for coach Rich Albonizio.
Panapada was the Crusaders’ offensive line and junior varsity coach under Albonizio from 1994-96, then followed his mentor to Greenwich High School, where he was an assistant for six seasons before returning to his alma mater in 2010 as part of Pete Stokes’ coaching staff.
Panapada was chosen as head coach three years later when Stokes retired.
“I went back and forth five or six times in my thinking. It wasn’t an easy conclusion for me,” Panapada said. “I wanted the kids in the program to know now. And the process to hire the next coach can go forward.
“I spoke to the team this afternoon after school. It was the hardest thing I’ve had to do,” Panapada continued. “People didn’t see this coming. I wish it was different. But I can’t put in the time and effort needed for the job. I felt I can’t shortchange the kids.”
The best section of Panapada’s tenure at Trinity Catholic football were the 2014-2016 seasons.
The Crusaders were 7-4 overall, 5-4 in the FCIAC in 2014. In 2015, with Anthony Lombardi at quarterback, Trinity Catholic was 9-2 overall, 6-1 in the FCIAC. In the Class S state playoffs, the Crusaders beat Morgan, 40-12, under the lights at Boyle Stadium in the quarterfinals. They lost 31-22 to Ansonia in the rain at Jarvis Stadium in the semifinals. In 2016, Trinity Catholic was 6-4 overall, 5-3 in the FCIAC.
Overall roster numbers for football have been down in recent seasons for Trinity Catholic football.
As a Class S school playing in an FCIAC conference that includes Class LL champion Greenwich, LL runner-up New Canaan, Darien, a three-time LL champion until this season and Class M winner St. Joseph, Trinity Catholicwas 2-8, 2-7 in 2017 and 1-9, 1-8 in 2018.
“We may not have had the strongest, the biggest or the fastest kids,” Panapada said. “But we had tough kids who always gave their all.”
However, 23 of Panapada’s Crusaders went on to play college football during his tenure.
“It’s a tough challenge since the FCIAC is the best football league in Connecticut. There are so many tremendous coaches and terrific players,” Panapada said. “When I joined coach Stokes’ staff nine years ago, the knock was you couldn’t win at Trinity Catholic. But I think we proved that when there were adequate roster numbers, you can have winning seasons. But without the proper numbers, it’s a struggle.”