Of all sports, football is the most synonymous with a family.
The players and coaches are always together battling in the trenches, and very rarely is a game decided by the contributions of just one or two stars.
When the dust settles, it takes a family effort to win a football game.
That family environment can be clearly seen at Nazareth R.H.S., East Flatbush, where the coaching ranks have proven to be a family affair.
James Gioia, the school’s first-year head varsity football coach, has followed in the footsteps of his father, Bobby. Bobby, who passed away in November 2013, coached junior varsity football for the Kingsmen from 1983-1995, and now it’s James’ turn to lead the varsity program.
The family is from Marine Park and attended St. Columba. James, a center and defensive lineman, played four years of football at Nazareth – the first two of which were for his father on the junior varsity team.
He went on to play two years at the University of New Hampshire before returning as an assistant coach for his father’s Nazareth team in 1995. It was there that he realized his passion for coaching and wanting to make a difference in the lives of young men, just like his father had been doing.
Bobby had played football his whole life, including during his time working for the New York City Department of Sanitation. Playing turned into coaching, and he helped start a youth football program in Parkville before latching on with Nazareth.
“My father knew the game,” said James, who also now works for the city Sanitation Department. “It was amazing how he knew football.”
To break into coaching, James started a flag football team with former Nazareth football head coach and athletic director Anthony Barnes. James was a player and coach on the team, which won two championships.
When Barnes got the head coaching job at Nazareth, he asked James to join the staff. Bobby also helped out whenever he could.
Prior to this fall when the job was again open, James knew he would be a good fit, given the family ties he already had established with the program.
“My father always wanted to be the head coach here,” James said. “When the opportunity opened, I talked to my mother, I talked to my wife. I coached there, but having my team like my father always wanted, everyone was 100 percent behind me.”
Though the on-field schemes have changed since Bobby’s time coaching, James has surely employed the lessons of family that he learned from playing for and coaching with his father.
“My father was always close with his kids,” James said. “The kids used to come over my father’s house and watch the games on Sunday night. My mother used to make sauce. I’m trying to build a family with the kids.”
The sense of togetherness is apparent as James begins to build his football program. With a varsity team of mostly sophomores and juniors, there have been some growing pains this season, but the future is bright, especially if James continues to employ what his father taught him.
“His father (Bobby) was a very good coach, very imaginative; right now, we’re up-and-coming in the program, and James has those traits but he’s on a learning curve,” said Gordon Tunison, Nazareth’s offensive coordinator who, along with his brother Reed J. Tunison, played for Bobby in high school. Both brothers went on to play football at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pa.
As the program develops, the family environment has been cemented as an essential pillar of football at Nazareth. It started with Bobby and has continued with James.
“It’s definitely part of our everyday life here when we practice and when we go out there and play,” said Jordan Serrano, a senior cornerback and team captain. “I actually met his father (Bobby) my freshman year.
“He came down and talked to us. He is regarded as the father of Nazareth football. Coach (James) Gioia right now travels from Long Island every day. He lives very far, but he does it for us.”
Someday, the familial ties of Nazareth football may further continue, as James’ two sons are currently playing youth football at Kings Bay.
And of course – just like his father before him – James is their coach, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
The great Vince Lombardi once said, “Football is like life – it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, dedication and respect for authority.”
While the Gioias would agree with the legendary coach, they would take it a step further in saying that football is also a way to mold a family.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.