There’s typically a good deal of turnover among the high school coaching ranks.
Between junior varsity coaches being elevated to varsity and coaches switching schools often, there are always coaches on the move.
But not Nick Melito.
For the past 18 years, Melito has been the head varsity baseball coach at Msgr. McClancy H.S., East Elmhurst. His only move though comes now, as he’s moving away from the diamond – calling it a career after a memorable run with the Crusaders.
The Maspeth native played Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) baseball and basketball as well as attended grammar school at St. Mary’s Winfield, Woodside. He then played baseball as a pitcher and first baseman and also basketball as a guard for Msgr. McClancy.
Upon his graduation in 1976, Melito went on to pitch at the New York Institute of Technology, Brookville, L.I. After two years as the team’s pitching coach and various jobs around New York City, he was hired as a global studies teacher at Msgr. McClancy in 1998.
He coached varsity baseball for two years at Christ the King H.S., Middle Village, before being named head varsity baseball coach at Msgr. McClancy in 2000. He also coached junior varsity basketball at the school from 1998 to 2004.
Within a span of 12 hours last spring, two of his varsity baseball players were selected right out of high school in the MLB draft: speedy outfielder Quentin Holmes by the Cleveland Indians with the 64th overall pick and hard-throwing right-handed pitcher Charlie Neuweiler by the Kansas City Royals 150th overall.
Melito was a member of the CYO’s second-ever Hall of Fame class and recently was honored by the Greater New York Sandlot Athletic Alliance with the organization’s inaugural Excellence Award.
In his coaching career in varsity baseball, he amassed nearly 250 wins – with his 200th win at the helm of the Crusaders coming last season. Through it all however, it was never about the wins.
“You’re trying to make a positive impact on someone’s life,” Melito said. “When a player comes back and first of all calls you ‘Coach;’ these are grown men, they can call you by your name now. But they call you ‘Coach.’ Right then and there, that’s the big thing.”
Melito said the timing is right for this move. He spoke to some of his old coaches about when they knew the time was right to give it up, and they all said the same thing: You will know. And according to Melito, they were right. He’s now looking forward to spending more time with his family as he continues in his current role at Msgr. McClancy as assistant to the school’s president, Brother Joseph Rocco, S.C., and director of admissions.
Speaking of family, Melito said one of the things he will miss most about coaching is the day-to-day interactions with his players in school.
“I see my players maybe more than their parents do,” he said. “Not spending time with the players is going to be difficult. I will miss that.”
Though he demanded a lot from his student-athletes in between the white chalk lines, Melito has made it a point to always be available for his players, even long after they move on from his program.
“There will not be a day that I won’t answer my phone to help you,” he said.
He also said he would miss the in-depth baseball discussions he had with his coaches. All four of his assistant coaches are Msgr. McClancy graduates, including Mike Barnwell, ’81, Gene McDonnell, ’70, Gary Miret, ’79, and Thomas Cloonen, ’09. Barnwell, McDonnell and Miret have been Melito’s assistants for 18, 16 and 13 years, respectively.
At the recent sports award ceremony, Msgr. McClancy announced that Cloonen, a physical education teacher and the school’s assistant athletic director who played baseball for Melito, will be taking over as the Crusaders’ next varsity coach.
“He’s (Cloonen) got the energy; he’s got the knowledge; he gets it; he’s a McClancy guy,” Melito said. “He knows education comes first, and when you coach in high school, that better be what you’re thinking.”
Melito will serve as an adviser to Cloonen but will let the young coach carve out his own path. He did offer a valuable piece of advice though.
“Never forget your real purpose,” he said. “Your real purpose is not to make them (student-athletes) good baseball players but to make them good people…to keep them striving every day toward accountability, morality and everything that the Brothers of the Sacred Heart school demands.
“Everybody wants to win, but it’s how you win, or how you lose. It’s competition…somebody’s gonna win and somebody’s gonna lose. How you handle that is going to dictate how you act in your life.
“Never forget that.”
Cloonen will never forget these words of wisdom from his coach, and the Msgr. McClancy community will never forget the tremendous impact Melito had on the baseball program and the entire school.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.