Steve DeMeo couldn’t forget 2011 if he tried. Two weeks ago, he added another memory that made it even more special.
DeMeo, the head coach of the Johnston High School boys’ basketball and baseball teams, was honored by the Rhode Island Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association at a banquet at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on April 3 as the state’s Male Coach of the Year.
The award spans across all interscholastic league sports, and is reserved for just one coach among all of Rhode Island’s schools. It’s not an honor to be taken lightly, and DeMeo certainly didn’t.
“At first, it didn’t really dawn on me how important it was,” DeMeo said on Tuesday. “With the sports, I just keep going. But the night of the dinner, it was very special. It was a very formal type atmosphere.”
And it was well-deserved, given the success of both the teams DeMeo coached this past season.
First, in the winter of 2011, he led the basketball team to a 17-1 regular season record and the Division III-North crown.
Then, in the spring, DeMeo pioneered the baseball team to a 16-2 record – the best in all of Division II – and the school’s first baseball state championship since 1995.
But DeMeo, who has been coaching the basketball team for seven years and the baseball team for six, was quick to deflect the praise on to the players who made the successful seasons possible.
“The bottom line is that when you receive an award like this, you have talent,” DeMeo said. “The Isaac Medeiros’s and the Ryan Geraghty’s and the Gian Bianchi’s and the Chris Pistacchio’s, I’m very lucky. We have good kids, real good kids, and they want to be good athletes.”
During his speech at the ceremony, DeMeo thanked his wife, athletic directors Gary Mazzie and Ed Di Simone, and his assistant coaches as well.
Without both Ed Bedrosian, his basketball assistant, and Brian Iafrate, his baseball assistant, he doesn’t think any of the success would have been possible.
“They do a lot of work that nobody sees,” DeMeo said. “Their name never gets in the paper, and they never get quoted, but they do all the dirty work and they do a lot of preparation and scouting.”
However, DeMeo forgot to mention longtime Johnston coach Bob Smith, who coached both baseball and basketball from 1960 to 1989, served as athletic director and stayed on as an athletic administrator at the school until his death in 2009.
Smith was instrumental in DeMeo taking over as head coach in both sports.
“Without Mr. Smith, I wouldn’t even be here,” DeMeo said. “He’d be very proud of what we accomplished the last few years. He entrusted me with this job, and he had faith in me. I’m not a teacher or anything, and coming from the outside, he trusted me with his legacy, basically.”
It’s not as though DeMeo was new to Johnston, however. He was the senior class president in 1969.
While at the school, DeMeo played junior varsity basketball and varsity baseball.
“I was like the 13th guy on a 14-man team,” DeMeo joked about his baseball career. “I never caused a problem. I just went along with the program. At the time, I always thought I should have gotten more at-bats, but then you look back. They did the right thing.”
As time went on, he became more involved in the athletic program at the high school, serving as junior varsity coach of the baseball and basketball teams for years before getting the nod as the head coach.
And as time went on, it became clear that DeMeo was going to have no problem continuing Johnston’s strong legacy in both sports.
The baseball team has made the playoffs each of the last five years – with a sixth berth likely coming this season – and the basketball team has gone a combined 49-7 in Division III over the past three seasons.
To go with the on-field and on-court success, DeMeo’s teams have consistently excelled in the classroom as well.
“They’re good in the classroom,” DeMeo said. “We never have controversy, where a star flunks off or something like that. Everybody is on the same page, which is nice.”
Overall, it’s been quite a run so far.
“I’ve learned from everybody before me, and I’ve taken a lot of what they’ve done,” DeMeo said.
Other honorees besides DeMeo were: Athletic Director of the Year – Beth Penkala, Mt. Hope; School of the Year – Exeter/ West Greenwich High School; State Award of Merit – Phil Kershaw, West Warwick High School; Sister Charlene Tedeschi Service Award – Ted Stebbins, R.I. Interscholastic Injury Fund; School Administrator of the Year – Colleen Gribbin, Bay View Academy; Female Coach of the Year – Andy Dewhirst, Smithfield field hockey; Media Award – J.P. Smollins, Fox/Channel 12 Sports; Hall of Fame Inductee – Andrew McGowan, Warwick Schools.