Football brought them together, but friendship built a business

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Traditional thinking doesn’t combine football coaching with the desire to run an apparel business, but for the coaching staff at Cranston East it was not only an opportunity to extend their friendships off the gridiron, but to pay homage to a longtime colleague, mentor and friend.

New England Athletic Apparel (NEAA) was the brainchild of Cranston East football coaches Tom Centore, Ken Simone and Isaiah McDaniel and Centore’s son, Matt.

Working with former coaching legend Dick Downey the men saw how to approach coaching and business with the same mind set.

“Coach Dick Downey had a huge impact on my life. Not only in coaching, but he gave me my first exposure to business. He used to rep an apparel and equipment distributor. People who know me, know I have a strong fussiness for gear. Everything has to be just right,” said Simone.

Simone is a reading specialist at Cranston East and the defensive coordinator for East football.

Simone acknowledges that each of the guys has a strong connection to Downey in their own way, and they each feel they are carrying on his legacy in some way by doing this venture.

“We feel he is with us on this venture. We keep him close to us. There are vendors who have gone out their way to be helpful and cooperative because of Coach Downey’s connection,” Simone said.

Simone credits each of the men with bringing something different and unique to the business.

“All of us have different tools and skills. We balance each other and it allows to remain close after the football season is over,” he said.

The Monday after the football season ended in 2016, McDaniel (a 2004 CHSE graduate), approached Simone about launching the business and he said “let’s do it.”

For the next month straight Simone researched, filed paperwork with the state and IRS and opened accounts.

“Matt built our web site and all our social media platforms, we launched on Jan. 7, 2017 and before we launched we had two orders: Bishop Hendricken hockey and Cranston East wrestling,” said Simone.

While they are pleased with all the success the business has brought, all of the men are most grateful for the bonds it has created, and how much closer it has brought all of them.

“My relationship started with Tom and Ken when I was a senior in high school and they came over to coach at East,” McDaniel said. “From there it evolved into me becoming the head coach of freshman football team and now the offensive coordinator of the varsity team. They have seen me grow, get married, have children so we have become very close. Matt has always been around weather on the sideline of the football games or texting and talking sports. To see him grow up and be where he is today has been great.

“I think that it has made our bond stronger and we are better in tuned to what each of us is good at and how each person would handle given situations.”

Matt Centore, the technical and marketing guy of the business has literally grown up surrounded by these other men.

“NEAA is something Kenny and I have envisioned for years but never really knew if it would come to life. We both have a huge passion for authentic gear of our teams as well as commenting on what could be better, so this was a natural fit for all of us. I really just want to see the business keep growing and expanding as far into the country as possible not only for money reasons but just to our imprint on the field we love so much, sports apparel. I'm really excited for what's ahead of us. Tom is my dad, I've known Kenny since I was born and we've become extremely close and he's a big brother to me, and I've known Isaiah since 2003 when Dad took over at East so I was nine. We've become really close as well, so we really mean it when we say we're a close knit business,” he said.

Centore, who is a guidance counselor at East as well as the head football coach, is proud of the team he has on and off the field.

“I think the business has given us an opportunity to work closely with each other outside the football field,” Centore said. “Being such good friends makes it more of an enjoyment because we are doing something we genuinely like to do. 

Each of us has our strengths in terms of ideas, relationships with potential clients and the vision to keep building the business. Coach Downey was a very close friend and father figure to each of us. Having the opportunity to do this really reminds us each day how special a person he was. Personally I talked to him regularly even after football season so this is a way to hold onto the connection with him,” he said.

Simone envisions the business carrying their friendships long into the future.

“We are all connected to this business. We are grateful to Coach Downey for bringing us together in this unique way. NEAA, LLC, is an opportunity for us to build and forge connections with others that never would have happened otherwise. I look forward to seeing where we are in the next 5, 10 and 20 years,” he said.

For more information on NEAA, check out their web site, www.newenglandathleticapparel.com.

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