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Morning Sun
  • TRUE STORIES: Johnnie "Coach Spig" Spigarelli

  • To think I did all that, and may I say, not in a shy way. Oh no, oh no, not me … I did it my way. — “My Way”



    On Wednesday, Johnnie “Spig” Spigarelli, was buried in the cemetery out past the old rocket-shaped water tower a short distance east of the Republic of Frontenac neighborhood where he grew up and lived for most of his 90 years.

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  • To think I did all that, and may I say, not in a shy way. Oh no, oh no, not me … I did it my way. — “My Way”
    On Wednesday, Johnnie “Spig” Spigarelli, was buried in the cemetery out past the old rocket-shaped water tower a short distance east of the Republic of Frontenac neighborhood where he grew up and lived for most of his 90 years.
     He lived a full life with his own unique blend of passion and integrity that included success, failure, love, heartache, regrets, laughter and tears.
     Certainly he was a singular personality. Pep and Jean aptly captured this in the song — made famous by Frank Sinatra — they selected to be played at the wake at Friskel Funeral Home following the parish rosary. The song, “My Way,” which could easily have been written about him and the way he lived his life, begins with these lines:
     And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain. My friend, I’ll say it clear, I’ll state my case of which I’m certain. I’ve lived a life that’s full. I traveled each and every highway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way.
    John was the last surviving son of Nazzareno — also known as Pacifico (peaceful) — and Elisa (Bartelli) Spigarelli, who emigrated to the United States from San Paliquino, Gubbio, Italy.
    Upon he and Elisa’s arrival in southeast Kansas in 1909, Nazzareno immediately went to work in a deep shaft mine owned by Ezio and Pietro Farneti with their partner Aldo Moretti, called the Gubbio Coal Company. The Spigarelli family was blessed with seven boys: Guiseppe, Levio, Rinaldo, Dino (who died in the Spanish Influenza epidemic), another Dino, Adolpho, and Giovanni (John).
    I’ve had a lifelong intimate relationship with Spig, his wife “Pep” (to whom he was married 65 years), his son, Mike, and daughter, Jean.
    It ranges from riding the high school team bus to ball games at 10 years old with Mike, to hanging around when he, his brothers and community members built their house on Cherokee Street, to having him as my high school football coach, to being lifelong friends with his daughter, Jean, and her family, to watching him and Pep dance headlong at the Idle Hour, to visiting with him in Pallucca’s butcher shop while he made sausage with Dario, to delivering the eulogy at his son’s funeral Mass, to slowly walking and visiting with him in the large garden he nurtured in back of his house.
    Not the least of these was having him as coach — a job description that included teacher, motivator, confidant, trainer, chauffeur, tutor, film consultant, grounds crew manager, father figure, road trip planner, equipment manager, psychologist, healer of bruised feelings and last, but certainly not least, conciliator and conflict manager (I’m not talking so much here about players here but their parents.).
    Page 2 of 2 - In the midst of it all he had to be an alchemist, combining every year the right blend of personalities and talents to extract the elixir of teamwork and gold of a winning season.
    This was not accomplished in a democratic atmosphere. It was a dictatorship overseen by a mercurial personality; a benevolent one, but a dictatorship, nonetheless. He held us accountable and drove us hard. Sometimes to levels of achievement we had little idea we could attain.
    It has been said that a coach really doesn’t know if he’s been successful – that is, had a positive impact on his players’ lives – until at least 10 years after they’ve left the field of play.  It takes that long to get some idea if he’s taught them about the important things in life.
    Things like, “Get your head in the game!” (also known as “Get your head out of your butt!”) that is, “Pay attention!” Also “Shake it off! I don’t see any blood. Get back in there!” which translates to, “Toughen up.”
    There’s lots more lessons and stories from the field of play — teachings that speak to things like how preparation, mental attitude, teamwork and practice impact succeeding or failing.
    Not to mention other lively tales — of growing up in Frontenac with his brothers and friends, going off to WW II (He told me they trained him to drive a tank before he knew how to drive a car.), fishing trips, gardening, and, my favorite, hanging out, teasing, talking and eating rigatoni in Pallucca’s backroom.
    To be sure, a vital essence in the in the air was lost here in southeast Kansas when he passed away. The shoulders of fruit trees slumped. Morning breezes through windows and old screen doors turned suddenly joyless. Clouds languished sadly over Frontenac and Girard High Schools, where he coached and taught for over 30 years.
    He will be greatly missed, for he was loved by a lot of people. Not in the least because of the integrity with which he lived his life. As the song says, “For what is a man? What has he got? If not himself then he has not. To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels. The record shows I took the blows and did it my way.”
    J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net
     
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