Gary Palladino authors book on his life
Midway through his 12-year love-hate project of putting down in words a life story and describing the road which took him from a childhood in Bristol to a 31-year basketball coaching career Notre Dame High School in West Haven, Gary Palladino came face-to-face with yet another challenge.
A casual friend happened to mention that, on average, of the 50 people who attempt to write a book, only one out of that group reaches the intended goal.
Like he’d done so many times during his past, Palladino was willing to buck the odds. After all, as he likes to say, “I’ve had to either jump over or run through a few brick walls along the way. You can either move forward, or give in. I wasn’t about to give in.”
The end result is a book entitled, “Charge.”
In it Palladino begins by tracing his family roots, learning about his grandparents by travelling to Rivuano, Italy, in 2003. Of course, there was a road block. Palladino spoke about enough Italian to get by.
“I’ve learned throughout my life how important communication is,” he said. “So going to Italy and attempting to gather information and meet family members wasn’t easy. But, we found a way to do it.”
His former high school recently held a book launch, where better than 200 members of the community gathered and Palladino spoke.
During his lengthy run at Notre Dame, Palladino amassed 441 of his total 552 victories. More important, though, in Palladino’s mind, was an opportunity to work with and help start young men on their way to future endeavors.
“I taught a variety of subjects,” Palladino said. “We had kids from all walks of life. We had students who arrived with positive attitudes and some that didn’t. Basically, we live in a negative world. Ever watch the news at night? It was my job to teach life skills and you can only do that through the lessons you learn in every-day life.”
When Palladino was nearing the end of his senior year at Bristol Eastern High School, where he was to become a graduate in 1961, one of the school’s guidance counselors called him into his office.
On his desk was a stack of envelopes from various colleges who had showed an interest in him for his athletic ability. Palladino had played varsity football, basketball and baseball at Bristol Eastern and competed on a continuous basis for 19 months.
As he relates in his book, the guidance counselor stared at him and began the discussion. “These are all addressed to you,” he said. There is no chance of you getting into any of these colleges.”
He then pushed the entire stack off his desk and into a waste basket.
His next words were: “Maybe you should enlist in the Army.”
It turned out to be one of the best motivation speeches that Gary Palladino ever heard. He ignored the advice and ended up getting a scholarship offer to play both basketball and baseball at the University of Hartford.
While wearing the Hawks’ uniform in two sports, Palladino scored over 1,500 points; made first-team All-New England and All-East among College Division schools in both 1966 and 1967.
He pushed himself into becoming an almost unstoppable guard, who averaged over 25 points per game and once netted 45 in a 1966 game against City College of New York (CCNY).
Once he graduated, Palladino toured Europe, playing professionally for the Gulf Oil team and then did a stint with the Hartford Capitols of the Eastern Basketball League.
By staying close to the game and by working at three basketball camps that summer (1968), Palladino was able to land his first coaching job — at South Catholic High School in Hartford and South Catholic captured the state title in 1970.
After two seasons, he accepted an offer to enter the world of public education as the athletic director and head basketball coach at Portland High. Two years later, he moved on to St. Paul in his hometown of Bristol and won state championships there.
From St. Paul’s, Palladino returned to the University of Hartford in 1975.
“I was young and ambitious,” he said. “People were telling me that to go far in coaching, you really needed to advance to the college level.
“But once you’re there, it isn’t always easy staying there. You need to be mentally tough and competitive. I knew I had those assets. You also need complete support from the people around you.”
He moved on to a position as head basketball coach at East Hartford High School in the fall of 1981. Then along came the offer from Notre Dame.
“I called Joe Tonelli (a star athlete at ND who became the school’s basketball coach and later on, athletic director),” Palladino said. “He asked me a simple question. ‘How would you rate yourself as a coach.’ I replied, C minus.
“He thought for a moment, and, with a tongue in cheek humor that he’s become known for said, ‘Gary, the best thing you have going for you is that your name ends in a vowel (like Palladino, Tonelli is Italian-American).’”
Palladino never regretted his time at Notre Dame.
“I’ve always been a person who felt the strongest of attractions were with your family,” he said. “Notre Dame has been a family that I needed just like my own.
“All the right ingredients were there: great and supportive people to work for; a spiritual environment to flourish in, and players who were winners. There’s an old saying that without winning players, coaches lose. I’ve been very blessed.”
The first thoughts of retirement entered Palladino’s mind right before the 2011-12 season. After his team went 1-19 and Palladino suffered both physically and mentally through what was a tortuous season, he decided one more was necessary.
After a 15-win year, he stepped down following his final game in 2013.
That’s when the tempo picked up on his love-hate project of writing the book
“I really need to explain that,” Palladino said, about the terms: love and hate. “I’ve never been that good working on a computer. I can tell you I loved spell check. It’s a great invention. Kids today have it made. They never have to pick up a dictionary. I hate the delete key. I can’t tell you how many words I lost by accidently hitting that key.”
He was able to recover and finish a book, where his story-telling skills are only out-matched by the friendships he talks about along his life-long journey.