Catholic League boys soccer
By John Knebels
For the rest of his life, no matter where he coaches soccer, Jerry Brindisi will always carry in his heart a piece of North Catholic High School, which closed its doors for the final time this past June.
When you spend 12 years as head coach of a historic, 84-year-old institution that from 1956 to 2008 captured 22 Catholic League soccer titles, casually walking away isn’t an option. Add to the equation that he is a 1974 North Catholic graduate and also spent eight years as an assistant coach there; it’s easy to understand why Brindisi has some lingering bitterness about his alma mater’s fate.
“We kept fighting from the middle of October through the middle of March,” Brindisi said, referring to the process that began with denial and anger before acceptance ultimately took over. “We weren’t going to give up until there was no more left to give.”
These days, Brindisi has a new gig as an assistant coach at Center City’s Roman Catholic High School. Watching him coach from the sidelines, it is obvious that the motivation, determination and knowhow that helped produce four Catholic League titles (’99, ’01, ’02, ’08) during his reign remain alive and well.
The fact that numerous former players are now continuing their high school education at Roman Catholic doesn’t hurt either. The exploits of those players, and those of other displaced Falcons now playing at schools such as Archbishop Ryan, Father Judge and La Salle, are reported on a North Catholic web site, too, and former Falcons plan to continue the annual alumni soccer game as well as maintain the recently constructed North Catholic Soccer Hall of Fame.
“It’s just our way of dealing with everything,” Brindisi said.
When it became apparent that there was nothing that could be done to save North Catholic from closing, Brindisi talked with his players both as a group and as inspaniduals. He tried his best to completely spanorce himself from the equation as to where he thought the soccer players should attend next.
“The guys had to go to the school that best fit them,” Brindisi said. “They responded in traditional North fashion by getting the job done. Many of our players chose Roman for single-sex education and geographic location. They made a great choice because Roman Catholic is a quality school.”
Roman Catholic head coach Ray DeStephanis is thrilled to have Brindisi on his staff.
“When someone with the success, experience and proven track records of mentoring good kids into great kids, both on and off the field, expresses an interest in your program, you find a way to move forward on it,” DeStephanis said.
Even though Roman’s staff is filled with former standout players and experienced coaches such as Mark Casasanto, John Henriques, Glen Steiner and Alex Kulp, DeStephanis said the addition of Brindisi has taken the level of expertise that much higher.
“Just being able to look to your right or left to tap into an encyclopedia of soccer knowledge is a plus for all of us,” he said.
Brindisi acknowledged that it will be very difficult to coach against some of his former players.
“I’m not going to lie; seeing those kids in another uniform will be tough,” Brindisi said. “I only live five, six blocks from North, so I was always around the school finding out what was going on.
“It was a huge part of my life. My staff and I loved being there. We wanted the experience to be profitable for our players. If it didn’t include a jacket or a trophy, then at minimum we wanted them to have good, lasting memories.”
Brindisi said starting over at Roman Catholic has been made easier by being among quality coaches and outstanding student athletes.
“They are super nice kids,” he said. “They are mannerly and hard working.”
On Sept. 26, Brindisi plans to eat a lot of wings at a local restaurant and watch football. He will be joined by a bunch of teenagers that he knows well – former players from North Catholic currently playing for different high schools.
“We did stuff like that all the time,” Brindisi said. “Why stop now?”
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.