Costanza was a familiar face in high school city sports

By James Johnson, Democrat and Chronicle Staff Writer, July 11, 2015

 

Bricks apparently, can work just as well as photographs.

Three of Vito Costanza’s adult children visited the Walk of Fame at Frontier Field on Friday. As they tapped the names of inductees on the bricks, a lot of images returned to their minds, six days after the death of their 89-year-old father on Independence Day.

There are the rides with friends of the family to watch Vito Costanza play semi-pro baseball. The basketball camps on Keuka Lake he coached with Mauro Panaggio. Vito Costanza with the Edison boys basketball team, sometimes inside the small high school gymnasiums around the city of Rochester or sharing steak dinners with the players in the family’s home during the 1960s and ’70s.

“I was a mascot to the cheerleaders at Edison, I must have been in second grade at the time,” said Joan Tobaggi, one of Vito Costanza’s two daughters. “We lived in the gym, let’s put it that way, or the baseball field or football field.

“I remember being so excited for the kids and for my dad. It was just a proud, happy time, The kids were my brothers, and it was wonderful. We enjoyed their accomplishments and watching them grow. My dad gave them confidence they needed to go on in the world.”

Vito Costanza grew up in the city of Rochester, one of eight children. He was an all-star quality athlete at Franklin High, who would later pitch in the New York Yankees farm system.

Two years of service during World War II in the United States Navy and graduation from State University College at Brockport, where he is a member of the sports hall of fame, came before the start of a 35-year career as a teacher/coach. Costanza spent decades in the Rochester School District and during the mid-1970s moved over to Nazareth College, where he was assistant coach for the men’s basketball team he helped create with Joseph Gigliotti.

“He was a tremendous teacher,” Gigliotti, 70, said. “Very bright, great athlete. He didn’t even tell his children some of the things he accomplished.

“We started from scratch (at Nazareth). There was no team the first year, we just recruited. The first two seasons we won some games people didn’t expect us to win. It goes back to Vito, and his system.”

Fundamentals would be repeated over and again, with a necessity for intelligence on the court among the players in a very competitive City-Catholic League during the 1960s and ’70s.

“It was very tough,” Gigliotti said. “There was the powerhouse team at Mooney that had the Panaggio brothers. East had the Jones boys with Sal Rizzo going on streaks. Then you had Monroe, the Charlotte teams winning, then you had Franklin. McQuaid didn’t have city players but they had players. There were no gimmes.

“Vito won more than his share (of league titles). One thing that broke his heart was that he never won sectionals. There were so many kids in the city who didn’t get a chance to get coached by a guy like Vito. He was a taskmaster, very direct, including with me, but he loved his players. He was strong on the one hand, and on the other he supported you.”

Gigliotti was a juvenile probation officer in 1970 when he walked into the small gym at Edison, then on Clifford Avenue. Costanza offered Gigliotti the chance to coach Edison’s freshman team that afternoon. They worked together for six years, before trading places at Nazareth.

“He made me into a college basketball coach,” Gigliotti said. “I had no credentials when we met, except junior high CYO basketball. I was not a player. I’m not putting myself down by putting him where he belongs. I’m confident in my ability to coach basketball, because he taught me.”

Costanza was inducted into the Section V Basketball Hall of Fame ion 2004.

“I met a lot of his players, I went to college with David Everett for a couple of years,” said Jay Costanza, one of Vito Costanza’s two sons. “I was in the city school district. My colleagues played for him. My students’ dads played for him.

“At graduation this weekend at a charter school, grandfathers came to me and said please say hello to your dad. I’m 62 years old. Since I could understand people talking, they always asked about my dad. A lot of his colleagues became friends of the family. My No. 1 memory was him taking care of mom when she was dying of cancer.”

Ann and Vito Costanza were married for 40 years. Among eight grandchildren are Division I and II college volleyball players, all-star high school cross-country/track, soccer, baseball and football athletes.

Vito Costanza, who also lived in Irondequoit and Penfield, later moved to Dansville, where he lived with his wife of 21 years, Lois, before the end of his battle with lung cancer.

JAMESJ@DemocratandChronicle.com