Page 6 - CHSCA Magazine Issue 2, 2019-2020
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  kids he coached or counseled.”
Fontana amassed a 669-157 record
from 1962 when he took over for his Un- cle Joe until 2002. Those 669 wins left him fifth all-time nationally at the time of his retirement. He went to eight state finals and won two state titles, the first led by fu- ture major league pitcher Carl Pavano in 1994. He coached 18 players who went on to get pro contracts, including Mike Raczka and Chris Petersen, who joined Dibble and Pavano in the big leagues.
“I think what people are really going to talk about is how he helped so many decades of us growing up in Southing- ton,” Dibble said. “He knew your family, he helped us become good adults and cit- izens. That’s the part we’ll miss the most.”
That doesn’t mean Fontana was a softy to play for.
“Oh, geez, he was harsh,” Dibble said. “He was tough to play for. He was a perfectionist. Fundamentals, self-account- ability, things I hold dear today. You see a whole generation of athletes — not just baseball players — that don’t have self- accountability.
“We won a game one time, I mean we’d be like 20-3 or 21-2, always good, but he was so upset at how poorly we played and we ran sprints in the dark. I’ll never forget that, and it carried over to my professional life. You hear about Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan working out af- ter games. That’s the way I was. You can never work hard enough or hold yourself accountable enough.”
Fontana was a Division I college bas- ketball referee for more than 20 years. Dibble said he’d be out playing soccer at
Southington High and there was Fontana working out.
“I’m out there at 16 thinking, ‘Look at this old guy out here running,’ ” Dibble said. “Honestly, it made me up my game. It made me work harder. That became my edge. I’d always work you death, be- cause I had a great role model in coach Fontana.
“You see your coach working hard for a second job. My dad (Walt) did that. He was not only on-air news guy, he was at Connecticut School of Broad-
casting, worked three-four
jobs. I saw what a real work
ethic was.”
When Dibble got to pro ball, Fontana made sure Dibble had a place to work out and throw during the off- season. “Southington High was my house, my hangout,’’ Dibble said. “I ran the stairs. I’d run the hallways with the wrestlers. I’d throw against the wall in the basement right outside the wood and metal shops. Coach would tell the teachers that I would be there after school around 4, make sure you announce yourself when you’re coming around the corner.”
Fontana made the state playoffs 40 out of 41 years. In 1987, no less than the New York Times did a story how Tom Garry had pitched a no- hitter in Fontana’s first victory, Dave Buzanoski threw for his
John and Dottie Fontana
John, Skip Holtz, Lou Holtz and Larry McHugh.
100th, Jim Koeller for his 200th and Mark LaRosa for is 400th.
Dibble threw a one-hitter against Bris- tol Central for Fontana’s 300th. The Times had Dibble allowing a double in the first inning and retiring every hitter the rest of the way. Dibble remembers it differently.
“People always wondered why I hated guys who bunted,” said Dibble, who once was fined for throwing a ball at the Cubs’ Doug Dascenzo after a squeeze bunt. “I would have had a no-hitter for coach’s 300th win if that little so-and-so hadn’t bunted for the only hit of the game.”
The truth? As the great line goes in the movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Va- lance,” when legend becomes fact print the legend.
“I was always proud we were able to get coach his 300th win,” Dibble said. “I was always upset we never were able during my time to get him a state champi- onship. The man pushed me. It was, ‘Lis- ten, don’t mess this opportunity up. You really got to go hard.’ I absolutely would not have made it without my father and coach Fontana pushing me.
“I love him, love his family, (his wife) Dot. There was never a time when you sat down and talked with him that he wasn’t happy about something. Happy a coach got a promotion. Happy a kid got draft- ed. He loved life.”
And Southington loved him.

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