As a 10-year-old boy in Sicily, Vito Capizzo was a sporting heretic. He never liked soccer, the sports obsession of his birth country. “Never liked it,” said the Nantucket football coach.
And 56 years since his arrival in America, after more than 40 years coaching high school football, Mr. Capizzo has more reason than ever not to like soccer, for it is rob­bing him of talented athletes and damaging and his reputation as the ”winningest” football coach in Massachusetts.
Just as he feared.
“I was the athletic director on Nantucket for 42 years,” he said, “and I fought soccer for almost 30 years.
“Finally, unfortunately, the kids wanted it and, you know, we of­fered it to them.”
“Is it hurting the football pro­gram? The answer is yes,” he said.
Those quick, agile kids who gave depth to his team in years past have gone to become “foot fairies,” as he invariably (with more rhetorical flourish than real malice) calls soccer players. And to play other sports.
“When I first came to the island we only had three sports, foot­ball, basketball and track, and I coached all three. Now we have 17 varsity sports, 17 junior var­sity sports and seven junior high school sports,” he said. The comment is delivered with a mixture of pride that there are so many options for every kid — and re­gret that his sport has suffered as a result.
For football has been the im­portant thing in his own life. He was introduced to the game by his cousins when he first ar­rived in America and credits it with giving him discipline and structure, and keeping him out of trouble.
When he came to the island as head coach in 1964, Nan­tucket had not won a game in four years. Two years later, the island finished the season unde­feated.
Coach Capizzo credits his rigid and strict coaching style with a lot of the teams’ success over the next forty-odd years.
“I tell the kids ‘You’re mine until Thanksgiving. Then you can go back to your parents.’ I run a dictatorship — a benevolent dictatorship.
“Kids need structure, they need discipline, and I don’t feel a lot of them get it at home. You miss my practice, you don’t dress. It’s very simple, okay? You badmouth me, you’re gone.”
But things have been going downhill for about the past five years The little school which had always played way above its weight and which won the Mas­sachusetts super bowl 13 times now is out of the big leagues, relegated to the Mayflower “smalls”.
Last season was Nantucket’s worst in football since he took over coaching duties in 1964. The team went one and nine for the season. The record this year has been better: six and four overall and four and one in the smalls league.
But the soccer team did better.
“Oh yeah, they went to the semi-finals,” said Mr. Capizzo. “Hey, I have to congratulate them. That’s a big plus for a small school.”
Still he can’t help but reflect on the fact that his squad of 19 play­ers might be about twice the size if it weren’t for soccer.
“We used to have 70 and 80 when we were competitive,” said Mr. Capizzo. Now, when I have 19 kids and the snake has 70, the odds are against us.”
The snake is Mr. Capizzo’s nick­name for Vineyard coach Donald Herman.
“He’s like a little snake in the grass ... The little snake has taken it away from me the last three years.”
Still, odds notwithstanding, Mr. Capizzo reckons — as any loyal coach must — that his boys are a good chance in the big game.
“This is the first time ever in the last 20 years, that neither we nor the Vineyard have gone to the super bowl. So for all intents and purposes this is a super bowl game for both teams.
“Are the odds against us? Yes, but I think my kids are peaking at the right time. It’s gonna be a dogfight.”
He nominates as the key play­ers for Nantucket the co-captains, halfback Geddes Paulsen and fullback John O’Mara.
“Those kids have been the backbone of our offense. But all the other kids have to pitch in. When you only have 19 kids, everybody plays. If we have an injury, we have none to replace ‘em. Ninety-nine per cent of my kids play both ways,” he said.
Turnovers, Mr. Capizzo said, will be the key. That and home ground advantage.
“Playing at home,” he pre­dicted, “we’re gonna bring the cup back.”