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Archie Cataldi, 82, star player, beloved football coach in Clinton

His 212th victory at Clinton High secured, Archie Cataldi was hoisted by players following his final game as the Gaels’ coach. His 212th victory at Clinton High secured, Archie Cataldi was hoisted by players following his final game as the Gaels’ coach. (Ed Collier for The Worcester Telegram &Amp; Gazette/File 2006)
By Marvin Pave
Globe Correspondent / February 7, 2011

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Archie Cataldi retired as head football coach at Clinton High School in 2006 while in his late 70s, going out in style on a rainy Thanksgiving Day with a 36-20 victory over visiting Maynard High and being carried off the field by his jubilant players.

But Mr. Cataldi, who was honored at halftime that day for his 31 years as a coach, mentor, and stickler for sportsmanship, and who led his team to six Central and Central/Western Massachusetts Super Bowl titles and 212 victories, never really left.

Last fall, after the Gaels’ 22-21 Division 3 Super Bowl victory over Hudson High at Worcester State College, Mr. Cataldi helped carry bags of helmets. His longtime assistant, Tony Gannon, said Mr. Cataldi continued to travel to road games on the team bus.

“Coach was able to be successful for so long because he found a way to adjust to the kids,’’ said Gannon. “He knew family values and society had changed, but he treated every player the same, and they loved him for it. At the end of his career, he was coaching a second generation of Clinton players, and he still had more energy than the rest of our staff.’’

When Mr. Cataldi was in the hospital recently after suffering a stroke, Gannon said, his handshake was firm. “I did not want to let go,’’ he said.

Mr. Cataldi, a 1997 inductee to the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, died from stroke complications Feb. 2 at the home he grew up in. He was 82 and had lived in Agawam for 47 years before recently moving back to his hometown of Clinton.

Mr. Cataldi was honored by Boston University’s Hall of Fame executive committee with the William French Memorial Award in 2003 for distinguishing himself in the coaching profession. The previous year, Worcester Academy’s Varsity Club had recognized his contributions to school, community, and youth.

He was a star senior running back on Clinton High’s 1945 Class C championship team that was 10-0-1. After a two-year stint in the Navy in Europe, he played on Worcester Academy’s undefeated 1948 New England championship team.

Mr. Cataldi earned three letters as a two-way halfback at Boston University (1950-52), where he was a teammate of All-America quarterback Harry Agganis.

At BU, Mr. Cataldi first learned the nuances of head coach Buff Donelli’s Delaware Wing-T offense that he later embellished and sprung on Clinton opponents.

“He wasn’t a big guy, but he played with a big heart,’’ recalled his BU teammate Mike Vendetti, a retired head football coach at Nichols College. “And then he went on to become one of the best high school coaches — ever. Archie used to have lunch with coaches from Central Massachusetts that we all looked forward to. Clinton High was fortunate to have such a man.’’

Paul Constantino, one of a cadre of loyal Cataldi assistants who is now the team’s head coach, said Mr. Cataldi had contemplated retirement since the 2004 season, but “we’d keep telling him to stay because we were like family. But even after he retired, he’d drop into the coaches’ room on occasion with his cup of black decaf coffee. And we definitely wanted him there, partly because it showed our students how we honored and respected him the way we would hope they would honor their parents and grandparents.’’

Mr. Cataldi, who met his wife of 58 years, Rita (Kittredge), when he was working as a lifeguard in Clinton, maintained his principles on and off the field.

“You knew what he wanted you to do, and there was no confusion as to what he expected,’’ said Mr. Cataldi’s daughter Maureen of New York City. “But he was fair and had great integrity, and he loved coaching and teaching [physical education]. Most important, he was a gracious winner and a gracious loser who would be the first one on the field to shake an opponent’s hand. He would never tolerate poor sportsmanship, and he never badmouthed anyone.’’

Mr. Cataldi, a three-sport athlete and senior class president at Clinton High who also served for several years as the school’s athletic director, brought a caring discipline to the practice field, where repetition was the order of the day. When his players went on to college or the working world, he still kept a watchful eye on them.

“Obviously, coach loved what he was doing, and the fact he coached so late in life was amazing,’’ said 2006 captain Justin Bailey, who went on to star at Western New England College. “His practices were pretty tough and no-nonsense. But we loved the man. There was no way we were going to lose his final game.’’

John Hantzis, who played on the 1994 and 1995 Super Bowl champion teams, said Mr. Cataldi was a proponent of “school first and sports second. If you weren’t doing well academically, he knew it before you did. In practice, you never walked away wondering what you might have done wrong, because he made it clear what he expected of you.

“After I went off to UMass-Lowell, coach sent a letter to me in which he said he was glad his teaching had rubbed off on me. He wanted us to be gentlemen on and off the field. He sacrificed for us by driving from Agawam and staying in Clinton during the school week and for games, and so we felt we had to sacrifice and give our best for him.’’

Former Hudson High head coach Vic Rimkus thought that Mr. Cataldi would go on forever.

“We had a lot of good times together at coaching clinics and while scouting other teams, and I always felt if you beat Clinton, it was a great accomplishment because of his coaching and preparation,’’ said Rimkus, who, after undergoing hip replacement surgery nearly 20 years ago, was visited by Mr. Cataldi. “He just wanted to see how I was doing. He was a good man.’’

Mr. Cataldi previously taught at Buckingham Junior High School, Technical High School, and Classical High School in Springfield — where he got his first head football coach position. He received a bachelor of science degree in health and physical education in 1953 and his master’s degree in education in 1957 at Boston University.

“Archie had class with a capital C, and all the qualities one would want in an educator and a coach,’’ said Clinton athletic director John Gibbons. “And he had everyone’s respect.’’

In addition to his wife, Rita, and daughter Maureen, Mr. Cataldi leaves two other daughters, Claire of Clinton and Carol Theroux of Agawam, and two grandchildren.

A funeral Mass for Mr. Cataldi will be said today at St. John the Evangelist Church in Clinton. Burial will be at St. John’s Cemetery in Lancaster.

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.