PAWTUCKET – One by one, they walked over to pay their respects. There were hugs. The next part of the sequence featured the conveying of words of appreciation.
In some ways, the turf surface at Max Read Field resembled a wake – a chance to say goodbye to a man who for 26 seasons poured every ounce of energy inside his body to the Shea High football program. A bittersweet tone had somehow managed to pierce the sharp wind that circumnavigated the area during the two-plus hours that Shea and Tolman duked it out.
Instead of focusing on the outcome and the players who distinguished themselves, the 20-7 win achieved by the Tigers was reduced to a mere footnote. What should have been a night to celebrate the return of a Thanksgiving rivalry between two city schools gave way to a sense of finality.
It’s not his choice to hang up his head coaching spurs, but Dino Campopiano has little say in the matter. The moment he accepted the position to become Pawtucket’s full-time athletic director for both Shea and Tolman – a change that was first reported by the Call/Times back in September – he was on borrowed time as it relates to the unbridled passion he has when it comes to leading young men onto the field.
Come Monday morning, Campopiano will officially enter the next phase of his life – one that won’t involve coaching football or baseball at Shea. The end as far as that particular part of his life is officially over.
“It hasn’t totally hit me yet, but it’s going to be hard. The whole thing is going to be tough,” said Campopiano, speaking to a reporter as folks came over to say hello to someone who in some form or fashion helped to shape their lives.
As much as the person who piloted the Raiders to three Super Bowl wins and countless playoff appearances is attempting to come to grips with his new reality, Campopiano should take solace in the number of lives he touched and clearly impacted along the way. The Shea sideline on Wednesday morphed into a who’s who of past Raider football players, a group of proud alums that included 2020 graduate and current URI running back Jaylen Smith.
Each one came to Max Read Field with a singular objective in mind – to show support to their former head coach who was coaching his final varsity football game at Shea.
“The best thing that this job did for me was building relationships and hopefully the impact I had on their lives. That’s the most important thing. It’s not about wins or loses or championships,” said Campopiano. “What you’re seeing with the alumni, that’s what matters.”
Asked if he subscribes to the theory that you leave a place a little better than you found it, Campopiano rattled off some of the notable accomplishments achieved under his watch upon taking the reins from then-Shea head coach Steve Alves as a 20-something during the mid-1990s.
“I say we because I want to include my staff … we were able to build the numbers and move it up to Division I. We did some great things,” said Campopiano. “It’s definitely been put in the right direction.”
Campopiano will have a direct say on who his successor will be. As the AD, he’ll still be attending all the home games. Yet you can forgive him if there’s a hole in his heart that comes with no longer being able to coach the Raiders.
“I’ll still be here but in a different capacity,” said Campopiano. “For me, I wasn’t ready to give up coaching. That’s the hardest part, but life changes. Life goes on and you have to do what you have to do.”
He might have been on the winning end of Wednesday’s game, yet Tolman head coach Jason DeLawrence wasn’t impervious to the set of circumstances that engulfed Max Read Field the night before Thanksgiving.
“I’m happy that we won but I’m so sad that I’ll never be able to coach against him again,” said DeLawrence. “I told my kids that Coach Camp is Pawtucket football. You can’t talk about one without the other.”
“I’ve never really talked to him, but I’ve heard he’s a cool guy who takes care of Pawtucket – both schools – really well. I appreciate that,” said Elijah Osei, Tolman senior running back/defensive back.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03