Joe Narcizo's legacy: 'Play hard, play fair'

Former players reunite with their old coach, who molded young athletes at Portsmouth High School for decades

By Jim McGaw
Posted 11/7/23

PORTSMOUTH — While Jeff Moniz has many fond memories of his high school playing days, he doesn’t exactly miss fielding ground balls in the infield with Joe Narcizo, his former baseball …

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Joe Narcizo's legacy: 'Play hard, play fair'

Former players reunite with their old coach, who molded young athletes at Portsmouth High School for decades

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — While Jeff Moniz has many fond memories of his high school playing days, he doesn’t exactly miss fielding ground balls in the infield with Joe Narcizo, his former baseball coach from more than four decades ago.

“I was third baseman, and at practice he’d hit infield to everyone using a fungo bat — this skinny bat that hits shots,” said Moniz, who graduated in 1982 and also played football under Narcizo.

Narcizo is left-handed, and the angle of the ball off his bat was always on a line and hit hard like a slap shot, Moniz recalled. “He’d come to me and slide up first base and wack a one-hopper — never a charity hop — off my shins. I can’t believe I even have any teeth left or a nose based on how he would hit at me.”

Years later, Moniz confronted his former coach, an accomplished baseball player himself who once competed in the Sunset League. “I asked him, ‘What was up with that?’ He just chuckled and gave me the famous Coach Narcizo sneer. That was all the explanation I needed. Trust me, I knew why he did it. He made me a tough third basemen until the day I stopped playing at 45. I played third like a hockey goalie, thanks to him.”

Moniz and several other former PHS athletes who were on Narcizo’s teams caught up with their former coach at the school’s Homecoming on Oct. 28. Narcizo, who was also a longtime guidance counselor at the high school, first started as an assistant football coach under the legendary Ray Sullivan in 1967. They helped guide the Patriots to their first-ever football title when PHS won the Class C championship in 1968.

Drew Bickel of the Class of 1969 was quarterback for that team, and he was among the former players who paid tribute to Narcizo at Homecoming.

“He was the best,” Bickel said. “ The reason he was so good was, he would yell at you and he would get on you, but he would say something nice to you, give you your criticism, and then he’d come back and say, ‘You got that, right? You understand?’”

Bickel was also fortunate to have Narcizo as guidance counselor. “He was excellent. I probably would have ended up in the wrong school without him. I ended up at UConn because he was so good at directing me at where to go, and he was the same for the whole class,” he said.

Narcizo was also known as a coach who put academics first. Moniz, a novice screenwriter, once shared a story idea with his old coach about three star football players who were about to enter a championship game. Just before the game, however, the coach catches them in the locker room with a copy of a stolen test. 

Moniz asked Narcizo, what would you have done? “He said he would suspend the players — no ands, ifs or doubts about it. To be honest, I already knew what his answer would be; he didn’t surprise me in the least,” Moniz recalled.

Narcizo, now 86, said he became a guidance counselor because he felt he could do the most for students professionally at that point.

“Coaching has always been an extension of my profession as an educator, and I always carried those principles into coaching. The (players) knew they had to do their work in the classroom and not have discipline problems — and if they did, I’d know about it,” he said.

He may have been tough at times, but he always treated his players with compassion. “I abhor personal criticizing of any kid out there. I know coaches have done it, but I’m totally against that. But you have to be effectively critical when you’re coaching,” he said.

‘Great teacher, fantastic man’

Dan Sanderson (Class of 1986) had Narcizo as head football coach for three years in high school, not long after Ray Sullivan stepped down. Back then, before coach Foxy Marshall led PHS to several Super Bowl titles, there was no local youth football program to grow young players.

“Unfortunately (Narcizo) never had the opportunity to benefit from a great Pop Warner feeder program that came through later,” Sanderson said. “After those years, those teams went on to accomplish great things. He never had that. He was teaching kids how to play football; the first time they played football was in their freshman year. He was a great teacher, a great leader — a fantastic man.”

Tim Lynch (Class of 1983) also had Narcizo as head football coach. 

“Great guy — good football coach, easygoing, just a good guy to play for. A lot of good memories,” said Lynch, who had Narcizo as guidance counselor as well. “He affected me more than just on the football field, helping me with college choices and things like that.”

Lynch attended Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and played for the school’s football team. “He was instrumental in me pursuing that as well. There weren’t a lot of kids in Portsmouth that went on to play football in college then. It’s changed a bit now,” he said.

His own memories

One of Narcizo’s own favorite memories from his time at PHS involves the Class of 1973, but it has nothing to do with sports. 

“With that group, I was able to do a lot of things as guidance counselor such as job orientation — setting up a program where I had kids going out in the community to meet with (businesses) they were interested in. They got hands-on situations, whether it be with a lawyer, a doctor or whatever. I felt this to be a rewarding situation for them. Also, it kind of changes feelings and attitudes over what they wanted to do — both positive and negative,” he said.

But he also remembers plenty of memorable games, especially two gridiron contests against Middletown, which was always in a higher division during his time at PHS.

“I remember out here on a cold Thanksgiving Day, when it was like zero degrees. They were at least three-touchdown favorites. Well, it just so happened that they got the ball and drove it down the line and then fumbled. They fumbled five times and we recovered five times,” Narcizo recalled.

The Patriots stayed in the game and defeated Middletown, 14-12. 

Another time against the islanders as head coach, Narcizo got word shortly before the game that five of his starters couldn’t play due to academic reasons. They didn’t give up, however.

“I just got some kids together and said, ‘In one-on-one situations, with one guy against the other, if you beat him, you’ve got the position.’ We ended up beating them 34-19, and it was one of those games where I just let them play. Sometimes, you can over-coach,” he said.

Life lessons

Moniz said over the years he’s spoken to many of his former football teammates, who all think the world of Narcizo even though they didn’t have much success on the field due to the division they were in as well as the lack of a feeder program. 

“When I would come off the field during a timeout in a football game, I had to look him square in the eyes,” Moniz said. “He was very intense — a very intense, caring expression on his face, all business. When you look into your coach’s eyes for three seasons at the age we were at, you not only become close to him, but you are realize that you have to be held accountable for the yourself and the team. I think this is why we have remained close to this day — because of the relationship forged during those very formative years.

“He taught us how to lose and still be positive —  to still work hard, to push. I think this helps a lot of us later in life because as I’m sure you are aware:  Life doesn’t always go as planned.”

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