As he stares bravely but far too soon at his mortality, Tony Carnovale can be left with no questions regarding what kind of difference he has made in this world after witnessing the massive outpouring of love, respect, and admiration directed his way at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School last Saturday afternoon.
More than 30 of the former Pinkerton Academy boys’ basketball coach’s ex-players showed up at Hood from all over the place to play in the hastily organized but entertaining First Carnovale Scholarship Fund Alumni Basketball Game. And several hundred folks with connections to Carnovale were in attendance to enjoy the game, spend a moment or two with Carnovale, and contribute funds to the Anthony and Gail Carnovale Scholarship Fund.
Many peoples’ hearts fell to their shoes recently upon learning that Carnovale, who led Pinkerton boys’ hoop squads to state championships in both 1988 and 1990 and was always one of the most colorful and quote-worthy coaches in all of New Hampshire high school basketball, was diagnosed with terminal cancer and is only expected to survive a few more weeks.
So Carnovale’s former assistant coach and longtime PA girls’ varsity hoop coach John Barry and ex-Astro players Dave Brown (PA Class of 1991) and Chris Hunt (PA Class of 1994) took the proverbial bull by the horns and quickly scheduled the benefit hoop contest for last weekend. Through social media and other manners of communication the trio sent out the call to former teammates and everyone they could think of with connections to Carnovale, and the response was nothing less than huge.
“When you have someone who puts their heart and soul into making young men, even though the young men go off in their own directions and do their own things, they want to come back and show what someone like coach has meant to them. Coach had a hand in making these men out here what they are today, and they wanted to come back and say thanks,” said Brown, who is now a veteran physical education teacher in the Derry school district.
The organizers of the game weren’t certain if Carnovale would feel well enough to attend the game, so it was filmed to make it possible for him to watch it later. But with urging from his daughters Tracey and Jenn both former Pinkerton basketball players the coach arrived about 20 minutes before game time and stuck around.
He didn’t get to watch a whole lot of the action, however, as wave after wave of people kneeled in front of him and offered their support, hugs, and remembrances of events past.
“This shows the impact that Dad had on so many young men for so many years. And even my mom’s memory is being honored, with this benefitting the Anthony and Gail Carnovale Scholarship Fund. It’s hard to find the words to say how nice this is,” said Jenn Carnovale, who lost her mother in the early 1990s after two battles with breast cancer.
The former Pinkerton hoop players were divided into two teams based on their years of graduation, with the evens playing the odds. And at halftime, players took turns at center court with the microphone telling stories about their past with Carnovale.
Several of the men against whom Carnovale coached including current Manchester Central head man Doc Wheeler and former Londonderry High coach Dan Kiestlinger were also in attendance.
All in all, the event consisted of a large group of friends helping a beloved man a few short steps closer to the exit and making sure that he understands what a difference he has made during his time here. And they also made it perfectly plain that neither he nor his great many deeds or influence will be forgotten at any time soon.