The hustle and bustle of John Carmigiano’s life didn’t allow him to reflect on a Cloverleaf girls basketball season that captivated the Medina County high school sports scene for most of the winter. The 45-year-old Chardon native can’t imagine his world any other way.
Carmigiano is a folk hero on the corner of Friendsville Road and U.S. Route 224 whose impact is felt beyond athletics. He coaches varsity girls basketball and softball and middle school golf, teaches journalism, advises the drama club, directs the fall play, produces daily 10-minute “Colt TV News” broadcasts and helps associate principal Bart Randolph with the student leadership team, preferring “Carm” to “Mr. Carmigiano” because a nickname is more personal. Some colleagues jokingly call him “The Mayor.”
Regardless of the activity, Carmigiano loathes being the center of attention and finds interviews awkward, ironic for a middle-aged man who is paid to lead 14- to 18-year-olds.
The 2017-18 Gazette Winter Coach of the Year and Division II Ohio Coach of the Year always wants the spotlight on the kids and their development, and that any “cool things” — be them winning a game or producing a flawless theatre production — are made possible exclusively by teamwork.
In his mind, he’s the last person who deserves credit.
“I’ll give some perspective in the theater world,” he said. “When we’re doing a show, I want nothing else but for it to look professional and for the kids to get the appreciation for their talents as much as possible. I don’t even like the kids at the end after their bows pointing at me and saying, ‘Carm! Carm!’ to draw attention to me, because I’m good with how it went. I don’t need anything else other than they got something out of the experience and people appreciated it.
“It falls the same in basketball. I’m just very cognizant of what it takes to win, and it takes a lot of cohesion, togetherness and team. When it comes to personal accolades, it makes me uncomfortable because it was more about the experience of all of us working together.”
There lies Carmigiano’s secret to success. In the girls basketball team’s case this season, it led to school records for wins (22), winning streak (13) and defensive scoring average (39.5), the coveted first league championship and the fourth district finals appearance.
Carmigiano is a firm believer in delegating to quality people who complement his laid-back style with their sacrifices year in and year out, all for the betterment of the program.
First of all, there’s 1972 Cloverleaf graduate Jeff Patterson, the sarcastic lead assistant who handles the offseason workout program for free mainly because he detests personal trainers making money off kids. Carmigiano calls him a “dad/best friend all in one” and puts him in charge of substitutions.
Then there’s junior varsity coach Lance Price and assistant Gina Fox, who keep coming back for one of the most thankless jobs in high school sports. Cloverleaf’s never had depth and its JV records are usually poor, yet Price and Fox’s slapstick humor ensures an already relaxed atmosphere is kept light.
There’s also Carmigiano’s family, as father John Sr. follows all the games online from his Arizona home. He then calls his son for a more detailed recap and therapy session, if needed.
Last, but most importantly, there’s his quiet, selfless wife of 20 years, Christie. She loves basketball more than he does — especially the Cavaliers — and has kept a shot chart for 320 of his 321 games, where she nervously sits alone in the stands and lives and dies with every score, rebound and turnover. Their “dates” consist of Cavaliers and Indians games and plays at Playhouse Square in Cleveland.
The support system is extremely loyal.
“A lot of it is (Carmigiano’s) demeanor,” Patterson said. “He’s so easygoing, plus he does everything at the school, so the kids are really comfortable with him, too. That’s probably his biggest asset.
“He’s doesn’t make a decision by himself and talks to us all the time. He doesn’t want to be the head guy. He’s the leader, but he doesn’t like the publicity. Being around as long as we have, he respects us and we respect him. It just works. We’ll throw together four different points of view and come up with one eventually.”
Slowly but surely, Carmigiano, Patterson, Price and Fox laid the foundation for a historic season only Patterson saw coming. Leaving the tradition-rich Suburban League for the weaker Portage Trail Conference Metro Division certainly helped, as the Colts have a 57-15 overall record since joining.
Even so, signs of a true breakthrough were visible. Cloverleaf recorded 10, 11, 14, 16 and 19 wins over the previous five winters and learned the hard way, especially in what has quickly become a wild rivalry with old SL member Norton, that the PTC is more physical and emotionally charged.
Carmigiano’s system never changed. Though a few games turned into brick-filled chaos bogged down by free throws, the Colts devastated opponents with relentless transition offense, rebounding and traps out of 2-2-1 or 1-2-2 zones. Exciting, fast-paced basketball was how Cloverleaf went 19-3 in 2003-04 when Carmigiano was an assistant under friend Julie Solis, who beat him out for the job in 2001, and Carmigiano decided long ago that was the way to play.
Despite returning only shooting guard Helaina Limas and center Mckenna Jordan as starters, momentum was gained quickly with physical power forward Lisa Wangler, defensive pests Brianna Gallagher and Jenna Oliver, spunky point guard Cameron Tripp and gunner Maddie Boltz. The athletic Limas pumped in points at a historic rate, including a stretch of 31, 40 and 36 that culminated in a season-defining 69-56 home win over defending D-II regional finalist Norton.
Cloverleaf was 13-0 when Carmigiano broke Ed Stupica’s school record for career wins. Though the Colts lost the next two games, including a bizarre double-overtime epic at Norton in which Limas was removed from the game by referees for concussion-like symptoms despite, in fact, not having a concussion, it became clear what made this team special.
The Colts were mentally tough and obsessed with adding the number “2018” to the empty girls basketball championship banner in the gymnasium. They broke each post-practice huddle with “banner,” and Carmigiano and Patterson did their part by traveling all over Northeast Ohio to scout opponents, even ones they had already crushed.
Everyone understood there was no margin for error because Norton wasn’t going to lose again.
“The thing about Carm is he never stopped believing in us and always reminded us of how capable we were of doing great things,” Limas said. “The fact he kept believing in us and telling us we were going to do amazing, that just pumped us up. We wanted to do well for him.”
Cloverleaf ultimately breezed through four of the final five PTC Metro games, picking up a big 54-42 decision at Ravenna and clinching the title with a dominating 59-28 win over Streetsboro in the regular-season finale. The Colts then advanced to the Elyria District championship game via a virtuoso 25-point effort from Wangler against Holy Name in the semifinals, and the season ended with a gut-wrenching 27-25 loss to Bay in which they missed a layup off an inbounds play at the buzzer.
“This season was so awesome because it was so unexpected,” Carmigiano said. “Starting the season with 13 wins was way more than anything I could ever fathom.
“When you have the coaches on the same page, the kids on the same page and parents who are actually sitting together, cheering and supporting everybody, it becomes an unbelievable season that you know is very special and hard to come by.”
Carmigiano never batted an eye as coach of the year awards rolled in for the PTC Metro, Northeast Inland District and D-II state. He already was gearing up for his 15th season coaching varsity softball — a sport he coached as a favor initially but now calls “an addictive contrast” to basketball — with longtime assistant Travis Strebel in Patterson’s pseudo co-head coach role.
Counting down the days until retirement will never be entertained. From athletes to thespians to bookworms, the students of Cloverleaf are a large part of Carmigiano’s life, and the daily interactions fill the void of having no children of his own to an extent he could have never imagined.
Carmigiano’s philosophy will never change.
After all, there are two I’s in Carmigiano, but there are none in Cloverleaf.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.