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Former Sleepy Hollow, Ramapo AD Chuck Scarpulla dies

May 11, 2023

Many who knew Chuck Scarpulla wouldn't have been surprised.

Not even those worried about him when they saw him in December.

Very ill with cancer, he sat in a wheelchair while attending a large gathering in Rockland that was partially in his honor.

But the former longtime coach, Ramapo and Sleepy Hollow athletic director, Section 1 football coordinator and long-ago Pearl River and University of Rhode Island baseball and football star made it clear that wouldn't be his final public appearance.

He was going to his eldest grandchild's, Christopher's, April 7 wedding, he told people.

True to his word, Chuck Scarpulla went.

And, in his wheelchair, he rolled out onto the dance floor and showed everyone what family, friends and life meant to him.

Seated, Scarpulla made his wheelchair dance.

Scarpulla, 81, succumbed Tuesday night to the prostate cancer he'd battled for 15 years and which had spread to his bones two years ago.

But friends and family Wednesday didn't dwell on his ending but rather on the very full chapters of his life, even its last pages.

One of his five children, Laurie Mayernik, who'd followed her dad into coaching, serving as head coach of the Pearl River girls varsity lacrosse and field hockey teams before launching the field hockey program at St. Thomas Aquinas College, said of her dad and the wedding, "He was getting there one way or another."

"He had the heart of an athlete. There was nothing stopping him," she said.

It was that heart now-retired longtime Roosevelt and Somers football coach Tony DeMatteo recalls.

DeMatteo was a freshman at URI and knew no one when the sophomore Scarpulla immediately took him under his wing.

Theirs was a forever friendship, the two collegiate football players later teaming to launch and run Block and Tackle Football Camp for 47 years before DeMatteo retired from high school coaching a couple of years ago and his sons took over the camp.

Years ago, when Scarpulla coached football at Ramapo, then a Section 9 team, along with Rockland County's other schools, and DeMatteo was at Section 1 Roosevelt, their teams would scrimmage.

Scarpulla, who went to the newly launched high school in 1967 after coaching and teaching for a couple of years at Pearl River, was good with X's and O's. But it was his people skills, which DeMatteo termed "off the charts," that made him particularly effective as a coach and later as an administrator.

"It was just his personality. ... I learned a lot from him," remarked DeMatteo.

"He demanded your best and that's what his players gave to him. He respected everybody and everybody respected him," said Mayernik, who recalled spending endless hours sitting under a table as her dad watched and re-watched high school football plays recorded on old 8-milimeter film. The goal was finding ways to makes his team that much better.

Scarpulla, who retired as Sleepy Hollow AD after the 2016-17 school year, remained a teacher and coach until the end.

He'd befriended DeMatteo's grandsons and just a week before his death was talking to DJ DeMatteo, a Mahopac baseball player, about hitting.

On Sunday, when DeMatteo and Ron Santavicca, a former DeMatteo assistant at Roosevelt, who went on to become head football coach at Yorktown, visited Scarpulla's home of 56 years in Valley Cottage, Scarpulla was bedridden, unable to speak, his eyes closed.

But DeMateo got him to open them, telling him he had video on his phone of DJ homering.

Scarpulla opened his eyes, grabbed the phone from him, watched the video, then closed his eyes and went to sleep. Scarpulla might have had a role in that homer. He was a good person to talk hitting because he was always gifted with the bat.

A member of the Rockland Sports Hall of Fame and University of Rhode Island Athletic Hall of Fame, he had professional offers in both baseball and football coming out of college.

An outfielder, who was all-county twice in both football and baseball at Pearl River, the 1959 graduate holds the Rockland County high school wooden bat record for single-season average at .538.

DeMatteo, a left end on their URI team, who noted, although Scarpulla a small-college football All-American, was a left guard, he was faster than anyone on the team, including all the backs. But, he said, Scarpulla was probably an even better baseball player than football player.

Mayernik recalled stories of her dad hitting balls from the Central Avenue field in Pearl River across the road, smashing store windows.

Frank McGarvey, a retired Pearl River teacher and coach, who graduated from Pearl River High with Scarpulla but had known him since fifth grade, witnessed some of those mammoth blasts.

"He was one of the best human beings I've known in my life and one of the best athletes I ever saw," McGarvey said.

"He was as good a hitter as I've ever seen. He could hit balls as far and as frequently as anybody. He just never struck out," he said.

But Scarpulla loomed big off the field, too.

"He was always a larger-than-life personality, even as a fifth-grader. When he was around, everyone had a smile on their face. It was like a magic he had. He had a magnetic personality. He made everyone feel so good,"

Joe Casserella, the longtime North Rockland AD, who is 78, noted Scarpulla was a grad assistant and assistant line coach for Ithaca's football team when Casarella was a sophomore member of the team's line.

He called Scarpulla a "marvelous football coach," but in talking Wednesday afternoon during a meeting of 80 area athletic directors, he focused on other things about his longtime friend.

"No one was as unique as Chuck. He had a quality everyone wished to have. He was always upbeat. (And) he'd do anything for you," he said.

John Castellano, the longtime Westlake football coach, who got his start as a DeMatteo Roosevelt assistant before coaching at Nyack, where he coached one of Scarpulla's sons, echoed that assessment.

Castellano, who lives near the Scarpullas in Valley Cottage, has gone with his family to the Scarpullas' Christmas Eve family gathering for 24 years, growing, as he explained, "two families into one."

He lists those times as favorite memories but also counts his time talking football with Scarpulla when Scarpulla was Section 1 football coordinator.

"I remember him helping me become a better coach, a better person. He's one of the people who turned me into the person I am today," Castellano said.

"I remember as a young coach getting upset but Chuck was always glass-half-full," Castellano explained. "He loved life and making others happy. If you needed a pick-me-up and bumped into Chuck, you were fine."

It was that commitment to family and friends that perhaps kept Scarpulla from potentially being an even bigger sports figure.

Scarpulla, who met his wife, MaryAnn, while both were at URI, declined professional baseball and football offers after college, Mayernik said, remembering being told the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Steelers were among his suitors.

He wanted to get right into coaching and starting a family, she noted, and on the day he was supposed to receive his Masters diploma from Ithaca, he instead got married.

MaryAnn and Chuck Scarpulla would have been married 59 years next month.

"Above all, he was all about family. That's why his teams were so close," DeMatteo said. "Nothing compared to his family. ... His number one priority was his family and faith."

"As much as he loved sports, being an athletic director and coaching, we were the love of his life," Mayernik said.

That was always.

"Last night," she said, "he opened his eyes, kissed my mom and left us."

A wake will be held 4 p.m.-8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday 2 p.m.-4 p.m. and 6 p.m.-8 p.m. at St. Ann's Church at 16 Jefferson Street in Nyack. Funeral services will be held there Wednesday at 11 a.m.

Nancy Haggerty covers cross-country, track & field, field hockey, skiing, ice hockey, basketball, girls lacrosse and other sporting events for The Journal News/lohud. Follow her on Twitter at @HaggertyNancy.