YONKERS When Carlo Mitrione first became a soccer coach at Saunders in 1997, the boys team was coming off of a one-win season.
After a 19-year journey, which has included building a boys team that could compete alongside the big schools as well as starting and building a girls soccer program that is perennially one of Yonkers’ best, Mitrione was honored at the school’s annual alumni game, with over 30 former players present, on Saturday.
“It’s extremely special by just seeing all the ex-players who have been through the program,” he said. “Seeing all the boys from way back in ’97, it was a really special moment.”
A self-professed soccer fanatic, Mitrione is currently in the middle of what he plans to be his last season coaching at Saunders.
After taking over a just-established boys soccer program in 1997, he quickly gave his players a jolt of confidence, and they improved to an 8-8 record in his first year. Along the way, they managed to compete with established powers, highlighted with a road win over Scarsdale.
“He’s hard on you, for one thing, and that’s what you need as a coach, but also knows how to let everyone have a good time,” Mike DelNegro, who graduated from Saunders in 2002 and is now the girls soccer coach at Riverside, said. “Yonkers in general are not always known for their sports programs, but he pushed us to compete with the bigger programs such as New Rochelle and Mamaroneck. We had a good group back then and he had a lot to do with it.”
In 1999, he started the girls soccer program at the school, and coached both them and the boys until 2005. That year, the girls switched to playing in the fall, and he opted to focus solely on the girls’ team.
While he has accomplished much on the pitch, for his players, it was what he did off of it that made him special. The term “father figure” was used often when his former players described what he meant to them.
“I would have to say it comes from my father,” he said. “What he instilled into me, I just tried to carry it over on to these kids. It’s beyond the soccer field, it’s about being respectful and having discipline that every kid needs to have growing up.”
Back in 2003, Delmara Reece, then only a shy freshman kid who had recently moved from Jamaica, was named a captain by Mitrione. While such a move could be viewed as unorthodox, he saw leadership potential in the effort and never-quit attitude she brought in practice.
Reece, who graduated from Saunders in 2006 and went on to play basketball and soccer at Mercy College and also play football for the New York Sharks, is currently a teacher in Queens. It is a career choice that she said was influenced by Mitrione.
“He really took me under his wing and watched after me, and he influenced my life a lot,” Reece said. “He’s a very caring person; I remember I after graduated, he would come to my soccer games. He was there when I graduated (from Mercy) in 2010, and that meant a lot to me.”
Amanda Smith, a 2013 graduate who played under Mitrione and is now his assistant coach, was part of a 2012 team that managed to grab a one-seed in sectionals and defeat Nanuet 2-1 despite being labeled as the underdogs by the local press.
“We made it way further than anyone ever expected us to, which was a huge accomplishment just coming from Yonkers, since no one ever makes it to sectionals,” she said. “He loves the sport and he loves to teach kids how to play. He interacts with us, he makes us laugh; it’s a good, positive environment.”
Despite his passion for the game, Mitrione, who is also an architect teacher at Saunders and runs a construction business on the side, said that he wanted to retire in order to take a step back. However, he still plans on arranging the annual alumni game in the future.
After all, he can’t be THAT far away from the beautiful game.
“These kids wanted it,” he said. “They already want to play again next week. I’ve already been playing the sport for 40 years; it’s time for me to just step aside for a bit.”