The laughs are loud, the meatballs rich in flavor and the feeling of camaraderie unmistakable. That’s how it feels every Thursday night during the football season at the home of Dennis Greco. That’s when the East Rochester/Gananda team gathers at their coach’s house to eat and talk and feel like a family.
“The Grecos really bring us in and keep us close,” says Max Liebel, a senior lineman for the unbeaten Bombers. “If one of us is struggling with school or at home, anything like that, we know we can come to the Greco house and (coach) will be there for us.”
Team get-togethers and meals aren’t unique, but the bond the Bombers form each autumn in Greco’s East Rochester home is special, and it helps them compete on the field. It also lets players know how much their 61-year-old coach cares about them. Greco, who is in his 23rd season, is the next winner of the Democrat and Chronicle‘s Coaches Who Care award, a joint initiative with Compeer Rochester to honor top area high school coaches.
“We’ve got a group of kids who really respect the coaches, who’ll take criticism … (Greco is) hard on us but it’s all positive, everything is to get us better, get us ready,” says Hayden Ricci, a senior linebacker and offensive tackle in his fourth varsity season. “We all take it with open hearts. We know we love him and he loves us.”
The Bombers showed that sentiment a few weeks ago. All 40 players showed up at the Falvo Funeral Home wearing their football jerseys and they formed a line to pay their respects to Gene Gianforti, Greco’s father-in-law for the past 36 years. Mr. Gianforti was 81. His daughter, Sue Greco, lives ER/Gananda football daily nearly as much as her husband.
She runs the booster club and hosts those Thursday night dinners by preparing food and organizing which parents are bringing other dishes. The Grecos have also hosted breakfasts for the varsity and junior-varsity teams. Guess who washes the varsity team’s football jerseys? Yup, Sue Greco.
“She’s allowed me to do this,” Dennis says about being a dedicated, hands-on coach.
He says he learned a lot about how to prepare a team and handle players from his high school basketball coach at Newark, longtime Reds coach Ron Ceravolo. The team bonding and tradition of gathering for meals, that came from his football coach at Newark, Len Colavito. Greco’s daughter, Melissa Greco Lopes, says she knows how much the football team means to him and how much he tries to help turn boys into good young men.
Greco was an assistant at St. John Fisher College, right down the road from ER, for four years before taking over the Bombers’ program. He also was instrumental in ER’s merger with Gananda about a dozen years ago. Greco taught social studies at Gananda for 30 years until retiring two years ago.
“They wanted to start football and didn’t have the numbers and we needed better numbers,” said ER athletic director Mark Michele. “Dennis did a great job orchestrating everything.”
Greco has a career record of 131-76. His 2012 team is the only one to win a Section V championship. The Bombers hope to change that in a couple weeks. In 2012, they won Class B. This season, they’re 7-0 and top seeds in Class C. They host No. 8 South Seneca (3-4) on Friday. But the most rewarding part of his job doesn’t happen on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons.
“Seeing how successful (former players) are as fathers, employers, employees, how they do in college and all that, when they come back, that’s the big thing,” Greco says. “Knowing you may have made a difference in them being successful, to me, that’s the best.”
He doesn’t think he’s needed to change much about enforcing rules, handling players and pushing them to be their best.
“I don’t think kids have changed as much as people think. I think the rest of us have changed in terms of what our expectations are for them, for what their behavior is on and off the field,” Greco says. “If (you say), ‘This is the way it is.’ Most of them will follow suit.”
Greco was also given a reality check 15 years ago. He suffered a heart attack at home and four hours later underwent quintuple bypass surgery. Heart attacks run in his family, so it was more of a hereditary issue than unhealthy choices. Greco, who doesn’t smoke, does maintain a better diet now but he’s only 10 pounds lighter. The biggest change was how he handles stress.
His doctor told him he needed to cut way back on that.
“I used to worry about a lot of stuff, little stuff, and I don’t do that anymore,” Greco says with a smile.
About the award
The Coaches Who Care Award recognizes individuals who’ve shown a commitment to players that goes beyond only developing a winning team. Eligible coaches must work at local high schools at the modified, junior-varsity or varsity level. E-mail nominations to [email protected] Please cite specific examples in your nomination. The coach of the year will be honored at the Thursday, Oct. 29 Compeer Luncheon in Rochester. This year’s special guest is Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, Jim Kelly.