On the heels of his finest season as head coach of the College of Staten Island men’s basketball team, Tony Petosa perhaps garnered the unit’s highest honor on Tuesday, selected for entry into the Staten Island Hall of Fame. Petosa joins four other honorees that will officially be inaugurated in May. Nominated by the selection committee, the award came as a surprise to Petosa, whose body of work at CSI is untouchable.
“The fact that I would even be considered a candidate has me very humbled,” said Petosa this afternoon. “I am the type of person who doesn’t like to look back on what I’ve done or achieved until it’s all over or finished, but the fact that someone thinks that I’ve done something right or meaningful really means a lot to me. I appreciate it a great deal although I am very surprised.”
Memories don’t have to go back very far when considering Petosa. In fact, the 2013-14 Dolphins alone posted a 28-3 overall record, complete with a CUNYAC Regular Season Championship, the conference’s fourth-straight Coach of the Year citation, and an ECAC Metro NY/NJ title, the second in program history and first since Petosa’s senior season as a student-athlete in 1986. The win in the ECAC Final marked the 400th of Petosa’s career, putting him on a short list of just 69 NCAA Division III coaches who have eclipsed the threshold since 1956.
Petosa’s coaching career at CSI started in 1986-87 as the then-assistant coach under Thomas Keenan. Petosa spent the next two years as an assistant under Howie Ruppert. When Ruppert stepped down in the months leading up to the 1989-90 season, Petosa was selected as a potential replacement. Irony rests in the fact that Petosa initially declined the position before giving it a second thought several weeks later. Thankfully, the vacancy was still open.
“I didn’t think I was ready for the job,” Petosa said in a 2003 interview. “I was pursuing my Master’s Degree and teaching full-time at the time, so it was a tough decision. Then one day I woke up and realized how much I enjoyed the teaching part of coaching. There was nothing better than being at practice for three hours, no matter what else I was doing. It’s still the favorite part of my job.”
Petosa’s stamp on the program is storied from there. After three sub-par seasons CSI posted a 20-win season in 1994-95. The following year, CSI claimed its first of four CUNYAC titles under his guidance, and made its first of five trips to the NCAA Division III National Championship field. In 2011-12, the Dolphins made its biggest advancement on the national stage, advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16. All told, CSI has claimed 11 CUNYAC Regular Season titles under his guidance, making 12 appearances in ECAC postseason play as well. In 2013-14, the Dolphins ranked No. 18 nationally on D3hoops.com, its highest faring in program history.
“I’ve grown up as a CSI person and coaching here has been a labor of love and it has helped me grow into who I am today,” Petosa noted. “I have so many great memories of coaching and so many things I will be able to look back on when it’s all said and done. It’s been very rewarding.”
Petosa’s selfless leadership and dedication to CSI is also evidenced through CSI’s annual Tournament of Heroes, which celebrated its 12th installment this past December in the wake of September 11, 2001, when CSI lost three of its former athletes in Tom Hannafin, Scott Davidson, and Terrance Aiken in the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. The coach to both Davidson and Aiken and teammate of Hannafin, Petosa organized the nationally-recognized tournament to help remember their legacies and bring some of the nation’s finest collegiate basketball squads in the Staten Island showcase. The principals of the tourney have resonated with visiting teams.
“Being a part of the tournament was very special to us,” said Bill Harris, a fellow 400-win coach who finished his career at Wheaton College, and whose team won the 2006 installment of the tourney. “From the very beginning you could see the work and attention to detail Coach Petosa had on the tournament, and it was an unbelievable experience for us. We were lucky to be a part of it.”
Petosa’s work with the tournament was a key contributor to the CSI skipper earning a Joe Ryan Memorial Award in 2011, given annually to a Staten Island sports pioneer who serves as model for sportsmanship and giving to Staten Island youth and sports development. A few weeks later, on the eve of the College’s 10th installment of the Tournament, Petosa earned the Staten Island Advance’s Sportsman of the Year honor.
“It is so nice to be recognized by your peers,” said Petosa. “I don’t consider myself a great coach, but I do work really hard at it. If there is one thing I really take pride in its knowing that I’ve achieved what I’ve done as a part-time coach. I know that what I do is never going to change the world, but one thing I can always say down the road is that I am passionate about it. I really take pride in the fact that when it comes to coaching I’ve shown up to work every day with the intentions of giving it my very best. The fact that people recognize that is really what makes it worthwhile.”
The transition into the Staten Island Hall of Fame seems like a natural progression for Petosa, who began his illustrious career as a lanky power forward from Monsignor Farrell High School. Petosa was a mainstay for the developing CSI basketball program all four years, helping the team to a combined 91-27 record and three CUNYAC titles. Along the way, Petosa collected 1,684 points, a record that stood for 16 years at the College, and 982 career rebounds, still a record at CSI. His 21.5 points per game average in 1985-86 are the fifth-most in CSI single season history, a season that materialized in CSI’s first and only ECAC Metro NY/NJ Championship up until this past season. Almost three decades removed from his playing career, Petosa still remembers it like it was yesterday.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than being a successful player and I remember my college playing days very fondly,” said Petosa. “Playing on those teams was the highlight of my career by far. I got into coaching simply because I loved playing and just couldn’t play anymore and it’s developed into this. I will always remember that period of time in my life very vividly.”
In May, Petosa’s name will be flanked by four other deserving Staten Island Hall of Fame inductees. Marilyn King was a mid-60’s Eastern States hurdles champion out of Tottenville High School who went on to become an Olympic pentathlete, three-time All-America at Cal State East Bay, and five-time national-champion at UC-Berkeley, where she also became the school’s first ever track coach. Lance Olssen was a Staten Island native who anchored the line for Manhattan’s Stuyvesant High School, going on to become a Big Ten Academic All-America at Purdue University before becoming a third-round draft pick for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. Ken Strong, who died in 1979 at the age of 73 also is in this year’s class. The football halfback was a part of Staten Island’s NFL franchise of the 1930’s, the Stapleton Stapes, and was a four-time All-Pro and member of the Pro Football hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Finally, Jay Price, a face of the Staten Island Advance sports columns for over four decades, will also be celebrated. Price reported on dozens of Super Bowls, World Series and golf majors, and is a celebrated author of Thanksgiving 1959, a wonderful Island-centric book chronicling the Curtis-New Dorp football rivalry at a time when the borough was a much different landscape than what it is today.
“I will question whether or not I belong there,” said Petosa with a laugh.
The Staten Island Hall of Fame ceremony will take place on Saturday, May 17, at the CYO-MIV Center on the grounds of Mount Loretto in Pleasant Plains. The Staten Island Hall of Fame has been honoring deserving members and teams since 1995, and 2014 marks its 19th class of inductees. Further information on attending the Hall of Fame will be posted on www.csidolphins.com as information becomes available.