Published January 14. 2013 4:00AM Updated January 16. 2013 11:50AM
For as long as anyone in the shoreline area can remember, the Valley Regional cross country and track programs have been a staple among the list of some of the best in Class S and there is certainly one man's name who can be attributed to that success: Lou Luciani.
A track and cross country coach at Valley Regional for the past 39 years, Lou is stepping back from his position-and his home in Clinton where he and his wife, Ellen, have resided since 1973-to retreat to their vacation home in North Carolina. Though Lou leaves the Warriors for the warmth of his new full-time home in the south, Valley's success will remain hot due to the hard work and program he has built over the years.
"Am I going to miss this? Absolutely. I'm going to look down here and see if I can help out at South Brunswick High School," says Lou. "In the long run, you try to make your kids better and that's the part I'm going to miss."
Lou graduated from Amity Regional High School in 1964, playing football and taking up outdoor track as a hurdler his senior year, a sport he still holds a school record in for the 180-yard low hurdles. He then went into the service after graduation and served in Vietnam and it was in that unlikely place that he got his first taste of working with kids.
"We worked with some of the local kids there as kind of a goodwill type of thing," recalls Lou. "We did a lot of physical fitness stuff with them, taught them to play sports like soccer, baseball, basketball, and football."
Upon returning to the states, Lou attended Southern Connecticut State University and graduated with a degree in special education, followed by earning a student-teaching position at Valley Regional High School before teaching special education at John Winthrop Middle School in Deep River, where he taught for 32 years before his retirement eight years ago. It was while teaching at John Winthrop that Lou met running coach Bill Gadus and his coaching career began to take off.
"I would never have thought I'd be a teacher or especially a coach-Bill Gadus got me started when he asked me to help him out one day at Valley and I liked it and continued. We coached all year long from September to June and it became second nature," says Lou. "You get out of school, then go to practice or a meet."
Having been an assistant coach with the Valley football team a year prior, 1974 began Lou's long coaching tenure with the Warriors' running program as he started out as an assistant alongside Gadus before taking over the reins when Gadus left to go full time active in the military.
"I was learning from Bill, who was a great role model for me to follow, and this [running] program is still going OK today," says Lou.
Having only a boys' track program when he first started, Lou is credited with founding Valley's girls' cross country and indoor track programs while leading the Warriors to two state championships (boys' indoor in 1978 and girls' outdoor in 1993), several Shoreline Conference titles-the most recent being in 2010 for the girls' cross country squad-and scores of individual state and conference champions.
"That's the most important, that the kids continue through college," says Lou, who was named the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year for indoor track in 1991. "That's the good stuff is seeing them run past high school. Seeing them go on and do well after they get out of high school, or seeing them come back after high school and coming back to see the meets. I've seen a lot of kids go through."
Having worked the longest with Lou is Valley's current boys' outdoor track and head football coach Tim King, who recognizes Lou's coaching ability as rare and hard to find.
"He's been a true mentor to me," says King. "He absolutely loves the kids-he's been coaching for so many years and he still gets teary-eyed at awards night with the kids. Every kid means so much to him and you don't want much more from a coach. Wins and losses are just that, but when you have someone who really cares about your son or daughter, parents should be so happy they had such a role model and someone who really cares for their kids as a coach. I can't thank him enough and the time's been incredible."
With a slew of memories packed into 39 years of coaching, Lou recalls a few things that he'll take with him forever.
"Sometimes I even think this year in cross country-we had high expectations going in and then we get the kids that are injured, but then we have the strong underclassmen who pull through and the veterans that carry the load. All those kids are new and old, and they all did a great job," says Lou, who thanks Gadus, Richard Blythe, Richard Stebbins, Joey Kuzaro, Dave Russell, Tim Doyle, Guy Liberatore, Ginny Mislick, Hank Koritkoski, Jeff Swan, the Valley custodial staff, the Athletic Director secretaries, the Valley parents and athletes, and shoreline running coaches. "When something like that is more impressive to me than winning, that says something. I remember things like that-it's not what could've been, but the kids make it all worth it. When you get something you don't expect, that's better. I probably could've coached for another 100 years."