Dawn Martin Zappitelli
By CHRIS LARICK
Dawn (Martin) Zappitelli knows she owes a lot of her basketball success to another Ashtabula center, Eleanor Young.
Young, who was selected to the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 2006, was instrumental in making Zappitelli the player she was, one who will join Young in the ACBF Hall of Fame on March 29.
"During my freshmen year, Eleanor Young took me under her wing and pushed me hard in practices,” Zappitelli said. "She said she was graduating and I needed to be ready. We both were post players and I had to guard her every day. She never let me slack. I remember playing against (Harbor’s) Roberta Cevera Blakeslee from Harbor and saw how physical she played. I knew Eleanor was right — I needed to work harder and get a lot stronger.”
When Zappitelli, a 1987 Ashtabula graduate, was in elementary school, sixth-grade teacher Bill Mercilliott was offering an after-school program to teach basketball’s fundamentals. Zappitelli watched her older brother Bill practice in the family driveway and began to pick up the game.
In the seventh grade at West Junior High she tried out for the school team, but got cut, motivating her to work even harder. That resulted in her making the eighth-grade team. Her coach, Dom Cavalancia, saw something in her and asked if she wanted to be the student manager for the high school team, allowing her to attend games and help keep statistics and see Diana Davis, probably Ashtabula High School’s best female basketball player ever, in action.
“I was in awe of her abilities,” Zappitelli said. “That was motivation for me to continue to work hard.”
Between the eighth and ninth grades Zappitelli went through a growth spurt and reached 6-foot-1, making her a natural for center, a position she played throughout high school and college. She was joined on the Panthers team by the same group of girls — Nicole Deligianis, Dee Dee Chatman, Sabrina Williams, Tracey Miller, Shelly Chapman, Kim Luce, MaryLou Cardona.
After being coached by Joe Jerman in the eighth grade, Zappitelli and her teammates came under the tutelage of Cavalancia as a freshman, then Jeff Covington for her with school years.
“ I learned a lot from Coach Covington,” Zappitelli said. "I think he may have learned a lot from us too; it's very different coaching girls. He was very disciplined and knew the game inside and out and spent a lot of time working with me to improve my inside and outside game. I always credit him if I talk about my 1,000 points in college because it was on a three-pointer and he always encouraged me to take the shot if it was there. He'd say ‘Make them play you in the paint but show them they have to look out for your jumper, too.’
"I learned a lot from him, which helped me tremendously in college. Howard Jenter was my college coach three of my four years playing and I have a lot of respect for him as a coach and a person.”
Never much interested in keeping track of her statistics, Zappitelli doesn’t know her team or individual records from high school.
"I did not even know I scored my 1,000th point in college until they stopped the game,” she said. "Stats were never that important —I played in the moment.
"Some of my best memories in high school were cutting down the nets in tournaments. We always seemed to be the underdogs but could pull out a few big games.”
In her freshman year at Ashtabula, Zappitelli ran cross-country, but didn’t care for it. So the following fall as a sophomore, she began playing volleyball.
“I found another sport that I love,” she said. "I ran track and lettered the three years I participated. I earned team, county and conference recognition and decided to attend a small college to continue playing volleyball and basketball.
During her high school career, Zappitelli received (school) MVP and All-Ashtabula County and All- Northeastern Conference recognition for volleyball and basketball. She later added MVP, all-tournament, All-PAC, All-OAC and special awards in college. She has been inducted into the Hiram College Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I could not have done any of it without my teammates and coaches,” she said.
As her senior season went on, Covington sent out player profile stat sheets to colleges all over the country (DI-DIII) and Zappitelli received a lot of interest from a variety of schools.
"After talking a lot with the coach at Canisius, I realized I wanted to go to a smaller school,” she said. "Hiram's basketball coach, Howard Jenter, a Grand Valley grad, took a lot of time talking to my family and I about the benefits of Hiram. I knew Nicole Deligianis was planning on going to Hiram, so it felt right.
"I chose Hiram as it gave me the opportunity to play both of the sports I loved, volleyball and basketball. Playing two sports gave me the structure and discipline I needed to transition into being a college student-athlete.”
Zappitelli proved to be one of those rare players who became a better college player than high school player.
"When I graduated college I knew I had scored over 1,000 points and held several records but do not know if any are still standing,” she said. "I was one of those players that got better with time,”
Though Hiram is not one of those schools that post all of its athletic records on the internet, one of Zappitelli’s records was mentioned this year on the school’s women’s basketball website. One of the Hiram players notched her 258th rebound of the season in a recent game, eclipsing Zappitelli’s record of 253.
Zappitelli earned a B.A. in Elementary Education at Hiram, then went on to complete her master’s degree. She later went back to school and earned her Administrative license from Gannon University.
After graduating she did some long-term substitute-teaching in Ashtabula while coaching volleyball and basketball at Pymatuning Valley.
Keith Thimons, the superintendent of Pymatuning Valley Schools then offered her a full-time teaching position at PV Primary. She continued coaching there until 199, when she was offered a teaching position in Conneaut.She taught sixth grade at Rowe Middle School and Conneaut Middle School until moving into administration
She has spent nine years as principal at Conneaut High School (with the honor of being the first female principal) in addition to six years (in two stints) at Gateway Elementary. She spent her first two years in administration at Gateway as an assistant principal and, going back four years ago, as principal.
Zappitelli has three daughters. The oldest, Angie, 26, was a three-sport athlete and valedictorian from Conneaut High School graduating with a B.A in exercise science from John Carroll University. Angie played softball at John Carroll and is currently working on her Doctorate of Physical Therapy at Cleveland State University.
Lexi, 24, was also a three-sport athlete for CHS and graduated in 2015. She recently finished her degree in Early Childhood Education and Special Education. Lexi has finished her collegiate softball career at Youngstown State University.
Maddie, 14, attends Conneaut Middle School. She is in the band and plays volleyball for the school as well as Club Ashtabula.
Dawn herself continues to coach volleyball for Club Ashtabula but resigned from coaching interscholastic sports when she became an administrator.