Former Trojan did it all... and did it well
By KARL PEARSON
Talk about a person who attended the College of Hard Knocks and you probably get a picture of the life of the late Leo Mucci.
One thing about such people can often legitimately be said about those who attended that school, though. Generally speaking, they are the ones who neither ask for pity nor expect any.
Typical of the people whose path in life have taken them down that road of trial, Leo Mucci didn’t see it that way. He just tried to the best of his ability to make sure other people experienced joyful lives and avoided the path he trod before he died on New Year’s Day, 2003.
One of the things that became a central part of Mucci’s existence was his love of sports, particularly basketball. At various points in his life, it gave him opportunities. At almost all points, basketball became a kind of sanctuary for him.
“Basketball was an outlet for my dad,” Mucci’s son, Mike, who still resides in Conneaut, said. “It was sort of a medication for him. It gave him the platform to express himself.”
Mucci’s life was never easy. Born as the youngest child of 11 of Michael and Ermina Mucci as a first-generation Italian-American on Aug. 29, 1928, he had to grow up quickly because his father died when he was only 9.
Perhaps because of that loss, Mucci gravitated to other men who became keen influences on his life such as his friend Pete Iarocci’s father, Nick, who lived across the street.
Because of his love for basketball, Mucci also gravitated to the magnetic personality of his coach at Conneaut High School, Andy Garcia, who was in the early part of his career with the team known during Mucci’s playing days as the Trojans. In Garcia’s second season at Conneaut and Mucci’s senior season of 1947-48, it produced a 20-6 record and reached the district semifinals with him serving as a team captain.
Mike Mucci said his father always revered Garcia.
“Mr. Garcia was a father figure for my dad,” the oldest of the Muccis’ six children said.
Garcia’s son, Phil, a renowned area official, said the admiration was mutual.
“My dad said Leo Mucci was the best player he ever coached,” Phil Garcia said.
Mucci had a shot at sports at the college when he graduated from Conneaut. Bowling Green and its legendary coach, Harold Anderson, a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, saw enough in him that he was offered a basketball scholarship.
But, once again, other forces intervened to derail Mucci’s college career.
“There were money problems at home, so he had to come back,” Mike Mucci said.
It was a time of great strife in the world. Mucci did his part for his country, serving in the U.S. Army from 1950-52. During that period, he also was married to the former Mary DiFilippo on Dec. 21, 1950.
Once he returned from his time in the service, and and Mary settled down to develop their family. He settled into the life of his community as well, playing in the Conneaut city basketball league and coaching grade school basketball at St. Mary’s Elementary, a development that led to a longtime pattern of working with the city’s young players.
But circumstances on the home front intervened to prevent from truly taking basketball to the lengths that he might have otherwise. Mucci also became deeply involved in basketball officiating and quickly developed a reputation from being one of the best in the business. He often worked with some of the most renowned area high school officials of the day like ACBFs Hall of Famer Henry Garvey and Bill Brainard and Lake County legend Bud Ruland.
But his beloved wife became ill in the late 1960s.
“My mother had a home accident in 1968 or 1969,” Mike Mucci said. “It was a cerebral injury that became progressively worse and my father took on the duties of caring for her.”
His wife’s illness came along just at the time when Leo Mucci was about to get his big break in basketball officiating.
“My dad worked a lot with Paul Mihalik and they went to a tryout to become NBA officials,” Mike Mucci said. “I think he could have made it, but he had too many responsibilities at home.”
But the opportunities to officiate games in the area and work with young players in the community was one of the things that kept Leo Mucci going. He also found the time to serve as a founding member of the Downtown Coaches Club and Athletic Boosters Club in Conneaut.
Now, Mucci has earned a singular honor, albeit more than eight years after his passing. He will join Garcia, an inaugural member of the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame, on Sunday.
“Dad would have said he was thankful for this recognition,” Mike Mucci said. “But he’d also have said his teammates and coaches were the ones deserving of recognition.
“Andy Garcia’s legacy was substantial. Dad would have been extremely happy to join Andy in the Hall of Fame because he would have considered himself part of Andy’s legacy as a coach and a mentor. He was proud to come from the Garcia tree.”