E. Islip bowling coach Rick Papandrea dies

East Islip bowling coach Rick Papandrea died Nov.

East Islip bowling coach Rick Papandrea died Nov. 4 after battling stomach cancer for seven months. (Credit: Newsday, 2011/Jessica Rotkiewicz)

Rick Papandrea broke out into song, off-key and ad-libbing lyrics that didn't rhyme or even make much sense.

His East Islip High School bowling team trailed by 400 pins late in the 2008 state championship tournament and, naturally, the pressure became palpable among the boys. So, the coach thought, what better way to ease some tension than with an impromptu verse?

"He wasn't any good, but he was doing it," said John Knieriemen, then a member of the team. "He was just being a goof."

The Redmen rallied for a storybook comeback, and East Islip became the first school in New York history to have its boys and girls bowling teams win state championships in the same year.

"That was Ricky," Knieriemen said, "always positive, no matter what. He always knew how to make everyone laugh and brighten your mood."

Papandrea, who grew up in North Babylon and moved to East Islip, died Sunday after a seven-month battle with stomach cancer. He was 53.

Papandrea developed a passion for bowling early. His father, Eugene, owned a pro shop in Bay Shore. Rick Papandrea competed on the PBA Tour in the 1970s and later opened pro shops on Long Island, including The Right Approach at East Islip Lanes in 1996.

Papandrea, though, was perhaps best known as a coach. He wasn't a faculty member at the school, but he helmed the East Islip boys team for 10 years, until his passing.

"He treated the state championship like a World Series," joked his son, Rick Jr., 29. "He loved the sport and those kids so much."

His teams also earned three Suffolk County championships, and the Suffolk Section XI squad he coached won the state all-star tournament in 2011 and took second last March.

Jacob Klein, a junior on East Islip's bowling team, said this season will have "an odd vibe with Big Ricky not around."

Beyond the success was Papandrea's calm demeanor and affable personality, loved ones said. Former East Islip bowler Nichole Wilson, now a student at Louisiana Tech, laughed while recalling Papandrea showing up to the 2009 county tournament with his fingernails painted red and black, courtesy of the girls.

"You needed something, Rick would be the first to jump up," East Islip girls coach Harold Cooley said. "He would even help out kids on other teams."

That help, Rick Papandrea Jr. said, included volunteering on weekends to host bowling clinics, donating equipment and offering guidance to youngsters.

"If it wasn't for Ricky, I'd probably still be in high school," said Knieriemen, who graduated in 2010. He led Long Island that year with a 230 average.

"I was failing school in ninth grade and he wouldn't let me bowl until I got my grades up in 10th grade . . . He always kept pushing me."

Tara Ernst, a 2011 East Islip bowler now at Briarcliffe College, said although Papandrea "wasn't my coach, he always had open arms. He was like a father figure to everyone."

Papandrea is survived by his son, Rick Jr., and girlfriend, Patti Young. He was predeceased by his older brother, Gene, who died in October.

The funeral service will be 10 a.m. Friday at St. Patrick's Church in Bay Shore.

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