Lenny Mattera was a former head football coach at Amityville...

Lenny Mattera was a former head football coach at Amityville and Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK high schools and assistant coach at Bay Shore. Credit: Anita Markey

Frank DeVenuto was a 15-year-old football player at the time, but he still remembers the impression Lenny Mattera made on him.

DeVenuto was a 5-7 reserve running back competing for the West Babylon junior varsity in a scrimmage at Amityville. The players were shaking hands afterward when DeVenuto’s coach, Tom Howard, called him over. Howard was standing with the opposing team's coach, Mattera.

"What I remember that day was that Lenny shook my hand, patted me on the shoulder and said some really amazing things,” DeVenuto said, that moment still resonating 47 years later.

“To hear that as a young teenager — it’s one thing to be praised by your own coach, but then when it’s an opposing coach you don’t even know  . . . . But Lenny has always been like that,” DeVenuto said.

Indeed there were so many Frank DeVenutos over Mattera’s career, so many young people impacted for the better, so many who will remember that high school football coach at Amityville, Bay Shore and Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK, that Northwest Elementary School and Edmund W. Miles Middle School physical education teacher in Amityville, that Williston Park resident. Mattera died from natural causes at age 80 on March 15, his family said.

“The things he was most proud of was the accomplishments his students and players have made themselves over all these years,” said Anita Markey, his partner for the last 33 years. “He was very humble.”

Born in Brooklyn, Mattera moved with his family to Old Bethpage when he was 14. He played football at Bethpage and then at Plainview, where he was in the Class of 1961. After graduating from the University of Bridgeport in 1966, he began his 32-year teaching career in the Amityville district.

His success story in coaching really took off at Bay Shore. He was the varsity’s offensive and defensive line coach under Howard from 1981-87.

“Lenny was a character, but he was kind, caring and loved people,” Howard said.

The Marauders went 35-5 and won four straight Suffolk division championships from 1983-86. The first two seasons came with a Rutgers Trophy, given to the county’s top high school football team.

In his first three years there, he was the position coach for Bernie Sengstock, then a guard/linebacker and now a chiropractic doctor and Baptist church deacon living in East Islip.

“Lenny was the first person, I think, who really gave me the confidence and belief in myself,” said Sengstock, who kept in touch with Mattera and called him “a man of faith.”

“He believed in me before I even believed in myself. As a sophomore trying to make the team, Lenny saw something in me that I didn’t even know I had. Like every good coach, he turned ordinary players into an extraordinary team. He basically helped guide me to become the player that I was, but also taught me lessons in teamwork and effort.

“He had a soft side to him, but he also knew how to light a fire to get you motivated.”

Mattera went on to serve as the head coach of the Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK varsity in 1991 and 1992 and the Amityville varsity from 1994-2000. His Amityville teams claimed two Suffolk division titles, one Long Island championship and one Rutgers Trophy.

“That was his dream come true,” Markey said of running that program at Amityville, where he also coached volleyball, bowling and handball. “He loved ‘The ’Ville.’ ”

His funeral mass was held at St. Martin of Tours in Amityville on March 21. Besides Markey, he’s survived by his daughter, Laurie Mattera, sister Kathleen Kunicki, and brother James Mattera.

DeVenuto considered Lenny Mattera as “my older brother.”

Despite their 19-year age difference, they forged a close friendship, bonding not just over football but also their love for Rangers hockey.

After that initial encounter in 1977, they met up again as members of Howard’s Bay Shore staff. DeVenuto then became Mattera’s offensive coordinator at Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK and Amityville before succeeding Mattera as Amityville’s head coach.

“I truly miss him,” DeVenuto said. “If I got a hold of one of the greatest authors of all time and had them try to articulate in writing the true meaning of friendship, I don’t know if they could come up with one that could justify what a great friend Lenny was not just to me, but to so many people, and what he did for so many people.”


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