The Walt Whitman High School football team penned a great turnaround story in 1984.
The season before, the Wildcats finished 1-7, then with largely the same group of players played to an 8-1-1 record and won the Suffolk Division I championship with a defeat of Sachem in the title game.
Rich Cariddi, who coached the Wildcats for 25 seasons, taught physical education at Whitman in Huntington Station for 34 years and went on to become an adjunct professor in the Physical Education Department at Nassau Community College. He died on May 6 as a result of complications from Alzheimer's disease in South Carolina. He was 74.
“My father impacted a lot of people for the positive, including myself,” said John Cariddi, his son who is now assistant principal at Sachem East High School. “I don’t think I’d have pursued a career in education were it not for him.”
“Coach Cariddi really touched the people who played in the football program for him,” said Rich Spadaro, a captain on the 1984 Whitman team. “He was really dedicated to his profession and was revered by his players.”
Babylon football coach Rick Punzone, who played for Cariddi in 1979 and 1980 and later supervised him as Whitman athletic director for two years, called him “a dedicated professional and a great motivator of student-athletes.”
“I looked up to him as a player, and I looked up to him as his boss,” Punzone said. “He was respected by all in the football community.”
Cariddi was born on June 15, 1947. He grew up on Long Island and attended Island Trees High School and then Adelphi, where he played football and lacrosse. He was inducted into the Island Trees Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996.
Soon after, he became an assistant football coach at Whitman and was the offensive coordinator for the 1974 team that won the Suffolk AAA crown and the Rutgers Trophy.
He became the Wildcats’ head coach in 1977. He finished with a record of 79-119 and the one championship.
“His record wasn’t great, but it was a case of Xs and Os and Jimmys and Joes,” Spadaro said. “While the school was known for other sports — especially basketball at the time — the football program didn’t have a lot of talent coming through. The turnaround from 1-7 to Rutgers [Trophy] winner was really the best example of his ability to coach and develop players.”
Cariddi is survived by his wife, Donna; sons, Rich, Don and John; daughters-in-law, Jamie and Christina; and grandchildren, Harrison, Alex, James and Caroline.