Mike Capone wanted to be a Nassau County football coach when he started teaching, and instead, the Massapequa school district gave him its gymnastics team. Neither he nor the program would be the same.
Rather than grumbling about the job, he threw himself into it wholeheartedly -- his gymnasts and other coaches teaching him how to spot and how to train. Thirty-seven years later, in a home meet against Hicksville Friday, Capone saw the fruits of his labor: led by senior Katie Wall, he earned his 300th victory.
"It's feels really, really good," he said. "My kids were unbelievably happy . . . I really wasn't counting on this, but it just happened. It started off as a year to year thing, but I got more involved as the years went on, and the more involved I got, the more I got to enjoy it."
Since dual-meet season can be as short as nine or 10 matches a year, Capone's total makes him the winningest coach in Long Island. He is in the top three for coaches in the state, according to Nassau gymnastics coordinator Kim Rhatigan and NYSPHSA records. His team is 7-3 in league this season and has historically finished as one of the top three squads in the county. The state team is often peppered with Massapequa gymnasts.
"He has such a wealth of knowledge for gymnastics," Rhatigan said. "He has more knowledge than all of us put together."
Capone said his most vivid coaching memory was winning the team championship at Floral Park High School in the mid-70s. A picture of him ran in Newsday the next day, jumping up in excitement with his fist in the air.
"The kids were the thing," he said. "It was such a great accomplishment and then for them to pick it up, and do as well as they did . . . The kids are the ones that made me better."
All these years later, he's returning the favor.