Growing up, one of the best things about being Thomas DeLuca's little brother was "being able to tell people you're Tom's little brother." So it was for John DeLuca, and now, some 70 years later, it still is.

Thomas DeLuca, a Long Beach High School star and later a three-sport coach there, passed away in his Las Vegas home surrounded by family Oct. 1. He was 78.

"I always idolized him," John DeLuca, 74, said. "As a kid I was the ball boy on all his teams and I'd tell everybody, 'That's my brother!' "

DeLuca never reached the big leagues, but he starred in college, played professionally briefly and went on to a long teaching and coaching career.

"He's a legend in this town," said longtime friend Larry Elovich, chairman of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce. "He was the greatest athlete in Long Beach history."

Thomas DeLuca, the eldest of seven children born in Brooklyn on Sept. 2, 1933, is survived by his wife, Julie; children Patricia Killarney, Andrew DeLuca and Joseph DeLuca; grandchildren Derrick, Andrew, Jillian, Shane, Katherine and Danny; and siblings John DeLuca, Angel Caruolo, Teresa Fox and Donna DiGiacomo.

DeLuca was cremated and a private memorial service was held Friday in Las Vegas. He had suffered a stroke three years ago, his brother said.

"He was a really good family man," Julie DeLuca, his wife of 51 years, said. "You hung out with Tom, you came back to our house. Friday nights we'd have pizza at our house and he'd invite teachers and other coaches over. He brought people home and made everybody family. He kept his friends his whole life . . . He was always honest and fair with people. More than being a good ballplayer, he was a good man."

At 5-11, 175 pounds, DeLuca was never imposing, his brother said, "but he was just so skilled. Whatever he did, he took to it naturally." On the diamond, he was a pitcher and slick-fielding shortstop; a speedy running back on the football team; on the basketball court, a guard "that could shoot all day."

DeLuca went on to play baseball and basketball at NYU (he received All-American honors in both) and earned a teaching degree. He served two years in the Army during the Korean War before signing with the St. Louis Cardinals. DeLuca played for two minor-league teams in 1957 before a knee injury cut short his big-league aspirations, Elovich said.

He undertook a teaching career that led him back to Long Beach High School. During his 20-year tenure, he taught physical education and coached baseball, basketball and football. In 1984, "Mr. D," as he was called, led the Marines' basketball team to the Class A Long Island championship and the state final.

"He never expressed regret about not making the majors," John DeLuca said. "He loved children, so he enjoyed teaching . . . Long Beach was a rough neighborhood at the time and he helped a lot of kids. He got so many letters from people over the years saying he impacted their lives."

DeLuca retired in 1995 and, with his wife, moved to Las Vegas, where he opened Toys of Yesteryear, selling antique toys he collected.

The passion for sports never left DeLuca. He remained an avid Mets (post-Brooklyn Dodgers), Jets and Knicks fan.

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