The door to Ralph Napolitano’s colonial is always open. His home has been a welcome comfort to wrestlers in the Brentwood High School program.
"My door is always open," Napolitano said. "I’m blessed to have a wife who understands our community and the need to be there for our people. It’s different here. Sometimes you need a meal, sometimes you need a place to lay your head. In the end, it’s all about caring for someone and making them feel safe and important. That’s all we do."
It is with that care that Napolitano has opened his home to student-athletes in need. The 54-year-old Napolitano has guided the Brentwood varsity for 20 years and accumulated a 312-75 dual meet record for a Suffolk record winning percentage of .806. He also has 10 dual meet titles, nine league tournament titles and two Suffolk County Division I championships.
"The winning takes care of itself," Napolitano said. "We train very hard, and we dedicate ourselves to the expectations of the program. Those expectations include academic achievement, having a positive impact in the community and sportsmanship."
Brentwood finished with a 19-1 record, won the Suffolk League I title and went on to capture the Suffolk Division I dual meet championship for the first time in school history this season. They reached the state dual meet semifinal round, suffering their only loss, 37-21, to Wantagh.
"Coach Nap always looks out for his guys," said Ricardo Gomez, a two-time Suffolk champion in 2008-09, who also finished third in the state tournament twice. "I basically came from nothing and made the most of my situation through perseverance and hard work. Coach taught me how to overcome and that nothing was impossible."
Gomez went on to win an NCAA Division III national championship for Ithaca in 2013. He is currently working as a staff accountant at Cornell while working on his master’s degree and coaching part-time in the Ithaca program.
"Ricardo would live with me for months at a time," Napolitano said. "I would oversee his schoolwork, training for wrestling and nutrition. And I would especially look after Ricardo, who was a special needs student, and needed the love and the support. He eventually worked his way out of the resource room and into the mainstream classes to be accepted at Ithaca and get his college degree."
Gomez became a three-time All-American and ultimately a national champion.
"I didn’t know my biological father and Nap was a father figure for me," said Gomez, now 32. "He is a role model. He is an advocate of education. I would stay in his basement and read books. He started me on the path to success."
Napolitano is revered in the coaching ranks for his educational values, generosity and leadership qualities.
"You can’t measure Nappy’s impact in the Brentwood community," Central Islip coach Brad Brzozinski said. "The love for his district and the people that reside there goes very deep. He is committed to making a difference."
"It takes a village in Brentwood," Napolitano said. "Many students have one-parent situations, and those parents work two jobs just to make ends meet. I have so much respect for the hard-working folks in the district, so whatever I can do to help — is going to be done."
Napolitano has been a physical education teacher for 29 years at the North Middle School in Brentwood. It is there he sets the foundation for future wrestlers in his program. He has two state champions in Ken Torres at 112 pounds in 2004 and Carlos Toribio at 170 in 2013.
"I’m always looking for good kids to represent our program," he said. "We’re constantly looking for that next guy. We want to guide them in the right direction and give them a chance in life. We want to keep them away from the distractions and evil that could ruin a life."
Maureen Morony married Napolitano 25 years ago. They have three boys ages 18 to 23. She knew what kind of selfless man she was marrying.
"I was like, OK, I know he’s like this because his mother was like that," said Maureen, who works full time for the past nine years as an office manager for Absolute Plumbing of Long Island. "His mom took people in and was very welcoming. We don’t have much but we give what we can."
One of Brentwood’s assistant coaches, Alex Gomez, who also does private wrestling training, graduated in 2011, and spent time at the Napolitano household.
Gomez, a six-time All-Suffolk wrestler and four-time league champion, was a two-time All-State place-winner.
"Alex pretty much always needed a place to stay," Napolitano said. "He went from a special education kid to a kid who earned his master’s from Cornell. All he needed was a solid foundation to succeed in life. And we gave him one."
Maureen has fond and funny memories of the boys living with them. Cutting weight and staying in shape took much discipline — something they needed to learn. She once caught Alex Gomez eating in the middle of the night.
"Alex was sneaking something to eat behind the peninsula on the kitchen island and he was crouched down on the floor hiding from me," she laughed. "They all had to make weight the next morning, so I ordered him to bed. When I went upstairs, Ralph was just laughing — he’s incredible."
Just Nappy being Nappy.
“I’m always looking for good kids to represent our program. We’re constantly looking for that next guy. We want to guide them in the right direction and give them a chance in life.”
— Ralph Napolitano