One of the most respected and knowledgeable high school football coaches in Western New York history has died. Frank Constantino, Depew's legendary coach of 33 years, died of congestive heart failure Friday (Nov. 26, 2004). He was 81.
Constantino's dedication to his Depew family and his passion for football were obvious to those who knew him. It was also obvious to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame committee, which made him a member of its first induction class in 1991.
Constantino was an intensely loyal person who had a deep affection for his players.
As a boy, he studied voice to appease his father. His voice would someday be heard, but his stage would be a football field.
His early experiences as a player were the foundation for his lifelong love of the game. He played three seasons at Lancaster High School before graduating in 1943. One day after graduating, he was inducted into the United States Navy, where he served three years during World War II.
After the military, he attended the University of Buffalo, where he earned his bachelor's and master's of education degrees and his administration certification.
With some nudging from his high school coach, Bill Kling, he realized his goal of playing college football. He played for the Bulls during the 1947, '48 and '49 seasons under coaches Jim Peelle and Frank Clair.
Weighing just 170 pounds, Constantino started at guard and was described as "an excellent submariner" by The Buffalo Evening News. He and teammate Frank Radzwill, another 170-pound guard, were nicknamed "mighty mites" and the "watch-charm guards."
"He was a terror and a good football player," said Radzwill. "We used to antagonize people, but that's how we lasted. We were small fellows in those days. That's back when two little guys could play. Frank was our singer. He sang us through college on our football trips, all the Frank Sinatra songs."
In 1954, Constantino was hired as a physical education teacher at Depew High School, where he remained until his retirement in 1986. During his tenure he coached five sports: football, baseball, track and field, volleyball and basketball.
His football record speaks volumes about his ability to motivate players and produce winners. From 1955 to '87, Constantino compiled a record of 178-88-7, including 11 divisional championships.
"The way you look. The way you come out on that practice field. The way you dress for pregame warm-ups -- it's six points," Constantino once said.
His wins are the fifth most in Western New York behind Johnny Barnes of Canisius (287 wins), Gene Masters of Brocton/Grand Island (248), George Vetter of North Tonawanda (194) and Joe Shifflet of Sweet Home/Tonawanda/Niagara Falls (180). In 1972, after an 8-0 season, Constantino was named Western New York Coach of the Year.
He coached 10 All-Western New York players, but his most accomplished was 1982 graduate Don Majkowski, a Pro Bowl quarterback in 1989 who had a 10-year NFL career spent with Green Bay, Indianapolis and Detroit.
"We had this prayer that we said before games, and at the end of the prayer coach (Constantino) was in the middle of the huddle and he'd say, 'God bless you, good luck and I love you guys,' " Majkowski said in a telephone interview from Atlanta. "I played for coaches in college and five, six, seven (different) coaches in the pros, and there really wasn't any coach who showed the passion he did as far as being a member of a family. He made you feel proud to be a part of Depew. I loved him more than anybody."
Constantino and his Lancaster counterpart, Joe Foyle, helped shape the Lancaster-Depew rivalry into the biggest event of the year in either village.
Adversaries on the field, the pair would attend Mass together the morning of the big game. In 25 games against Foyle, Constantino won 13 times and lost 12.
"I always enjoyed cutting his lawn," Foyle said jokingly.
"This was a blessing. He's in a better place, right in the front row," added Foyle. "He was a great competitor. He was a very devout man. We were such good friends the bitterness (of rivalry) was taken out of it and our kids would root for each other until the game. Every time I hear someone sing 'My Way,' I think of him."
Constantino's leadership extended beyond the football field and into administration. He was Depew's director of athletics from 1971 until '87, and for 17 years he was chairman of Division V in the Section VI Football Federation.
In one of many tributes, Depew's facilities behind the school for football, tennis and track were named in 1987 the "Frank Constantino Sports Complex."
He was inducted onto the Lancaster High School Wall of Fame in 1991.
Constantino is survived by his wife of 54 years, the former Louise Di Pizio, and four adult children: Sibby (Peggy) of Lancaster; Maryann of Lancaster; Paulette of Depew; and Frankie Joe of Depew; along with two grandsons, Michael and Benjamin Batchelder.
The family will be present to receive friends at the Wendel and Loecher Funeral Home, 27 Aurora St., in Lancaster from 2-9 p.m. today and Sunday.
A memorial service will be at Our Lady of Pompeii, 158 Laverack in Lancaster, at 9:30 a.m. Monday.