Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Nicholas "Nick" Cavallaro

Clearwater Central Catholic's Nick Cavallaro dies at 88

CLEARWATER — The wake for Nick Cavallaro started at 5 p.m. Thursday at Clearwater Central Catholic High School, in the school's James B. White Performing Arts Theater. A steady stream of colleagues, former students and friends wandered the aisles, studying tributes laid out for the man universally hailed as the father of the school's athletic program.

There were yearbooks (The Praedator) full of black-and-white photos. Awards filled several tables: a National High School Athletic Coaches Association's regional athletic director of the year in 1993; state champs, 1976, one of 335 basketball games he won as a coach over a lifetime.

Other memorials bore the markings of time and handcrafted care, such as the laminated plaque cheerleaders made for him 37 years ago. Easels full of clippings trotted out for his retirement ceremony in 1995 were trotted out again.

Mr. Cavallaro, who built an athletic program that achieved 27 state championships under his watch, died Aug. 14 after an extended illness. He was 88. Visitors paid respects at the casket near the stage, where Mr. Cavallaro was decked out in a red blazer matching the school's colors, rosary beads curled around his right hand.

"He put Clearwater Central Catholic on the map," said Mike O'Keeffe, a former Clearwater Sun sportswriter.

As a basketball coach, the man students called "Mr. Marauder" was tough but not harshly confrontational. A disgusted, "Judas Priest!" was as close as he came to swearing.

Many recalled his penchant for chewing peppermint Doublemint gum, something he could not do without during games.

"If he didn't have that gum, we would have to hit 10 or 11 7-Elevens and he would go into a panic," said Jerry Cavallaro, his son.

Born in Morgantown, W. Va., in 1925, Nicholas Cavallaro played high school sports. The Navy listed him as 5 feet 2 (generous by about 2 inches, his family said), and he served during World War II.

He majored in physical education at West Virginia University, and married Dorothy Ledford in 1954. The marriage lasted 34 years, his family said.

He took the coaching job at Clearwater Central Catholic in 1963, the year after the school was founded.

"He used to cut the grass. He used to line the fields," said John Kisz, 64, who played basketball at the school in the mid 1960s.

After struggling the first couple of years, his teams began to find a groove, despite having no home court and holding practices in the parking lot.

In 1965, Clearwater Central Catholic beat Largo High, which then had an all-county player averaging 28 points a game. When it became clear the team was headed to victory, Kisz said, "I remember looking at Nick, and he was calm and cool like he had been there 100 years."

As the school struggled financially, Mr. Cavallaro organized a "Dads Club" to maintain the grounds.

"In a time when some issues related to the school were under question, Nick was like a beacon of light," said Sister Dion Horrigan, 70, the school's former longtime principal.

Besides a gym named after Mr. Cavallaro, the school now has a lighted football field, a 440-yard track, and lighted baseball and softball fields.

Career highlights included back to back appearances in state AA basketball finals, winning in 1976 and losing in 1977.

In all sports, he insisted on playing against the best competition, withdrawing from a conference of only private schools in 1966.

"You wanted to play for him because he was positive," said lawyer Anthony Granese, 67, a former basketball player at the school. "He didn't yell at you. He wanted you to play better."

At the wake Thursday, the number of well-wishers in the theater had doubled within two hours.

Next door, workers had nearly finished laying down new maple flooring on the 13,000-square-foot Cavallaro Gymnasium, just in time for the start of another year.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at or (727) 892-2248.

Nicholas 'Nick' Cavallaro

Born: Aug. 13, 1925

Died: Aug. 14, 2013

Survivors: sons, Dan, Jerry and Ted Cavallaro; daughter, Vicki Cavallaro; sister, Rose Marie Weimer; two grandchildren.

Clearwater Central Catholic's Nick Cavallaro dies at 88 08/20/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 8:58am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Comedian and activist Dick Gregory dies at 84


    The comedian Dick Gregory rose to national prominence in the early 1960s as a black satirist whose audacious style of humor was biting, subversive and topical, mostly centered on current events, politics and above all, racial tensions. His trademark was the searing punchline.

    Dick Gregory, a comedian, activist and author, died Saturday. [Tribune News Service, 2011]
  2. Winter Haven police investigating armed robbery at Dollar General


    WINTER HAVEN — Police are investigating an armed robbery Friday night of a Dollar General store on W Lake Ruby Drive.

  3. Rowdies settle for draw at home


    ST. PETERSBURG — The good news for the Rowdies is that they still haven't lost a game at Al Lang Stadium since late April. The bad news is they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against Ottawa on Saturday night in front of 6,710 sweaty fans.

  4. Bats come to life, but Rays' freefall continues (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG —The six runs seemed like a ton, just the second time the Rays had scored that many in a game during their numbing two-plus-weeks stretch of offensive impotency, and amazingly, the first time at the Trop in nearly two months.

    Lucas Duda connects for a two-run home run in the sixth, getting the Rays within 7-5. A Logan Morrison home run in the ninth made it 7-6, but Tampa Bay couldn’t complete the comeback.
  5. 'Free speech rally' cut short after massive counterprotest


    BOSTON — Thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-Nazi slogans converged Saturday on downtown Boston in a boisterous repudiation of white nationalism, dwarfing a small group of conservatives who cut short their planned "free speech rally" a week after a gathering of hate groups led to bloodshed in Virginia.

    Thousands of people march against a “free speech rally” planned Saturday in Boston. About 40,000 people were in attendance.