It was one of many tough calls that girls basketball coach Rocco Sansone has had to make during his eight years in town, but after a Tolland career marked by stellar players and inspiring runs for the state championship title, Sansone has decided that it's time for him to move on.
"After eight years, I felt it was time to try something new," Sansone said, adding that a career change may also prevent him from being able to devote enough time to coaching for a year or so.
There's no doubt that he has left his mark on the high school basketball program. Just this year, the Eagles , fighting relentlessly against the eventual winner, Weaver High School.
In previous years, Sansone has led the team to the Final Four five times as well four visits to the NCCC finals. Four of his players have scored over a thousand points, and eleven were named All-Conference.
And while he is proud of the program's success, Sansone is quick to give credit to the players.
"You're only as good as the talent," he said, thanking the athletes for keeping the program strong academically and for maintaining a strong sense of sportsmanship.
"I never had issues with kids being ineligible to play. Rule number one for me was 'school came first,'" he said, adding, "I have so many great kids, and none of them were ever disrespectful."
Sansone said he is proud of the program that has developed over his career at the high school, but when asked, he did comment that he believes could damage Tolland's sports culture.
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"I think it takes away from the game, and it turns into a problem as a coach because your job description changes from being to a coach to being a fundraiser/coach," Sansone said. "It's also always in the back of your mind during practice," he added, saying it can be difficult for a coach to not play a student whose family paid hundreds to participate in the sport.
However, Sansone said that the support of the parents and community have been crucial to shaping what he said is a fantastic basketball program.
"I believe we had a class act. I always had the support of the school system. I had the opportunity to practice when I wanted to practice; I was never micro-managed. And I really appreciate the parents who were very supportive."
As for his own future in basketball, Sansone said he is contemplating several offers, if his schedule allows it. But wherever he goes, he said he will cherish his time in Tolland.
"I've got a lot of great memories."