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By Tom Hines
Whether you know him as Mr. Torregrossa, Coach, Mr. T, Tony or just T, he has received much deserved attention of late for his recent awards and accomplishments. One of the most recent is his surpassing the 800 victory mark in high school varsity coaching. A member of six athletic halls of fame, Coach Torregrossa’s career finds itself slowing down as this school year comes to a close. This year was the first in over three decades that Tony was not the director of Smithfield High School athletics. He also has recently resigned as longtime wrestling coach. However, this year he did add tennis to his impressive coaching resume’.
When asked what his vision or philosophy has been over the years in guiding such a successful athletic program, he did not hesitate responding. “I never wanted our teams to run away from challenging competition. When I left, 75% of our teams competed in division I.” He added, “In the last five years we have won six division championships.”
As we wandered back through the years, I needed to be reminded how his long and storied career began. Tony recalled volunteering as a football coach at North Smithfield before beginning at Smithfield in 1969. Since he was teaching in the Smithfield system at the time, it was a natural fit. Once becoming the athletic director in the 70’s, he was at first reluctant to be also coaching. However, his long run as one of the most successful softball coaches in the state, in a sense, happened by accident. “We were looking for a coach and two applicants had dropped out. When no others applied, I took it. I figured that I was in the school every day and was still playing softball for Killarney Castle in the Johnston league. It seemed to make sense. Fortunately, we were successful right away and the program caught on.”
Tony fondly remembered the 1993 softball team as one of his most “fun” coaching experiences. He recalled with pride, “we finished the season with a 6-10 record and then ran the table to win the state championship. That was fun. I had such a great bunch of kids led by Alicia Luongo and Liz Bateman.” He then went on to emphasize that the real fun part for him has always been seeing kids learn, progress and be successful. “The look on a kid’s face when he or she never expected to win and they do – that’s it!” Tony also pointed out that although the coach deserves some credit, it has always been those athletes who do the hard work and make the commitment to win the games or the matches who deserve the credit. “I never expected or accepted mediocrity. I used to put up a sign in the locker room at the start of softball season – WE EXPECT TO BE PLAYING AT NOTTE PARK IN JUNE.” He went on to mention two wrestlers, Don Gaunt and Matt Medina, as examples of athletes who responded well to his coaching expectations. “They worked their butts off and became state champs. They always gave everything.”
As we continued to reminisce about various teams, championships and players, Tony quietly said, “You know, after all the years of coaching and teaching, when I run into former students the first thing they do is smile. It shows me that they know that I cared about them and that they have memories of good times.” It is safe to say that hundreds, if not thousands, of former Smithfield High students and athletes will have smiles come to their faces for years to come when they remember Mr. T.