Frank Rizzo | Democrat
Ryan Loughney, left, greets Missy and Joe Iatauro at their retirement dinner. An outstanding field performer, Loughney has Olympic ambitions. “For the record, this is the longest I’ve ever seen ‘Mr. I’ sit,” he had joshed minutes before. Loughney won three straight NCAA Division II hammer throw titles.
The I’s definitely had it
For the first time since the 1970s, Tri-Valley CS athletes face a year without Joe and Elaine “Missy” Iatauro as cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field coaches. In June, the couple retired after completing their 39th and 34th consecutive year of coaching/teaching respectively. Joe had already ended his long tenure as athletic director two years before, and Missy retired from teaching elementary science and math this spring.
Story by Frank Rizzo
GRAHAMSVILLE September 6, 2013 The championships, the victories, the records can be measured.
The hard work, sacrifice, dedication and influence on countless lives cannot.
The self-evident mystery is how they did it. How did what Joe referred to as “rinky-dink” Tri-Valley produce so many champions and stellar student-athletes in the sports coached by the Iatauros?
A retirement party given in the couple’s honor earlier this summer at The Sullivan in Rock Hill shed some light.
Addressing the crowd, two-time state cross country champ Heather Iatauro Cowles recalled a practice session as a sophomore.
“I wasn’t hitting my splits. My mom came up to me and said, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’”
Heather muttered something indecipherable.
“It’s just pain, Heather, just pain…get moving,” Missy admonished. As related by Heather, “She turned to my dad [and said], ‘What’s the matter with her? She’s just being a wuss!’”
Heather and husband Greg are now aerospace engineers in Washington, D.C.
Son Joe Jr. noted: “There is a special ingredient, which my dad called ‘blood and guts’ and everybody else calls ‘intestinal fortitude.’
“If you want to know about intestinal fortitude go down to the track from three to five o’clock on Monday through Friday…and do my father’s core workout of sixteen 400-meter runs.”
He then went on to do pitch-perfect imitations of his father’s exhortations, blandishments and encouragements.
“They always instilled in me hard work and determination,” Joey said of his parents. “I was a little boy. I didn’t have any confidence…my mom, when it came to race time, told me, ‘You’ve done the work. You’ve prepared.’ And that gave me all the confidence in the world.”
The dinner, attended by over 230 people, was sprung as a surprise and organized by Missy’s sister Lynn Stratton McDonald, emcee Cathy Coombe Bender (a top 10 state cross country meet finisher in ’85) and others.
The Iatauros’ two children had to “mislead” their parents.
“This is the second time they’ve lied to us,” Joe Sr. said to laughter. “The first time they were grounded for three years!”
The affair took on the flavor of an old “This Is Your Life” episode as dozens of people from the couple’s past showed up.
One of the first ones Missy ran into in the lobby was Trista Drobysh Simoncek (’89 grad), a member of her 1987 and 1988 state cross country championship teams. These were the first of six state cross country titles she would garner, the most of any coach in any sport in Sullivan County history.
Speaker after speaker went up to the microphone and bore witnesses to the life-enhancing and transforming influence the Iatauros had cast.
After Robert Landau gave an invocation, wife Martha spoke on behalf of daughters Caryn, Kate and Nancy, who could not attend. They were among the most accomplished of the Iatauros’ charges, and Kate, a three-time state cross country champ, was perhaps the finest female runner the county has ever produced.
Caryn wrote how her world changed dramatically when she came under the influence of the couple and “it was almost like having a second set of parents.”
Caryn quoted Joe: “We give 110 percent…all we expect of you is 100 percent.”
Dr. Richard Rutkowski, one of Joe’s early standouts, related a funny story of staying in a Notre Dame University dorm with his coach (the Iatauros were known for taking their athletes far afield, even making trips to Hawaii) and being kept awake by Joe’s noisy squashing of a horde of cockroaches.
Retired TVCS Superintendent Robert Kelz, who hired the couple, noted, “It’s unbelievable what they did for the kids. I’m glad it’s not going to be my job to find replacements for these two. Our students are blessed to have you.”
Norty Hyman coached Missy at TVCS, noting the accomplishments of someone who was to be accepted to the first women’s class at West Point, in 1976 (she declined to attend).
Of the Iatauros’ success, the pioneering girls’ coach said, “Coaches will say, ‘They’re lucky. They get a lot of talent.’ It’s funny. The harder they work, the luckier they get!”
Jimmy Bernstein broke into tears as he described how his coaches successfully transformed someone “like me, who couldn’t run a mile in under 12 minutes. They see potential in people and believe in them.”
As for the future?
“I built them a house in Georgia,” Joey said of his parents. Then, to laughter: “There was an ulterior motive. They’ll be providing day care for free.”
Joe Jr., an engineer, lives in Alfaretta, GA, with wife Amy and kids Haley (3) and Luke (1).
“They meant a lot to me. They meant a lot to everyone here,” said Joey in a sentiment that summed up the long event.
“We’ll definitely be back. This is our home,” Missy promised.
“What’s so special about tonight is that this is our family,” said Joe Sr. “I spent more time with [track and field people] than I did with my own family. We didn’t go to birthday parties. We went to track meets.”
Joe quoted his late father-in-law, Vernon “Bud” Stratton, when they had to miss yet another family function: “This is what they do,” Missy’s father had said.
“It’s the end...it really is the end. We never thought it would happen, but it’s the end of a great thing at Tri-Valley,” Joe Sr. summed up. “Please keep it going, the present athletes.”