Soccer Community Comes Out To Support Coach 'Pep'
By Keith Mills
The crowd began gathering at Archbishop Curley long before the 2 p.m. start time as the Baltimore soccer fraternity poured out for one of its own -- former Curley player and coach Tom “Pep” Perrella.
"The soccer community is a brotherhood," Mario Scilipoti said. "I don't care who you are, where you played high school ball, what club team you played for, what college team you played for. When it comes to putting back into the community and helping out a guy like Pep, it just doesn't matter."
Three months ago, Perrella was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic and liver cancer and in just three weeks a fundraiser was organized in honor of his two daughters, Gabby and Ivy, both students at Mercy High School.
"It is extremely gratifying to see everyone," said Ruth Barker, Perrella's sister. "It's very hard to go any place in the city without running into somebody that Pep knows. He amazes all of us. He's dealing with this emotionally much better than all of us are."
Barker, her brothers John and Jim and mom, Vi, welcomed an enormous crowd of more than 800 family and friends inside the Curley gymnasium and were blown away by their outpouring of love and affection.
In fact, the fundraiser became a tribute, and the tribute became a celebration -- of Baltimore's rich soccer tradition and Perrella's infectious enthusiasm and unselfishness that has touched the lives of the many players he has coached and students he has fed. Perrella owns Pepper's Catering Inc., which runs the school kitchens at the Immaculate Conception School and Archbishop Curley and Catholic high schools.
Perrella, 58, laughed with some ex-teammates, cried with others and did not waver when he shuffled to the front of the gym to deliver an emotional thank you to the huge gathering.
"Believe it or not, I'm happy today," PER said. "God has a plan and we'll see what it is. But how can I not be happy today with all of you here?"
"Pep is a part of the Curley soccer community," Scilipoti said, "and he's part of the Loyola College soccer community. One of the great things about soccer here at Curley and all over is that we're all brothers and we do whatever we can for each other."
Scilipoti grew up in Highlandtown; Perrella did the same on Kentucky Ave in northeast Baltimore, not far from Herring Run Park. Like Perrella, Scilipoti was a soccer standout at Curley who went on to an outstanding career at Loyola and returned to his alma mater as coach. Also like Perrella, Scilipoti is in the Maryland Soccer Old Timer's Hall of Fame -- Scilipoti was inducted in 2003, Perrella two years later.
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Long before there was the Fox Soccer Channel and ESPN, Wayne Rooney and Ronaldo, there were pickup games at Riverside and Joseph Lee parks and club teams at Our Lady of Fatima and St. Elizabeth's.
"Back then there were rivalries everywhere," said Tommy Wall, who along with his brother Mike helped St. Elizabeth's win the U-19 national amateur championship in 1973. "We'd fight and battle, but when the games ended we were always together. Anyone in need of anything, we helped them out."
There were Nick Kropfelder and Joey Speca, Fritz Scardina and Paul Scurti, Larry Surock and Sonny Askew, the Giuilano Celenzas and Santino Quarantas of their day, who helped put Baltimore on the national soccer radar.
And there was the Baltimore Major League.
"Every Sunday at Patterson Park," Pete Caringi said. "It was neighborhood against neighborhood and a lot of times friend against friend."
Caringi played for Pompei and Perrella on the Baltimore Kickers. The Mangione brothers, Nick and Dino, played for La Dolce Vita and Ernie Cox for Casa Bianco. There were Dnipro and Tom's Produce, Tommy's Lounge and Post 38, the Baltimore Bays and Baltimore Comets.
There was passion and pride, talent and tradition.
"You come in here and see the love everyone has for Pep," Caringi said, "and it takes you back to those days. And it's not just a Curley thing or a Calvert Hall thing. They're from everywhere -- Patterson, Mount St. Joe, Dundalk -- all the club players from years ago. It just says a lot about the soccer community in general."
Caringi and Scilipoti are two of the biggest names in local soccer. Caringi is now the coach at UMBC, Scilipoti a high school and college referee. Caringi was an All-Metro forward for coach Bill Karpovich at Calvert Hall, Scilipoti an All-Metro forward for coach Joe Loftus at Curley. Caringi was a Division II All-American at the University of Baltimore and Scilipoti is still one of the all-time leading scorers at Loyola College.
Caringi helped the Bees win a Division II national championship in 1975. Scilipoti helped Loyola win the same championship one year later.
Rivals in high school and college, Scilipoti and Caringi are close friends now and on this day they were standing together in the jam-packed Curley gymnasium that was overflowing with friends of Perrella.
"It is unbelievable," Scilipoti said. "We all played against each other. We all battled each other, and we're all here. It's a great thing."
One of the premier high school soccer rivalries of all time is Calvert Hall-Curley and there was no more heated, more fierce, more intense college competition anywhere than between the University of Baltimore and Loyola.
The two teams were loaded with local players, from virtually every neighborhood in the city, and whether they played at the UB’s Rogers Avenue Field in Mt. Washington or at Evergreen on the Loyola campus in North Baltimore, fans packed four and five deep to watch the latest grudge match.
The players were almost household names, and high school rivals and teammates. Overlea's Charlie Myers; Dundalk's Dale Rothe, a first-team All-American in both lacrosse and soccer; Patterson's Gino Pennacchia and Mike Wall all played for Baltimore.
Scilipoti, Poly's Nick Mangione, Woodlawn's Ian Reid, John Shields, Kevin Healey, John Houska and Pete Notaro played for Loyola.
Caringi, Healey and Houska were teammates under Karpovich at Calvert Hall while Pennacchia, Wall and Notaro played for Harlee Russ at Patterson.
"Dick Edell once told me the UB-Loyola rivalry was the most intense he's ever been a part of," said Caringi, who scored two goals in Baltimore's 3-2 win against Seattle Pacific during the '75 national championship game. "And he's been a part of Army-Navy and Johns Hopkins-Maryland lacrosse."
Edell was a Calvert Hall graduate who went on to a Hall of Fame coaching career in college lacrosse at both Army and Maryland. In 1972, assisted by George Barry and later Richie Cuomo, he took over the soccer program at UB and led the Bees to three Final Four appearances during the next four years and the '75 national title.
His counterpart at Loyola was Jim Bullington, a Loyola High and Loyola College graduate who replaced Lefty Reitz in 1964.
It was Bullington who helped define the rivalry by turning around a Loyola program that had just two winning seasons during the previous 10 years. In 24 games against Baltimore, Bullington's Loyola teams finished 10-12-2. In 16 years he won 177 games, four Mason-Dixon championships and the 1976 national title, a 3-1 win against New Haven.
In 1968 the Greyhounds finished 9-0-2 and three years later they finished a perfect 16-0, the last unbeaten season in Loyola history.
The 1971 Loyola team was vintage Baltimore. Of the 23 players on that team, 21 were from local high schools, including Perrella, a junior midfielder who three years earlier as a senior at Curley scored the game-winning goal during the Friars' first MSA championship in 1968.
"Pep was a great player," said Pete Eibner, who played for Perrella at Curley and later coached under him. "You don't make Hall of Fame unless you can play. He could play."
And on the unbeaten '71 team, he was not alone.
Perrella, Steve Myers, Ed Winters, Mel Majchraz, Jimmy Loftus and Tom Giordano played at Curley. Rick Rukowicz; Jerry Geraghty; Butchie Wittman, the brother of former Blast standout Tim Wittman; Jimmy Linz; Mike Barry; and Bruce Penzek played for Karpovich at Calvert Hall. Mike Fedarcyk, Ernie Cox and Denny Wit went to Poly while Gil Ball (Patapsco), Jack Quaranta (Our Lady of Pompei), Ty Smith (Patterson) and Dave Wolf (Overlea) also went to area high schools.
It was the beginning of a magical time both at Loyola and Baltimore as the rivalry attracted huge, energized crowds and the best local players of that era. All 22 players on UB's national championship team were from Baltimore.
"Coach Edell would drive down to Highlandtown," Caringi said, "get out of his car, walk down to the corner and come out of there with five or six players. Coach Bullington did the same thing. We all knew each other and we all hung out together."
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There have been just six soccer coaches during the 50-year history of Archbishop Curley -- Bernie Reif; Norman "Moose" Kramer; Loftus; Giordano; Scilipoti; Perrella; and Barry Stitz, who played for Perrella and took over for him after the 1999 season.
Only Kramer and Loftus are not in the Hall of Fame.
"And pretty much we're all Curley guys," said Scilipoti, who also played baseball for legendary coach Al Frank at Curley before graduating in 1975. "It did not surprise me at all that Pep had the success he did. He built a dynasty because he brought in all the local kids from East Baltimore and Highlandtown -- Celenza, Santino Quaranta. Everybody wanted to play for him."
Perrella took over for Scilipoti in the fall of 1986. Seven years later, with Celenza up front, Mike Bailey at midfield and Mike Libber in the back, the Friars won their first A Conference championship in 14 years with a 3-2 win against Calvert Hall to finish the year 16-0-2. Two years later they won it again.
In 1999 during Perrella’s last game as coach, senior Brandon Quaranta, his sophomore cousin Santino, Marco Angelini and Steve Althoff led Curley to a 2-1 win against McDonogh, the Friars' 36th win in two years and Perrella's 176th of his 14-year career. One year later, Santino Quaranta was playing for the U.S. National U-17 team and Perrella was running Pepper's Inc. full time.
"He meant a lot to Curley soccer," said Celenza, now in his 10th year with the Blast. "He played there and coached there. He knew the game and he cared about you."
"Peppy made soccer so much fun," said Eibner, now an assistant coach under Caringi at UMBC. "If you talk to anyone who played for him they'll tell you they had a blast. You can't go wrong with his personality and knowledge of the game."
Throughout his tenure at Curley, Perrella maintained a strong relationship with local Division I coaches -- Bill Sento and Mark Mettrick at Loyola, Frank Olszewski at Towson and Caringi at UMBC.
"He was always great to work with," said Caringi, who recruited dozens of players out of Curley, including Celenza and Jason Dieter, who also played for the Blast. "He played at Loyola but was very neutral when it came to recruiting. As the UMBC coach, I would come over to Curley and he was always helpful."
That policy has continued under Stitz, who played at Towson and now has three players at UMBC (Sean Rothe, Dale's son; Vince Savarese; and Dustin Dzwonkowski) and one at Loyola (Cesar Ramos).
Stitz was on hand for the Perrella celebration. In fact, everywhere you turned there was a coaching icon or big-name player: Karpovich and his sons, Bill and John; former Loyola lacrosse coach John Stewart; former Curley coaches Dan Popera, Giordano and Dick Petry; referee Joe Manfre, a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame; Butchie; Tim and Scott Wittman; Jeff Nattans; Joe Barger; Dino Mangione; Tommy Wall; Rothe; Caringi; Scilipoti and dozens of others.
"It is very humbling," Perrella said. "Being here with my girls and my family and all of you is something that I will never forget."
"It is a testament to the way Pep lived his life," Ruth Barker said. "I've seen the way he treats the janitors and the archbishop and it's no different. He recognizes the dignity in every person.
"He said two things to us that were really astounding. One, the doctors told him he's been living with this since he's 41 years old, 17 years. And then he told me and my mother he's glad he's going to be the one to go first because he couldn't bear to lose any of us. Can you believe that? Hey, that's Pep."
Posted Feb. 28, 2011