GLENS FALLS, N.Y. - For years Vincent Cannizzaro drove up to Glens Falls at the end of March for the state Federation Tournament of Champions to coach Christ the King to numerous state championships.
Last weekend, his work as the architect of the most prestigious girls basketball program in the country was finally acknowledged.
Cannizzaro, who in 19 years won 10 state Federation titles, 12 Catholic state crowns, 16 CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan championships, three USA Today mythical national championships and won 120 consecutive league games in a row, was inducted to the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame in a banquet at Heritage Hall in the Civic Center.
“It’s a great honor for anyone to be considered for a prestigious award like that, but it’s an honor not just for me,” he said. “Because as a coach everything I accomplished relied on the coaches I worked with, the players that played for me. They all contributed to the success I’ve had.”
He got his start at the Middle Village school in 1981 when he took over on an interim basis during the teacher’s strike that threatened to end his daughter Lisa’s season. The school’s principal, Father Fred Savage, kept him on for good after a successful first year. The Royals won the Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan title three years later and did not lose another league game for 16 seasons.
Every player, Cannizzaro, a retired New York City police detective coached, was academically eligible for college, he said. Cannizzaro was the first coach to take his team on cross-country trips for tournaments and gain a sneaker deal. In his first year, Cannizzaro took the Royals to a tournament in Boston and a few years later to California.
“No matter where I’ve coached, I always stressed to get better,” he said. “You have to play the best competition. It was the start of a concept of what Christ the King was all about. We were not going to be just a local powerhouse or a regional powerhouse; we were going to be a national team.”
“He might be one of the most influential persons in the country for girls basketball,” said Christ the King assistant coach Jill Cook, a former player under Cannizzaro. “He set the bar for excellence. He had a great vision for what needed to be done.”
Jim Gatto had never attended the state Federation Tournament of Champions. He refused to take in the action unless his team was playing at the end of March. The longtime St. John’s Prep coach, however, made an exception when the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame came calling.
“Me being up here and honored is a wonderful thing,” he said. “I’m representing all the kids who never came up here.”
“I’m kind of overwhelmed - you see all the guys who’ve been inducted,” added Gatto, still a physical education teacher at the Astoria school.
In his 38 years at St. John’s Prep (formerly Mater Christi), Gatto, 68, won two city championship, in 1978 and 2005, but each time lost to St. Anthony’s (Long Island) in the Catholic state championship. He has compiled over 550 victories and won 12 division championships.