Marinelli’s good heart found a great cause

New Haven Register (Sunday) (New Haven, CT) - - SPORTS - JEFF JA­COBS

GREEN­WICH — Dur­ing a week when at­ten­tion fell on his foot­ball re­la­tion­ship with his dad, John Marinelli couldn’t help but talk about his re­la­tion­ships with his mom Fran, his two older sis­ters, his three nieces and his fi­ancée Anna Brown.

This is the week in Oc­to­ber when John Marinelli must do some­thing he doesn’t care much for: Take his Green­wich High Car­di­nals to face his dad Lou’s New Canaan team on Satur­day night. Yet away from the game and close to Marinelli’s heart, this also is the week that starts Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Aware­ness Month.

Marinelli he looks over at a plaque in the foot­ball of­fice. He re­ceived the Pur­ple Rib­bon Award from the YMCA last year for his ef­forts in rais­ing aware­ness about teen dat­ing vi­o­lence and the role of ath­letes in the com­mu­nity.

“I hon­estly don’t feel I de­serve it,” he said. “When Mered­ith

Gold told me, I was shocked. I was hum­bled. Of all the things I’ve done in life, it’s also one of the things I’m most proud about.”

No high school foot­ball game, no pro­fes­sional sport­ing event this week could over­shadow the fight over Brett Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion to the Supreme Court. That fight has di­vided our na­tion, con­sumed us, demon­strated some of the worst as­pects of our po­lit­i­cal process. Yet if any­thing good has come from it, from both sides of the aisle, the call for young men to treat young women with dig­nity has never reached more cor­ners of the Amer­i­can con­scious­ness. So good — no, great — on John Marinelli for al­ready be­ing there.

Marinelli shakes his head. He dis­misses the no­tion he owned so much fore­sight af­ter he took the job in Green­wich in 2015. He had no idea there would be a #MeToo move­ment. He wanted to find an im­por­tant lo­cal cause and say, “Me, too.” A good heart would find a great cause.

“When I was at New Canaan as a coach, my dad was se­ri­ously in­volved with mul­ti­ple myeloma re­search,” Marinelli said. “That was spe­cial to New Canaan and to us be­cause (Kathy Giusti) from New Canaan started that whole re­search project and char­ity event. It’s an un­be­liev­able or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“When I came to Green­wich, noth­ing ex­isted like that. There are great char­ity events that move around across Amer­ica. I wanted to find some­thing that was home­grown in Green­wich. That was the goal, whether it was do­mes­tic vi­o­lence aware­ness or some­thing else.”

Marinelli did some re­search. He read about the YNet and YWCA. He emailed Mered­ith Gold, direc­tor of do­mes­tic abuse ser­vices of YWCA Green­wich.

“She was kind of shocked,” Marinelli said. “She said, ‘You’re a foot­ball coach?’ I said, yeah, I’m look­ing to ed­u­cate and see if there is a char­ity we can put our mark on. I wanted it to be mean­ing­ful to my play­ers, my play­ers’ fam­i­lies and the com­mu­nity.”

It’s fine to have a char­ity 5K run. Kids also tend to

for­get about some­thing like that. Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is some­thing they could be ed­u­cated on, too, and pro­mote lo­cally. The Green­wich play­ers lis­tened to a pre­sen­ta­tion by do­mes­tic abuse ser­vices, a dif­fi­cult talk about con­sent and re­spect. There has been a pre­sen­ta­tion each year since.

There is a game each year where the Green­wich foot­ball team wore pur­ple socks to mark do­mes­tic vi­o­lence month. This year they will wear pur­ple Car­di­nals dur­ing the home­com­ing game against Lud­lowe (Oct. 27). Yet it is more than a pair of socks or a pre­sen­ta­tion. This is the dif­fi­cult topic where Marinelli said he wants his pro­gram to plant a flag to con­tinue the dis­cus­sion. If we can plant more flags around Con­necti­cut, yes, it will be a mighty mes­sage this Oc­to­ber.

“Think about all the peo­ple in the me­dia, ath­letes, politi­cians, celebri­ties who have had their is­sues with do­mes­tic vi­o­lence,” Marinelli said. “All dif­fer­ent sto­ries.

“It’s mean­ing­ful and im­pact­ful to a teenage boy. Think about be­ing a teenager right now. It’s hard. With

all the so­cial me­dia ap­pli­ca­tions, to know one pic­ture could ruin their rep­u­ta­tion, that’s some­thing I didn’t even have in high school and I’m 32.”

Marinelli, a Trin­ity grad­u­ate, stresses choices with his guys. Par­ties, so­cial me­dia, choices come in so many ways.

“When they have a big win, for ex­am­ple, be smart that night,” Marinelli said. “I know de­ci­sions that have hurt peo­ple, ru­ined peo­ple’s lives. I don’t want to see that hap­pen to a teenager who has a whole life ahead.”

Fair or un­fair, Green­wich has be­come a na­tional stereo­type for priv­i­lege and en­ti­tle­ment. If some­thing goes wrong in Green­wich, it’s not hard to guess where opin­ion will fol­low. With sto­ries of Yale and Yale bas­ket­ball, the Ka­vanaugh story hits close to home.

“We have one of the rich­est com­mu­ni­ties,” Marinelli said. “I also have play­ers who live in low-in­come hous­ing. I have sons of elec­tri­cians and plumbers. I have sons of ex­tremely wealthy in­di­vid­u­als. I have lower, mid­dle and up­per class Amer­ica in the same hud­dle. If any­thing, we talk more about that than if they

get in trou­ble.”

Marinelli goes to a mis­take he made in 2016.

“I was in the me­dia for call­ing a play with Hitler or Stalin (shift right for Hitler, shift left for Stalin),” he said. “If I was coach­ing some­where in Iowa would that have made the na­tional me­dia? I’m not proud of it. I’m us­ing it as an ex­am­ple.

“You live in Green­wich. The name is known na­tion­ally, in­ter­na­tion­ally. If some­thing hap­pens, it does sound like the rich Green­wich foot­ball player or teenager. They have a tar­get on their back. I think a lot of peo­ple feel that way to­ward New Canaan, Darien, Green­wich, Wil­ton, Ridge­field, Fair­field. Yes, there are cer­tain peo­ple that maybe don’t put the name in a great light, but it’s not fair to our kids. It’s cer­tainly not fair to some of the peo­ple who work so hard to live in these towns. We’re try­ing to cre­ate a healthy bal­ance for a teenager to make good life de­ci­sions and hope­fully change the thought process to­ward peo­ple in those towns.”

Green­wich is the big­gest high school in the state. Marinelli has more than 100 play­ers in the foot­ball pro­gram. I ask him to put me in the locker room. What does he tell his boys?

“Do the right thing,” he an­swered. “If your mother was in the room what would you say? What would you do? Peo­ple know Green­wich. You live here. You’re used to it. You might not un­der­stand the im­pact on you. I hon­estly be­lieve be­ing in this town makes peo­ple bet­ter hu­man be­ings. They also grow up in a mi­cro­scope.”

Marinelli is ea­ger to spread credit to his staff. He calls his award a pro­gram award. Marinelli pe­ri­od­i­cally will speak at func­tions. He ap­peared on a panel a few weeks ago where a half-dozen or­ga­ni­za­tions are try­ing to pool re­sources to in­volve the CIAC with coaches.

He knows stud­ies shows one in three fe­males and one in six males are vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault. He knows this is a huge plague with so many ten­ta­cles. He has jumped to the fore­front among our state’s high schools not for at­ten­tion, but to spread the word of ed­u­ca­tion: “Let’s stop the abuse.”

Lind­say Perry / For Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Green­wich foot­ball coach John Marinelli.

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