‘Joey Maz,’ they called him.
A coach’s coach, loved by those he coached with AND those who played against him. A player’s coach, because he went the extra mile to see that his kids would become successful. A family man with a smile and laugh for everyone, he left a community in disbelief with his passing at age 51 in September 2009 … Three months later, Henninger High named its basketball court ‘Joe Mazella Court.’
With Joe at the helm, Henninger hoops became a community event, a family affair.
He spent more than half his life — 27 years — at Henninger, where, at the time of his death, he was Assistant Principal. For 15 seasons, he guided the Black Knights’ basketball fortunes with tremendous success. His teams had a .759 winning percentage, a 245-78 record, captured 9 league championships, 5 sectional and regional titles, and 5 Final Four appearances. The Black Knights finished second statewide in 1991 and ’95.
But in 2002, the Joe Mazella-coached Henninger boys basketball team became the first Section III team to win the New York State Class A Boys’ Basketball Championship. For that accomplishment, Joe was named All-Central New York Coach of the Year, an award he also won in 1995.
When he retired from coaching, he chose protégé Erik Saroney to be his successor.
Mazella grew up in Lyncourt, was a 1976 Bishop Grimes graduate, a SUNY Cortland grad who resided in Eastwood with wife Janice and their three daughters — Marissa, Leah and Alicia. He did some football coaching, but it was hoops where he left an indelible mark.
His players included Lazarus Sims, backcourt general of Syracuse’s 1996 NCAA runner-up and current Orange assistant coach … NBA big man Andre Blatche … And New York State Finals’ Most Valuable Player Chris Turner.
A fictional character — a teacher — in Hall of Famer Tim Green’s 2016 book, ‘Left Out,’ is named Joe Mazella. After all, Joe was a superb teacher of young men.
Yes, all his players graduated, even one who had not graduated in June. Mazella picked him up daily for summer school and he graduated in August.
Joe was previously inducted into the Lyncourt Basketball and Baseball Halls of Fame, Section III Boys’ Basketball and North Side Halls of Fame, and awarded an Honorary Membership in the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials Board 38 – Syracuse, NY.
The late Joe Mazella now becomes a member of the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame, Class of 2017.
Photo: Jim Commentucci