By Cary Shuman
Frank DePatto and the position of Chelsea High School director of athletics were a perfect fit for 28 years.
DePatto was a Chelsea guy, the CHS class of 1957 president and a student-athlete. He had been a lifelong advocate for Chelsea sports, from the time he had sponsored and coached a team in the local summer basketball league to the countless Chelsea High School games he had attended as a fan.
DePatto succeeded Saul Nechtem as head of the entire CHS athletic program in 1988. No one had to tell DePatto how prestigious it was to be at the helm of a high school athletic program in the vaunted Greater Boston League. And no one had to tell DePatto about the legendary figure he was succeeding as director of athletics.
In fact, it was Frank DePatto who recommended that the gymnasium inside the new Chelsea High School be named the “Saul Nechtem Gymnasium,” which it was.
DePatto’s superb reign as the leader of Chelsea High boys and girls sports ended on July 1 when he retired from the position.
“After 28 years as the AD at my alma mater, there are many people to thank, especially State Senator and School Committee member, the late Andrew P. Quigley and School Committee member, the late Morris Seigal – they were my mentors,” said DePatto. I also want to thank the many superintendents and principals who supported me along the way.
“It has a been a pleasure to serve the youth of the city of Chelsea, a city I truly love.”
One of DePatto’s closest friends and supporters through the years was former city manager Jay Ash, who played college basketball at Clark University. Ash is the State Secretary of Housing and Economic Development.
“I’m proud that I’ve been one of Jay Ash’s mentors,” he said.
DePatto said his first immersion in to the fabric of the Chelsea sports community came when he organized and sponsored a very successful men’s and women’s summer basketball league. He coached the Chelsea Record and Salon 312 teams in the men’s league that drew sizable crowds to the old Merritt Park courts. One of the opposing teams, Charles Lee Disposal, featured none other than Councillor-at-Large Leo Robinson, a former CHS hoop player, at point guard.
DePatto also coached semi-professional basketball with many college stars on the roster including Jay Ash, Rudy Williams, Jerry Scott, Stu Primus, Danny O’Callaghan, John Miller, and Eddie Thurman.
From summer basketball, DePatto made the jump to the Chelsea High athletic program as its director in 1988.
“Replacing the great Saul Nechtem upon his retirement – it was a job made from heaven,” said DePatto.
Very early in his tenure DePatto made a monumental decision: he recommended that the Chelsea-Everett Thanksgiving football series be discontinued after the 1989 contest in which Everett prevailed by a dominating 32-0 score. Chelsea hasn’t played Everett in football since that blowout.
“Everett was always just too good with many more skilled players than Chelsea and the score mostly always favored Everett,” related DePatto about his decision to end the century-old rivalry. “As someone who played in the Chelsea-Everett game in the mid-1950s, it was a hard decision to make, especially when we drew 10,000-12,000 fans for some of the Thanksgiving games. Times were changing and it was time to move on.”
DePatto hired Joe Gaff as head football coach in 1993 and two years later he led the Red Devils to their only Super Bowl championship, defeating Old Colony for the title.
Around the same time DePatto brought Ramona Foster on board as the new Chelsea High girls basketball coach and Foster “turned the program around.”
DePatto made it a point during his directorship to recognize those individuals who contributed much to CHS athletics. It was DePatto who recommended that the press box at Chelsea Memorial Stadium be named in memory of the late Arnold Goodman, a beloved teacher, player and coach.
DePatto helped launch the Stop & Shop High School Basketball Tournament, bringing the best teams in New England to Chelsea. Teaming up with Leo Papile of the BABC and philanthropist Herbie Kupersmith, DePatto raised more than $55,000 for Chelsea scholarships. Teams from as far away as Hawaii and Florida played in the tournament “and we were the talk of the basketball universe for 15 years.”
When Boston hosted the NBA Summer League, the Philadelphia (76ers) and Indiana (Pacers) teams held their practices at Chelsea High.
DePatto said his proudest accomplishment was sending many CHS athletes on to compete at the college level. DePatto was instrumental in former soccer star Michael Bustamante’s matriculation at Boston University. Bustamante later continued his career for the New York Red Bulls in Major League Soccer (MLS), a professional league in the United States.
DePatto always stood up for Chelsea High athletes, once packing the Aldermanic Chambers for a School Committee meeting at City Hall to help change a rule that brought Chelsea’s academic eligibility requirements for athletes in line with MIAA requirements.
He re-instituted the indoor and outdoor track programs that are now producing championship teams. He organized the first Chelsea High Annual Awards Assembly 26 years ago. He also launched the girls soccer program.
During his time as AD, DePatto returned to the sidelines as an assistant coach on Jack Niven’s boys basketball staff. He served as the head coach for three seasons before Jay Seigal succeeded him.
Last year, DePatto was selected to represent the Commonwealth Athletic Conference at the National Athletic Directors Conference. He received numerous awards in recognition of his outstanding service at Chelsea High.
“I made many friends as athletic director – a job that I loved,” said DePatto. “I am a former player, a former coach, and now a former AD, and I will always be –a No. 1 fan of the Red Devils. I’m proud to have followed Saul Nechtem and a great line of coaches and athletic directors.”
DePatto made it a point to wish new director of athletics Amanda Alpert “success in her endeavors.”
“I’m going to miss Chelsea greatly,” said DePatto, who finished out the 2015-16 school year at the request of Supt. of Schools Dr. Mary Bourque, who wanted him to be part of the transition process. “There will be a void in my life. This job truly has been a labor of love.”