Mike Larabee, left is seen at Curry Hicks Cage with the Hoosac Valley boys basketball team earlier this year.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — All summer, Al Giorgi is the face of basketball in the Steeple City as commissioner of the outdoor basketball league named for his father.
In the winter, Al Giorgi shows his passion for the game in a lower profile way that just might have a higher impact on area basketball courts.
"I'm about teaching the kids how to play the game before teaching them different plays and sets," he said. "Let's get back to the basics. Then when Jack [Racette] gets 'em in high school, he can do whatever he want with them.
"But lets teach them the basics so by the time they get to Jack or McCann or [Hoosac Valley's] Billy Robinson, they know what they're doing. Then they can get into the Xs and Os."
That philosophy has kept Giorgi involved for 14 years with the North Adams Youth Basketball League and makes him one of two recipients for the 2014 Frank Zoltek Passion for Coaching Award.
Giorgi and Cheshire's Mike Larabee will be honored in a banquet at Waubeeka Golf Links on Aug. 31 after a daylong tournament to raise funds for the Frank Zoltek Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Giorgi said it is an honor to be in the company of past recipients — recognized as much for his work with third and fourth grade travel teams as for organizing a summer league that provides opportunities for hundreds of players from high school on up.
He also has helped coach players at Drury and McCann Tech — something else he has in common with Larabee, who is being honored for decades of service to youth sports and high school teams at Hoosac Valley High School.
"I coached [Mike Larabee] when he was 16 years old at McCann," said Ed Noel, the founder and chairman of the "Frankie" committee. "He was a hard-nosed player, and he's the same type of coach.
"When I talked to him yesterday, he said, 'Coach, you coached me at 16, and at 18 I started coaching.' He's 53 now, and every season — football, basketball or baseball — he's been a coach."
Larabee said that run will end this fall when he takes a season off to have some time to play with his grandchildren and do some fishing — another passion he shared with Zoltek. But he has earned the break after more than 30 years on the sidelines with Pop Warner football, Little League, travel basketball and, of course, the high school ranks.
"I'm not in it for awards or things like that, but as far as passion ... I don't want to sound cocky, but yeah, I do have a passion for it," Larabee said. "Not that I deserve an award or anything."
Larabee said he particularly enjoys his time coaching third- through sixth-graders in travel basketball or Little League baseball.
"I enjoy the younger kids," he said. "They're really responsive to my type of coaching. I'm a disciplinarian. I'm hard on the kids.
"I like that level because they're new to it. You get the older kids, and they think they know everything."
Giorgi applied his desire to teach the youngest participants in the NAYBL last winter after realizing that the kindergartners and first- through third-graders were not getting a strong foundation in the fundamentals.
"We said we've got to start an instructional league," Giorgi said. "So we set up stations with help from the coaches and players at Drury and McCann. We ran eight stations and put five or six minutes on the the clock and six to eight kids at each station. One would be defense, one would be shooting, one would be dribbling and so on. The kids would rotate around.
"We did that for seven weeks on Saturdays. It was a 14-week program. The second seven weeks on Saturdays and Thursdays ... we'd drop two baskets down to eight feet and play games of three-on-three. Our goal was to incorporate what we taught them in the stations.
"The parents loved it. We got rave reviews. Hopefully, it's something we're going to continue."
It is just the kind of thing that continues the legacy Frank Zoltek left to Northern Berkshire County during his years coaching for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Williams College, and taking Drury High School basketball to four Western Mass titles.
"[The award] has nothing to do with winning records," Noel said. "It has to do with having a passion for coaching.
"A lot of it is based on length of service and a lot of volunteer work where they're not looking to get paid a lot of money. They're doing it for the love of the sport and a love of coaching."
Registration for the Frank Zoltek Memorial Golf Tournament is $80 ($60 for Waubeeka members). Tickets to the dinner only are $25. Information available on Waubeeka's website or by calling Ed Noel at 413-664-6013.
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