SANTA ROSA, CA – In high school sports its always about the kids and the student-athletes that play the game, and Cardinal Newman 6-4 senior forward and star Trevor Smith came through with a double-double 27 points and 11 rebounds, but in reality on this night the biggest star on the Cardinals 70-50 victory over cross-town Maria Carrillo in the opening round of the 52nd Annual Rose City Invitational at Newman was the hosts Coach Tom Bonfigli.
The night started out very somber with a tearful Bonfigli dedicating the tournament to Sebastian Rodrigues, a member of the 2012-13 team that set a school record for wins with a 32-4 finish and a Northern Regional Division IV championship. After graduation Rodrigues was tragically killed in a bicycle accident.
The night ended in jubilation and tears of joy after the wily veteran and 1971 Newman graduate notched his 800th career coaching victory surrounded by players from recent teams to those from the early years of a career at Cardinal Newman that began in the 1980-1981 season.
Bonfigli now joins 10 other coaches on the Cal-Hi Sports Record Book list of coaches that have reached 800 career coaching wins.
He is also still the fourth winningest coach from the CIF North Coast Section, and could pass No. 3 and the late Elio “Abe” Abrami (802 coaching wins from 1955-1993 at Emery-Emeryville) before Christmas.
Bonfigli has reached the 800-win plateau with his first stint at his alma mater from 1981-1994, and then at Justin-Siena-Napa from 1995-2006 before he came back home to Newman in 2007.
Along the way Bonfigli has captured two CIFNCS Division IV championships, two D4 NorCal titles, 16 North Bay League championships in 25 years, including nine of the last 12, and one league championship at Justin-Siena.
Bonfigli has a ways to go to catch NCS No. 2 and the late Mike Phelps (843 wins at St. Joseph-Alameda, 1971-78 & Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland, 1979-1990, 1992-2003), and an even a further climb to catch current St. Joseph Notre Dame-Alameda Coach Don Lippi (874 wins at St. Joseph-Alameda, 1980, St. Patrick-St. Vincent-Vallejo, 1982-86, Skyline-Oakland, 1987-1990, St. Ignatius-San Francisco, 1991-2003 & St. Joseph-Notre Dame, 2004-current, but the 66-year old Bonfigli still has some game so anything is possible.
In fact, his strong faith and good health continues to carry him. When asked if he has contemplated retiring he dismissed it without hesitation.
“No, not if I’m healthy and that’s between god and me,” Bonfigli answered. “My health is good. I have a great new wife, and most importantly my energy is good, and I’ve got god on my side. I go to mass every morning, communion every morning, and I’ve never been closer to my faith.”
In July Bonfigli married his longtime lady friend Valerie Madson Bonfigli, and with her support of his coaching it seems to have given him additional energy and motivation.
“When I started coaching in 1981 I thought 20 wins was an impossibility,” Bonfigli reminisced. “Now we’ve won 20 or more 23 times and 30 or more three times.
“You don’t think about the numbers until you hit milestones,” continued Bonfigli. “You’re thinking about the next game, watching film and preparing my guys.
But coach, 800 wins and No. 11 all time in California history right now is pretty unbelievable?
“You have to look at the fact we’ve always had good kids and good teams that played hard, were fundamentally sound and played good team basketball.”
A lot of those former players that were present posed with their old coach in a post-game ceremony, some from teams way back in the 80’s like Lou Guanella, who was there for win No. 1 as a player and for Thursday night’s milestone, and Jerry Robinson, who went on to be a star in the NFL, to more recent players.
So what has been the most fun Coach? “The most fun without a doubt is the love I have for my players. You saw all of them here tonight. We’ve built a lifetime relationship and I love those guys like my own kids.”
What’s the toughest thing Coach? “When I first started coaching I really struggled with losing. I’ve learned to keep that in perspective. Probably the hardest thing is you always want to give your players the best chance to win. I’m still a big critic of myself and if I don’t coach a real good game it’s hard to let go of it. The losing part is gone but I want to do my job well because I want to see my players do well.”
As for the team, four of Bonfigli’s top seven players haven’t played yet this season. They’re on the football team won’t play basketball until after the Saturday night CIF Division 3-AA Bowl Game against El Camino-Oceanside that will be played at Newman while basketball is going on in the gym on the final day of Rose City competition.
Tsion Nunnally, a 6-3 junior who Bonfigli is very high on, senior Giancarlo Woods, and the Kelly twins, juniors Nick and Ethan, will start playing next week but Bonfigli still had some good players on the court in the Carrillo win.
Nolan Capurro, a 6-5 junior center, had eight points and six rebounds with two blocks and two steals, and senior Alija Hunter ran the point on Thursday and dished out five assists to go with four points and three rebounds.
Maria Carrillo (3-3) got 16 points on four three-pointers from sophomore Alex Dipman.
Bonfigli and his boys will be going after his 801st win in a Rose City semifinal against Rancho Cotate-Rohnert Park. The Cougars were a 64-56 winner over Windsor in overtime.