Mount St. Michael Academy's Mario Valentini coaches final game after 40 years as coach
After five years as an assistant at his alma mater, and the last 40 as head football coach, Mount St. Michael Academy's Mario Valentini coached his final game on Thanksgiving - the annual Turkey Bowl against Cardinal Hayes.
Despite how big a part of his life the game has been, Valentini said he wasn't thinking about the end of his career going into it.
“It pops in your head, but nothing where it's your gonna spend a lot of time on it. You're thinking about what's the first play you're gonna call and how the game is gonna go,” Valentini told News 12.
Valentini almost didn't even have the opportunity to coach this game. Shockingly, the school relieved him of his duties January - but after student and alumni protests – the school agreed to bring him back for one final season.
The team responded by winning the championship at the Catholic League's lowest level - and some of those same alumni who helped save Valentini were able to be there on Thanksgiving to say goodbye.
"When you've done this for so long, it's hard to just walk away from a game like this, from a school like this," Valentini said.
Alumni like Mike Hannon from the class of 1998 and James Knight, who graduated in 1992, said they were just glad their old coach was able to go out on his own terms - and hoped he'd appreciate the day.
While Valentini didn't seem interested in the attention of pregame and postgame ceremonies honoring him, the chance to take the field with his family one last time and see so many familiar faces from over the years was a different story.
"At some point, you gotta say, ‘Well, I have touched a lot of lives,’" Valentini said, "And that's the thing you're most proud of, is that you've hopefully been a positive influence."
Which is why even though Cardinal Hayes won the game 42-10, Valentini walked off the field the last time with pride.
"I know what I'm all about, I know what I've done and what I've tried to do, I'm gonna keep my head up high and just do what I've been doing and walk straight ahead and keep my head up high,” he said.
Valentini says he isn't sure if he'll come back in person to watch the Turkey Bowl next year, but he does say that wherever he is, he'll make sure he's supporting the team.