Sep 14, 2009 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Joe Mazella was not difficult to find.
Attend any Henninger boys basketball game from 1987 to 2002, and the one constant was Mazella, clad in a colorful sweater (usually black and gold), barking out instructions to his players as the Black Knights established a hoops dynasty that thrives to this day.
A mere seven years after leaving the coaching ranks to become vice-principal at Henninger, Mazella passed away Saturday morning at his home in Eastwood. He was 51.
In both his coaching and administrative roles, Mazella was an immensely popular figure at Henninger, known as much for his personality and sense of humor as it was for his skills on the court and in the classroom.
Growing up in Eastwood, Mazella attended Bishop Grimes High School, where he graduated in 1976. Six years later, Mazella came to work at Henninger, where he would stay for nearly three decades. And in 1987, Mazella took over as the school’s varsity basketball coach.
With stars like Lazarus Sims, Maurice Brown, Marquise Walker, Latavia Escho and Andray Blatche, the Black Knights became, most seasons, the team to beat in Class A, then the large-school designation (it’s now Class AA).
Overall, Mazella’s teams went 245-78, for a win percentage of .759, which is slightly more than 16 wins per season.
Henninger’s first Section III Class A title under Mazella came in 1991, when the Black Knights reached the state finals in Glens Falls with Sims as point guard before falling to Mount Vernon. Later, Sims would lead Syracuse University to the NCAA championship game in 1996.
Another trip to the state final came in ’95, with Walker and Brown (Henninger’s all-time leading scorer with 1,749 points) leading the way. Again, Henninger couldn’t quite reach the summit, falling this time to LaSalle, of Niagara Falls.
Following a three-year stretch of sectional titles from 1995 to ’97, Henninger underwent a “slump” of five years without a title as Corcoran (twice), Liverpool and Watertown took turns at the top.
But in 2002, it all came together. With Blatche, a future NBA player, blocking shots and Chris Turner earning Central New York Player of the Year honors, Henninger won the state Class A championship, the first (and still only) Section III school to ever win the large-school division.
Having done all he could there, Mazella stepped down after the ’02 season and stepped into school administration, replaced by Erik Saroney, who has kept Henninger near the top with two more sectional championships in 2004 and ’08.
Even though he stopped coaching, Mazella on the scene and could always be seen at Henninger sporting events. In a cruel bit of irony, he died just hours before the Black Knights’ home football opener at Sunnycrest Field against Christian Brothers Academy.
Mazella leaves behind his wife, Janice and daughters Marissa, Leah and Alicia. Calling hours are Tuesday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Blessed Sacrament Church on James Street in Eastwood, with the funeral Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., also at Blessed Sacrament.