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February 15. 2014 8:13PM

NH loses a coaching legend in Woodsville's Bagonzi


Longtime Woodsville High School baseball and basketball coach John Bagonzi passed away Thursday. (BOB HOOKWAY)

NORTH HAVERHILL - John Bagonzi kept on going until finally, Thursday night - with surgeons preparing to help him extend his 83 years just a bit more - that warrior's heart that made him first a professional baseball player and later one of the most competitive and successful coaches in New Hampshire simply stopped beating.

"He developed internal bleeding," his son, John, said on Saturday.

Doctors at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon worked Thursday to locate the source of the blood flow while they maintained that heartbeat.

"But he gave out. He had a good life, and he went fast. It's too bad that he wasn't here longer," his son said.

As Woodsville High School's baseball and basketball coach, the elder Bagonzi won 80 percent of his games from 1958-81.

Bagonzi's baseball teams won seven New Hampshire championships in that time and once rode a 35-game winning streak.

His players' work on the hardwood was even more remarkable. Woodsville isn't even a town. A gateway to the White Mountains at their southern edge, it's a precinct in the town of Haverhill.

The Engineers often found themselves at a numbers deficit when they lined up against opponents from more populated areas of the Granite State. Nevertheless, they nabbed a dozen state basketball titles and won 62 straight regular-season games from 1968 into 1971.

In 2007, the 12 inductees to the National Federation of State High School Associations Hall of Fame included two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Jim Plunkett, Major League Baseball All-Star catcher Terry Steinbach and John Bagonzi.

Interviewed at the time, the long-retired Bagonzi said he was amazed just to appear on someone's radar at the national level.

"I couldn't believe it. This is terrific," he said. "Geez, I'm in there with Plunkett - that's pretty good."

More than two decades earlier, Bagonzi had been inducted to the athletics hall of fame at his college alma mater, the University of New Hampshire. A basketball and baseball player at UNH, he was especially accomplished on the diamond, throwing five career no-hitters.

Signed by the Red Sox out of college, Bagonzi had his professional pitching career delayed by service in Korea and shortened by arm trouble. But that led him into coaching, where he achieved his his greatest acclaim.

"Just amazing statistics," Mike Ackerman said Saturday, assessing his predecessor's career.

Ackerman met Bagonzi in 1967 and replaced him in 1981 as Woodsville's athletics director, a post he still holds.

"John's one of the smartest coaches you'll ever meet," said Ackerman, still speaking of him in the present tense. "Very astute at whatever he coached and just a great motivator. When I was his JV coach, I'd go in and ask him a question, and he'd have the papers out with X's and O's everywhere. He got right down to the minutest detail.

"If you were running 2-2-1 full-court press, he knew where everyone was supposed to be at every second on that play.

"You learn the most from the best coaches you have and the worst coaches you have, and John was the best. He probably forgot more than I'll ever know," Ackerman said.

For years after his full-time coaching days, Bagonzi was a familiar figure as he walked all over downtown Woodsville where he lived, a couple of blocks from the high school. He used the daily exercise to fight off the effects of a heart attack and tried to prevent being hit with another one.

He kept busy teaching pitching to college players at Plymouth State University, ran countless pitching clinics and published a successful book of pitching instruction. Among his prized pupils was Woodsville graduate Chad Paronto, who went on to pitch seven seasons in the big leagues in the century's first decade.

On a bright fall Saturday last year, Bagonzi gathered dozens of his former players along with friends and neighbors for a daylong celebration at his home. Diagnosed with severe aeortic stenosis, he was preparing for what he called experimental surgery and told his guests he wasn't sure what the immediate future held.

For a while, things were looking up after the surgery, his son said, until doctors detected the internal bleeding last week.

With him through all of it from his time as a Red Sox farmhand in the 1950s was his wife, Dreamer.

She was struggling Saturday to cope with the loss as the family made memorial arrangements, her son said.

Calling hours will be Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Ricker Funeral Home in Woodsville. Services will be Thursday at 11 a.m. at nearby St. Joseph's Church.

bhookway@newstote.com


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