Tom Zamagni has coached at Whitman-Hanson for 24 years.
In Tom Zamagni’s office, there’s little space left empty, and he wouldn’t want it any other way.
Every banner hanging signifies pride, every scrapbook sitting on the table causes a chuckle, every picture adorning the wall recalls a memory. But they all signify relationships.
It’s a collection — that’s inching into his sitting room — Zamagni has been piecing together for the past 24 years he’s been prowling the Whitman-Hanson Regional High girls’ soccer team’s sideline. It’s journey that began from an inside tip.
“My oldest daughter came home as I believe a sophomore and said, ‘Dad, there’s no JV coach right now up at the high school,’” Zamagni recalled. “I thought, ‘Well, I think I know enough to go up and do that.’”
One of his favorite photos lies in a scrapbook. It’s of him and Dave Floeck walking down to Dennis M. O’Brien Field for practice. It’s a friendship that formed nearly 22 years ago after Zamagni was ready to quit coaching after two seasons due to a heavy workload off the field in the finance industry.
“I told him, ‘You need to join me at the varsity level and when you can’t make it’s not a big deal,’” Floeck said. “And I don’t think he’s ever missed a day in all these years.”
Floeck found Zamagni’s multi-sport knowledge appealing. This stemmed from his time playing shortstop and coaching St. Joseph’s The Worker Catholic Church’s softball team, as well as playing baseball.
“He brings a different perspective or a way of looking at something from his athletic background,” Floeck said of Zamagni. “From my perspective, it makes me kind of think about the decisions or some of the things we look at, and I really find that to be awesome because it challenges me as a coach and it helps me to see things from many different angles.”
Under Floeck, Zamagni initially served as the goalkeeper coach. Kerry Flood, a 2010 W-H alum, spent four seasons being coached by Zamagni in net.
“He had a significant impact on my development as a goalkeeper, since I had never been committed to the position prior to high school,” Flood said.
Flood, who can be seen in numerous pictures around her former coach’s office, said Zamagni provided a wealth of knowledge and source of inspiration on the sideline during her playing career. However, his most impactful moment to her came in 2009 prior to a state semifinals game against Acton-Boxboro.
“To say I was nervous was an understatement, as we had been preparing for this moment all season,” Flood recalled. “I remember my conversation with coach Z before that game. He told me, ‘Do not let the moment be bigger than you. This is a quality team and you are a very talented keeper. Stay focused and give it everything you have.’”
It’s simple messages like that Zamagni hopes resonate with his players.
“The most important thing for me is trying to teach the kids life lessons through soccer and then they come back years later and tell us what a wonderful experience they had,” he said. “Sports is like life situations, so if bad things happen to us, that’s life. We fall behind, I say, ‘Now what? So what? What are we going to do about it?’”
Flood rejoined the program in 2015 and eventually took over training the goalkeepers, while Zamagni shifted to drawing up game plans for the defense, but he still keeps his eyes on the whole field.
“He sees things from a different perspective and sometimes I come back and say, ‘No way, that won’t work,’” Floeck said. “Then a few minutes later I’m like, ‘Well, what I’m doing isn’t working so maybe it will.’”
Sometimes it’s minor – like a defensive adjustment.
“He’ll say, ‘Listen, we really need to put this player on this side, it’s a better matchup for us,’ and I’ll say, ‘Jeez, no,’ and he’ll say, ‘Listen, will you just give it to me please and let me do it?’” Floeck said. “And I’ll capitulate and we’ll do it and a lot of those times he’s spot on.”
Relationships through coaching
Over Zamagni’s 22 years as Floeck’s assistant, the Panthers haven’t had a losing season since 1999, have won numerous Patriot League titles and made a trip to the state finals. The success is gratifying, but the bonds he has created along the way are even more rewarding. He’ll even miss work to watch a W-H girls’ soccer alum, such as this past season when Marina Kelly, class of 2014, returned to Dennis M. O’Brien Field in a different uniform – as Scituate’s JV soccer coach.
“I had to cancel a meeting so I could get up there and see it,” Zamagni said.
In his spare time, Zamagni, if not at the youth soccer field in Hanson watching his grandchildren play, is keeping tabs with alumni — whether it’s a trip to Rhode Island to watch them play, a simple text or over breakfast.
Flood said it’s that type of dedication to the program’s alumni that makes Zamagni an irreplaceable presence on the sideline.
“Coach Z keeps all of the alumni informed as to which games to go to and how the current team is doing,” Flood said. “It is great to see former teammates coming to our games and cheering on the program. Coach Z keeps in touch with many of his former players and continues to have an impact on their lives.”
Past team captain and freshman at Manhattan College Eve Montgomery said Zamagni’s selflessness stood out to her.
“He would be standing there from the sidelines supporting me no matter what,” Montgomery said. “He does everything and anything he can to help better other players. That’s what makes him so special. I believe he’s a vital part of the Whitman-Hanson soccer team [and] without him there’s a piece of the team missing.”
Former All-American Lauren Bonavita, currently playing at UMass Amherst, said Zamagni was more than just a coach to her.
“He calmed me down when I need it and challenged me when he needed more from me,” Bonavita said. “He’s more like family to me and I know I’m not the only one who thinks of him this way. I’m grateful for his coaching and friendship.”
Reason to return
Zamagni said his main motivation to come back every autumn is because of the bonds he creates.
“There’s five or six seniors that I don’t really want to leave,” he said. “That continues every year, so I don’t know how I’m going to retire because there’s always those seniors that are there that you have that special relationship with. It’s hard to think about walking away.”
And walking past countless memories from the past two-plus decades in office on a daily basis plays a major role in that mindset.
“It keeps me going,” Zamagni said. “You can’t put a price tag on that.”