Caito’s Coaching Tenure at Holliston Was Magical & Legendary

KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
Legendary Holliston Coach Tom Caito was ahead of his time in incorporating weight training and great team chemistry into his coaching philosophy. He was greeted with a warm walk down memory lane when he attended a book-signing with author Ken Dunn at Fiske’s in October.  Photo by Pauline Hamwey
Issue Date: 
December, 2017
Article Body: 

The legend is 80 years old now, but he still found time this fall to serve as a volunteer football coach.
Tom Caito, who put Holliston’s grid program on the map, guided three high schools to state titles and started the football program at Merrimack College in 1996. During the fall, Caito helped his nephew, David, who’s now head coach at West Warwick High in Rhode Island. Caito worked with the offensive line and defensive ends.
But, it’s in Holliston where his name is legendary and magical, especially with older fans who know what transpired from 1969 to 1975. The Panthers’ program was mired in mediocrity but along came Caito, who left a successful squad at Central High in Providence, R.I., to take the head-coaching reins.
After a losing season in 1969 (3-6), Caito quickly built character, molded winners and dominated the Tri Valley League. He finished a seven-year stretch at Holliston with a 56-16 record, had two unbeaten teams (1971, 1972), and won a state crown in 1971 before moving on to Chelmsford where his program went 140-39-5 during an 18-year stretch that also included a state crown. At Central High, his first head coaching job, a state title was also part of the mix.
Caito later coached for a year in New Jersey and another season in Florida where he took losing programs and elevated them to .500 records. His overall record during a 41-year coaching career is 248-75 and only one season was a losing campaign.
“I loved coaching at Holliston,’’ Caito emphasized. “We won a lot, but my top thrill was the great relationships that were built with the kids and their parents. We had success, because the kids were dedicated, worked hard, were athletic and they were smart.’’
As far as rating his best games as Holliston’s coach, that was easy — back-to-back victories over Medway in 1971 and 1972 that gave the Panthers two undefeated seasons and a state crown in 1971. “Medway had good players, and Tom Cataldo was an excellent coach,’’ Caito said. “Those wins are very memorable.’’
Caito’s honors during the four decades are numerous. He’s in the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Football Coaches Hall of Fame, he’s ranked the No. 8 coach in Massachusetts for all-time wins, and he’s in Chelmsford’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
His estimates might be off by one or two but Caito has had 130 boys earn football scholarships and 90 play at the Division 1 level. He says he never had a bad day during his coaching tenure.
“I was fortunate that I never had a boy get seriously hurt,’’ said Caito, who lives in Slatersville, R.I. “I enjoyed the competition, I liked seeing kids get excited about their sport, and I really liked watching players improve and go on to college. Helping kids get to college is really a big part of coaching.’’
Caito was way ahead of his time in terms of strategy and practice technique, but at Holliston, he proved how important it was to incorporate weight training and team chemistry into a daily routine.
“Our kids embraced weight training, and they committed to off-season workouts,’’ he said. “But, I always encouraged players to try other sports. You only go to high school once. Bonding and team chemistry were also built. My wife (Peggy) helped because after we’d win a game on Saturday, she’d prepare meatballs and pasta, and all the players would visit our home for dinner. I remember seeing so many cars in the neighborhood.’’
Caito’s players earned all-star status often and there are countless names that fans of his era can recall. For starters, Ron Lapointe and Gary Petercuskie played at Penn State and also professionally. Don Petersen got a scholarship to Boston College and was drafted by the Rams. Gary Alger, the No. 2 all-time scorer at Holliston, was a fullback at Brown University. Gerry Petercuskie and John Petersen played at Boston College and Rich Carpenter and Gary Schildmeire were simply dynamic high-school players.
Caito, who was a second-team All-State guard at Mount Pleasant High in Providence, later excellent in the offensive line at Boston University. He learned plenty of lessons at both levels, but his high school coach, Irving Nelson, is a mentor he speaks highly of.
“Coach Nelson was bright, knew the game and won nine Class A championships in Rhode Island,’’ Caito said. “He shaped my competitive philosophy. I believe that if kids reach their potential and have fun, then winning will follow. I also tried to let the sport teach life lessons. Working as a team and working hard after a loss are lessons that help kids in life.’’
Caito and his wife had seven children and now have 15 grandchildren. They’re a precious joy no doubt, but Caito found lots of joy and love when he returned to Holliston in October to attend a book signing with Ken Dunn, who authored a terrific story on the history of Holliston football. Caito enjoyed the gathering that turned out to thank him.
“It was amazing to see so many players, friends and fans,’’ he noted. “I recognized every former player. It was a great reunion, a great moment and I’m so proud of what so many of my players have achieved in their careers. The book is terrific and I told the people in Chelmsford, who are writing a book on their history, that it’ll be hard to beat this book.’’
Current Panthers’ coach Todd Kiley was on hand for the book signing, and Caito was quick to congratulate him on the success he’s had in carrying on the Panthers’ winning tradition.
So, too, does Caito. He’s still involved as a volunteer coach and he’s proof that football builds character. It’s been a way of life for him and he emphatically says: “It’s meant a lot, and I still love it.’’