The Long Beach gang from back in the day, when it was still cool to use that expression, is going to get together Friday — tell some stories, shed some tears, have a laugh, knock back a few cold ones — and remember the guy who was fond of telling his son, “One day you will understand.’’
Jim Fiore Sr. was all things to all people in that working-class neighborhood on Long Island.
He was a cop, the one who got the blacks and whites to stop knocking heads and start working together.
He founded youth leagues in football and basketball. He refereed the basketball games in the men’s leagues.
He owned a bar, “Minnesota’s,’’ where everybody knew your name.
But most of all, he was a husband and a father.
When his son, Jim Fiore Jr., now the brash athletic director at Stony Brook, was a boy, Jim Sr. would repeat this mantra: You have to be able to read and write well.
Husband and father; reading and writing; blocking and tackling.
Before Jim Jr. was born, Jim Sr. had started the youth leagues in Long Beach because every neighborhood needs a place for its kids to play, learn and dream.
Jim Bernhardt, a Long Beach native who is now Penn State football coach Bill O’Brien’s right-hand man, remembers being coached by Jim Sr.
“Sometimes he’d come right from his job as a cop still wearing his uniform,’’ said Bernhardt. “The gun would still be in his holster. It was a very convincing style of coaching.’’
Long Beach residents came to know that Jim Sr. as a man with a bulldog work ethic, a visceral distaste for bull and a bullish belief that actions were more powerful than words.
Case in point: Jr. and Sr. were sitting on the front porch May 7, 1981, watching the Mets on a black-and-white TV. It was announced Mike Scott would face Fernando Valenzuela the next day.
Jim Jr. said they had to go — had to! So the next day Jim Sr. and his son climbed into the car, bought $5 of gas, paid $3 parking and waited on the long line for general-admission tickets.
There was one Hispanic family between the Fiore’s and the ticket window. A disagreement was in full bloom. The father, with his two young sons, was being told he did not have enough money to buy three tickets.
Jim Sr. dropped $10 out of his pocket, tapped the other dad on the shoulder and pointed to the ground.
“He said, ‘Sir, you dropped some money,’ ’’ Jim Jr. recalled. “The guy looked at it, then looked at my dad — one father to another. He picked up the money, nodded to my dad. I’ll never forget the look in that man’s eyes.’’
“My dad turned to me and said, ‘Let’s go home,’ ’’ added Jim Jr. “I was like, ‘What? Why’d you do that?! It’s Scott-Valenzuela!’ My father just said, ‘One day you’ll understand.’ ’’
There were a lot of those moments. Like the time at Hofstra when Fiore and the head football coach were not seeing eye to eye on playing time. Jim Sr. asked if his son wanted him to speak to the coach.
“No way, Dad,’’ said Jim Jr. “I’ve got to handle this.’’
The next night the team practiced on a cold, windy field. Jim Jr. looked up to see his father, in his black Members Only jacket, off to the side. He nodded to his son. Jim Jr. ran the play. When he looked over again, his father was gone. The coach saw this exchange but no words were uttered.
“I said to my dad, ‘I told you not to say anything,’ ’’ cried Jim Jr.
“He said, ‘I didn’t say anything,’ ’’ added Jim Jr. “ ‘But you’re my son. One day you’ll understand.’ ’’
Jim Jr. became the Stony Brook athletic director in 2003. Since then he’s raised the football program to the FCS level, improved facilities that were once a joke and gone head to head with Hofstra for the right to own the island.
Jim Sr. came to every football game, home and away — even took the red-eye back from California last fall for an NCAA playoff game. He knew every coach, would chat with every kid, watched his son put his stamp on Stony Brook just as he put his stamp on Long Beach.
Jim Sr. died of cancer in March. He’ll be remembered Friday at St. Mary of the Isle Church. Jim Jr. and his wife, Lisa, recently founded the Jim Fiore, Sr., Endowment for Academic and Athletic Excellence.
Safe to say the son understands.
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