There is no doubt Joe Moresco touched countless lives in the 86-plus years he spent on this earth, that time coming to an end in the early-morning hours Tuesday.
That was evidenced Thursday afternoon at Bangs Funeral Home, where approximately 250 people — friends, former football players as well as coaching friends and foes — lined up to pay their final respects to the former Ithaca High coach, as well as to his loving family. Joe’s widow, Shirley, stood near the front of the Bangs Chapel with her children — Joseph T., Nancy, Timothy, Teri and Barbara — and their families, greeting friends and even strangers who came to offer condolences or a share a story.
And there were many stories. Coaching contemporary Orlando Turco, hired by then-athletic director John “Skeeter” Skawski along with Moresco in 1956, recalled his first teaching assignment and how Joe helped him through it.
“I was told that I was going to have to teach math. I was a science teacher,” said Turco, who coached wrestling at his alma mater for 31 years and coached nine state champions. “And Joe was a math teacher, so I went to see him. And Joe sat down with me and set up my lesson plan for one month. That’s the kind of person Joe was.”
Larry Jordan, who played football for Moresco in 1969 and ’70 — the beginning of a four-year unbeaten run for Ithaca that included a state title in ’70 — recalled his former coach’s no-nonsense style in an era different from the one in which we now live.
“There were no soft practices,” Jordan said. “He challenged you, we’d go 1-on-1, 2-on-2, scrimmaging, he didn’t have any problem with that. You could kick a kid in the rear end or grab him by the facemask at times, to sort of get your point across.
“But at the same time,” he said, “I don’t know anybody that didn’t respect and love him. He was IHS football for all of us.”
There were plenty of similar stories passed around among those Joe has left behind. Bangs was overflowing with “old Ithaca,” as one mourner called it, and it certainly seemed like one stepped back in time when greeting a former Ithaca classmate from 40 or 50 years ago. Hugs, tears, stories — they all flowed as folks gathered for the first time in a long time. And as is sadly the case most of the time, it was to say goodbye to a dearly departed friend.
Joe Moresco, the Wilkes-Barre, Pa., native who made Ithaca his home 56 years ago, did touch countless lives in his time on this earth. And perhaps no one’s life was affected more by this husband, father, grandfather, coach and friend than that of his middle child, Tim.
He grew up in the 1950s and ’60s, and went from shagging footballs and baseballs for his father’s teams to playing the game for which his dad was most passionate — at Ithaca High, then at Syracuse University and finally for four seasons in the National Football League.
“I remember being a youngster, 7 or 8 years old, sitting with him in the basement while he was watching film at night,” Tim told me Thursday as the line of well-wishers began to form outside the funeral home. “He’d come home from practice and he’d watch film, and game-plan, and I sat with him a lot. I spent a lot of time with him.
“I went to practice with him all the time,” he said. “I was a bat boy when he coached baseball and a ball boy when he coached football. I was just around; I liked being around and being around him. That started at an early age. Then I got to the point where I was playing things, and he was the one I learned how to throw, catch and hit from.”
When Tim got to Syracuse, first under legendary coach Ben Schwartzwalder and then Frank Maloney, he was not overwhelmed by anything related to the college game because he’d already seen it at IHS, under his dad.
“I didn’t really experience anything that I didn’t experience in high school as far as watching film, game plans, meetings and things,” Tim said. “I’d been exposed to that, so that when I got to Syracuse, there wasn’t anything really new. When I got to the NFL, it was a little more sophisticated, but the fact that we did that, it wasn’t new for me.”
The only way Tim knew as far as football went was his dad’s way, and that was “all-in.”
“My dad was so passionate about it,” he said. “He read books, he went to clinics in the offseason all the time, he really was interested in learning whatever he could. And he spent a lot of time at it. It really was his passion. And because he was so passionate about it, I think that transferred down to a lot of people — the kids who played, the coaches — and I really believe that.
“The leader, the head of something, really sets the tone,” Tim added. “It’s important for the guy at the top to be a certain way, and he led by example. And I think a lot of people were happy to try to follow that.”
He wasn’t “Coach Moresco” at home, but he applied some of those same principles, said Tim, who felt lucky to be as passionate about football as was his dad.
“He was gone a lot, but to me, he wasn’t gone because I was with him,” he said. “To my sisters, he was gone. But he was what you got, all the time. There was no morning Joe, afternoon Joe, evening Joe — it was the same Joe all day, every day. He coached and mentored us at home the same way he coached and mentored people at school.”
Now senior vice president at Cresa Atlanta, a commercial real estate firm in Georgia, Tim Moresco feels blessed — as did the couple hundred people who turned up Thursday for calling hours — that Joe Moresco was a part of his life. Tim also feels oddly comforted by the way his father died — in his sleep, quietly, peacefully, after a holiday weekend spent with those nearest and dearest to him by his side.
“We were all together at the house, for the first time in a long time,” he said. “We’ve been together over the last couple of years, but not at the house, and I wonder if there was some sort of, ‘OK, it’s OK now.’ Who knows?”