PITTSTON – When Pittston Area girls basketball coach Kathy Healey was informed she was the recipient of the 2019 Sunday Dispatch Joseph F. Saporito Lifetime of Service Award, she immediately thought of her mother, Rosaleen, who passed away in 2006.
“She was the person that taught me to give back,” Healey said. “From the beginning.”
And Healey has given back throughout her life, whether that means formally organizing efforts to assist needy people or simply buying a cup of hot chocolate for someone on a cold day.
Healey is honored to be among past recipients of the award, including Joseph F. Saporito himself, whom she said had a heart for the community, helping simply because it was the right thing to do and not for any accolades.
The Sunday Dispatch first presented the award in 2000 when Saporito’s widow Yolanda “Dolly” Saporito, since deceased, and sons, Carlo and Atty. Joseph Jr., accepted the award on Saporito’s behalf. The award is named and presented annually in Saporito’s memory.
Nominees for the award must have dedicated a lifetime of service with the intention of making a difference in the Greater Pittston area. The editorial staff of the Sunday Dispatch accepts nominations from the community before making a final decision.
From the beginning
Healey grew up in Pittston with seven brothers and sisters.
Although her family might not have had a lot of money, she said, the children never knew it.
Healey, who graduated from Seton Catholic, with a Bachelor’s degree from Maywood and a Master’s degree from Wilkes University, remembers not having a lot of things, but always having more than enough food on the table — enough for friends.
She remembers her mother turning down going for ice cream with her friends so she could buy a gallon ice cream for her children and their friends.
A friend of her mother’s was displaced during the Agnes Flood in 1972 and her mother invited her to stay with the Healey family.
“There was three adults, eight children, five bedrooms and one bathroom,” Healey said. “We made it work.”
Healey learned well the lessons learned as a child in her family home watching her mother.
“Giving back,” she said. “That’s what you do.”
Right from the beginning
Healey’s first job coaching girls basketball was at St. Mary’s in Avoca in 1978. In 1982, she began 20 years of coaching at her alma mater, Seton Catholic.
It was there she established a tradition of giving among her players, coaches and, eventually, other teams.
A mail carrier at the time, Healey became aware of the needs of families at the McCauley House in Scranton.
Just before Christmas each year, her players gathered on a weekend afternoon to go shopping for a family at the facility.
“We’d ask for a family that had four or five children,” Healey said.
The players and coaches would return to the school and wrap the presents while drinking hot chocolate and enjoying snacks.
“We’d make a day of it,” she said.
Eventually, the girls basketball team was joined in its holiday efforts by the boys basketball team and the baseball team..
“No one ever knew that we did it,” Healey said. “We got a thank you note from McCauley House, but even the family didn’t know who bought the presents.”
Players were also the recipients of Healey’s kindness while she was coaching at Seton.
When the time came to buy sneakers, parents of players were required to send in a check in an envelope with their child’s name on it.
Some of the parents, however, didn’t have money for sneakers.
So, Healey spoke with those parents and they sent in envelopes with their child’s name on it — without a check inside.
Healey, her family and friends donated money to buy the sneakers.
Healey again repeated her mantra, “That’s just what you do.”
Continuing a mission
Healey moved on to coaching girls basketball at Wyoming Area in 2003 and, in 2009, landed her current position as head girls basketball coach at Pittston Area.
Of course, she brought along her spirit of community service.
For many years, following donations from community members, her team would give cash gifts to people shopping at Kmart.
The effort often impacted her players as much as it did recipients.
Healey remembers one time when players found a woman who had just spent all her money on funeral expenses for her husband.
The woman didn’t have enough money to pick up her layaway items.
When players were able to give the woman money to pick up her Christmas gifts, the woman was overwhelmed, but so were the players.
“They came back crying and then the coaches were crying,” Healey said.
Another time, players only had $15 left and were at a loss as to what to do with the money.
Healey looked over at three people waiting for the bus.
“I told them, give each of those people $5,” Healey said.
At first, the players were reluctant to give such a small amount, but they did as Healey said.
“All three got on the bus smiling,” Healey said. “They were talking to the girls. We made their day.”
Two years ago, when Kmart closed, Healey had to come up with a new plan to help people during the Christmas season.
When Anthony Marranca started the Greater Pittston Santa Squad effort during his annual Turkey Bowl football game, Healey had her answer.
The first year, Marranca didn’t know the girls were coming, with Healey simply telling him she was going to “bring a toy.”
But Healey’s team went shopping and bought nearly 50 toys.
On the day of the game, the team members surprised Marranca, bursting onto the field with the gifts.
“It’s something players still remember,” Healey said.
Last year, players again brought toys to the game in an effort that is now a new tradition.
Healey’s efforts are by no means limited to the holiday season. Instead, she works to improve the lives of others daily.
Midge’s Mission provides opportunity for her and her good friend Ann Marie Webb to put personal care items in the hands of those who need them.
Webb’s mother Midge had always collected hotel-sized bottles of shampoo and other supplies from her friends and family who collected them as they traveled.
She would then give them to her priest who would distribute them to the needy in Philadelphia.
When Midge died, Healey and Webb continued her efforts, establishing Midge’s Mission which makes personal care items available to those in need, including students at Pittston Area and Hanover Area where Healey has taught since 2005.
One day, a young man came into Healey’s office and asked for a toothbrush. Then, he asked for two toothbrushes.
Healey said, “Absolutely,” but inquired as to why he was taking two.
“It’s my birthday and this is only present that I’ll get today, Miss Healey,” the young man admitted.
The organization also provides those products to veterans and others who don’t have enough money to meet their basic needs.”
Using athletics as a tool
Healey describes herself as an extremely competitive person.
But she has always held that coaching basketball goes far beyond simply teaching her players how to score the most points and win games.
Instead, she said, it’s an opportunity to show players how to live their lives generously and decently.
Healey provided an example of that in 2017 when she played Ellie Bartoli during an all-star game.
Bartoli, who has Down syndrome, spent every day of the season with the team, serving as team manager.
Healey put Bartoli in the game during the last three minutes and she scored 10 points.
“The girl can shoot,” the coach said.
Bartoli’s family, friends, fans and the media were overwhelmed with her opportunity to play.
Many photos of the day show Healey where she usually is — in the background, smiling.
As a softball coach at Hanover, Healey has used an athletic field to encourage and support those with special needs.
Each year, Healey hosts a softball game between her players and students in the life skills class at Hanover Area.
She makes a day out of the special game, with music and food and a visit from Champ, mascot for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
It is the one game of the year the team plans to lose, she said, but everyone has a great time.
“All throughout the year, the life skills students stop me in the hall and say, ‘This year we’re going to win again,’” she said.
Healey wants to instill in her players much more than athletic skills. She wants to help prepare them for life.
“There’s life beyond baseball,” she said.
Healey’s receipt of the lifetime award reflects on much more than her formalized efforts to help others.
She wakes up in the morning thinking about others and carries that thought with her throughout the day.
Often while getting her first cup of coffee of the day, she “pays it forward” and buys one for someone else who looks like they may need a hand up.
When the weather gets cold, she often delivers cups of hot chocolate to postal workers, having been one herself for 19 years.
She often buys dinner for others anonymously, sometimes because they don’t have enough money and sometimes because they might need to be cheered up.
At Christmas time, she rents a bus and takes friends and family on a tour of Christmas lights in the Greater Pittston area, complete with hot chocolate and Christmas cookies.
The important thing, she said, is to serve without focusing on getting anything back.
Healey serves in the spirit of her mother, because, she said, “That’s just what you do.”
PIttston Area head basketball coach Kathy Healey, right, and assistant coach Mark Casper, center, help members of the the girls vasity basketball team prepare clear bags filled with scarves, hats and gloves to be distributed in downtown Pittston for anyone to take.
Pittston Area head coach Kathy Healey, right, embraces Ellie Bartoli after Bartoli’s 10-point effort against Coughlin in a past season.
Pittston Area girls basketball coach Kathy Healey, left, gives her players instructions before they set out to distribute scarves along Main Street in Pittston.
Pittston Area head coach Kathy Healey, right, and assistant coach Mark Casper celebrate a district championship.