By TOM WILLIAMS
According to its published agenda, the Ocean City Board of Education will vote on Wednesday to approve Mike Cappelletti as the Raiders new girls basketball coach. He would become the fourth coach in the school’s 51-year history, following Paul Baruffi, Dr. Chris Lentz and Pat Dougherty.
Cappelletti has been a longtime assistant to Baruffi in girls basketball and to Kevin Smith in football.
Being approved on Wednesday would be a special moment in his life, giving him his first head coaching job. But there was a moment more than five years ago that was truly life-changing for Cappelletti – and one of the scariest moments in OCHS sports history.
It was Oct. 23, 2015 – a typical Friday night in the fall, and the Ocean City High School football coaches were completing their pre-game meal, prior to boarding a bus for Atlantic City. Cappelletti, finished eating, stood up and walked to the trash can. In the next moment, he was on the floor.
“I just threw away my trash,” Cappelletti remembered, “and then I passed out. I came to and the other coaches got me sitting up. One of them called for Kathy Kickish, our athletic trainer. I cannot say enough about her and the outstanding job she does. I was told I passed out again, but I have no memory of that. They called for an ambulance and took me out.”
He remembers being loaded into the ambulance. The team was there, getting ready to load onto the bus. “I was aware they were there,” he said, “and I know they were talking to me, saying encouraging things. But I wasn’t able to communicate at the time. I could see the concern on their faces and it was very emotional.”
It turned out that Cappelletti had a torn aneurysm, a genetic disorder.
“I never had any symptoms,” he said, “and it was pretty remarkable that I’d gone through medical exams and surgeries to repair sports injuries and it never showed up. I do remember telling my wife that my chest felt a little tight earlier that week. When this all happened I just thought I had somehow become dehydrated or something.”
Cappelletti was taken to Shore Medical Center where doctors quickly determined he needed surgery.
“Within 25 minutes,” he said, “I was on a helicopter headed for Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. My parents were there within 10 minutes for all the necessary approvals and I was in the operating room within minutes.”
The surgery was successful and, although Cappelletti had to return to the hospital a couple times after small setbacks, he progressed quickly. It was what he experienced during the recovery period that he really wants to talk about.
“The response from people was unbelievable,” Cappelletti said. “My surgery ended early Saturday morning and I woke up on Sunday. On Monday, all the football coaches were there in the hospital with the game ball signed by all the players. I am so thankful that this happened in the presence of a group of men who were trained to handle injuries and medical emergencies. Together with Kathy Kickish, they probably saved my life.”
But there were lots more.
“The entire Middle Township girls basketball team signed a card and sent it to me,” Cappelletti said. “John Leahy is a terrific person – I sent my daughters to his basketball camp – but he is a guy we compete against. It just shows you the respect coaches have for each other. It was heartwarming to get that card.
“I also got a card signed by the football team at Clearview. I’ve never even met any of them but they read about a South Jersey coach who was facing a health problem and they wanted to wish him well. It just shows how compassionate people can be.”
Closer to home, there were even more examples.
“They started a meal program for us at the Intermediate School,” said Cappelletti, who teaches special education there. “They supplied us with dinner for at least a month and a half. It was so much help to my wife (Jeanne) who had to not only help take care of me but take all the responsibilities for our three kids. We will never be able to thank all those people enough who cooked for us.
“In addition, we got cards and calls from former players and parents. It was amazing how many we received. Gary Degenhardt called me every week. Jack Pfizenmayer came to visit. I knew him when I was at Lower Cape May. All of this says so much about what a great community we have in Ocean City.”
Cappelletti spent the final month of the 2015 football season doing a little work for the program. “When I felt up to it I would watch the game films. The coaches checked in with me almost every day and asked me for input as they prepared for each game. It was great to be able to focus on that for a while.”
It was an amazing 10 weeks of recovery for Cappelletti. What could have been a fatal attack became just a temporary setback because of a group of trained coaches, a skilled athletic trainer and teams of medical professionals.
And, on Wednesday, he should become Ocean City’s next girls basketball coach..