Joe Maniaci, a longtime Connetquot social studies teacher and Dowling College basketball coach who played high school basketball with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in New York City, died on Sunday, September 25. He was 75 years old.
Maniaci taught at Peconic Street Junior High School (now Ronkonkoma Middle School) for 37 years, then continued to work part-time as a Connetquot photographer, totaling more than five decades of service to the district.
Inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame in 2009, Maniaci began his coaching career as an assistant basketball coach at Dowling in 1971, shortly after playing for the team as a than top scorer. He was the team’s head coach from 1980 to 1986.
From 1987 to 1991, Maniaci took assistant coaching gigs at St. Francis College and CW Post College (now Long Island University). He was head coach at St. Joseph’s College (now St. Joseph’s University) from 1992 to 2001.
Maniaci played basketball for the varsity basketball team and graduated from Connetquot High School in 1966. He had previously attended high school at Power Memorial Academy in Manhattan, where he was a teammate of Jabbar, whose name in high school was Lew Alcindor. As a freshman at Power Memorial, Maniaci was a defensive star for the school’s junior varsity team, which won the New York Championship that season.
Maniaci’s son, Phil, in a Facebook post on Sunday, shared how devoted his father was to Connetquot.
“He really appreciated the positive accomplishments of students across the district and wanted everyone to see them,” Phil Maniaci wrote. “He was proud of the photos he took of the kids at Connetquot and it made him smile every time you let him know you were happy to see a photo he took of your child in action.
“The Connetquot community was like a second family to Joe Maniaci. Still a Thunderbird!” he continued.
The sad news of Joe Maniaci’s passing after his battle with cancer has sparked a wave of heartfelt thoughts about the popular educator and trainer.
“I have a lot of great memories from high school, but one of my favorites was college basketball. I was by far the worst on the team, so when I finally got to get in (probably down from 30), Mr. Maniaci was there to watch me make a foul shot,” Jamie Freitag commented on Phil Maniaci’s post.
“My team and my coach were so happy for me that you would have thought that I had won the match!” she continued. He took this great picture of me that’s framed in my parents’ living room, and every time he saw me again he remembered me as his favorite player. Thank you Mr. Maniaci for everything you have done for us!”
Tom Roeder, a local high school basketball coach who played for Maniaci in college, expressed his thanks for Maniaci’s mentorship.
“I learned so much from you on and off the court. I will treasure the things you taught me about basketball and life,” he posted on Facebook. “A lot of things you instilled in me as a player, I continue as a coach.”
AnnaMarie Damore is among dozens of people who have shared memories and left touching messages on Moloney’s Lake Funeral Home & Cremation Center’s webpage dedicated to Maniaci.
“Every time you walked into the school to take pictures of the kids, you brought with you a big smile and kind words,” she wrote. “I have enjoyed working with you so much over the years! God bless you and your family.”
Regular services for Maniaci
Visitation will be held at Moloney’s Lake Funeral Home & Cremation Center, 132 Ronkonkoma Ave. at Ronkonkoma on Tuesday, September 27 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., then Wednesday, September 28 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
A funeral mass for Maniaci will be held Thursday, September 29 at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Ronkonkoma at a time yet to be determined.
Top photo: Joe Maniaci (middle) when he coached at St. Joseph’s. The photo was provided by Tom Roeder, who is pictured to the right of Maniaci. Roeder said Maniaci sent him the photo a few years ago.