Jeff Jacobs: Masuk football coach Steve Christy gains strength from team, coaching after wife's passing

Photo of Jeff Jacobs

MONROE — Steve Christy met Cathy Pinciaro in 1978 when they were students at Sacred Heart University. It was over at Chubby’s Pub, attached to the school’s dining hall.

“I said that day, ‘I’m going to marry that girl,’” the Masuk football coach remembered. “I married her.”

Cathy’s dad, Anthony, happened to be acting president at Sacred Heart at the time.

Trumbull football coach Marce Petroccio knew Cathy Pinciaro even before she met Christy. They remained longtime friends.

“We went to school together at Trumbull High, graduated together,” Petroccio said. “She was in my homeroom. I got to tell you. Cathy was a beautiful person inside and outside. The room would light up when she walked in.”

Football is Steve Christy’s passion.

Education was Cathy Christy’s passion.

In her obituary, she was called a beloved member of the SCSU community, where she was a pillar of the campus for over 30 years. Cathy Christy was director of Southern Connecticut’s Violence Prevention, Victim Advocacy and Support Center and coordinator of the Sexual Assault Resource team.

“She’d answer the phone at 2 in the morning, 3 in the morning,” Christy said. “It was, ‘Oh, this happened. Let me call the police. Let me document this. Let me help you.’ She gave herself to everybody. Everyone liked her. There wasn’t anyone who didn’t.

“She was the kindest, nicest, most selfless person. I wouldn’t do any of this if not for her. I only do this because of her. She supported me. She was the greatest wife ever.”

Cathy Christy, educator, mother of two, grandmother of three, Steve Christy’s wife of 37 years, died June 25 at age 61 of diabetes and COVID complications.

“I miss her greatly,” Christy said. “That’s my girl.”

At the funeral at St. Jude Church in Monroe, every member of the Masuk team attended in their jersey. Christy can’t talk about greeting his players that day without dissolving into tears. He is a tough guy on the perimeter. Inside, he is a ball of emotion. He cries often. He calls himself another Dick Vermeil.

“The day of games, I’d basically sit in my bed until 3 o’clock, sweating profusely,” Christy said. “I hate pre-game. The anxiety. Cathy would get me there. She’d make my toast with apple jelly. She’d get wet rags and put them on my head.”

Before she went into a diabetic coma and spent her final month in the hospital, Christy told his wife he was prepared to give up coaching.

“She looked at me — I’ll never forget it — and said, ‘No, don’t you quit.’ Meanwhile, for years she asked me why I keep doing this for?

“These three hours out here are three hours away from my grief. When I go home it’s really hard.”

Christy’s Masuk players say they are playing this season for coach and his wife. Not much needs to be said on a daily basis. They know he is hurting. They also say on the field he remains much the same.

“Just seeing him motivates us,” senior Ryan Fedeli said.

“He has been a rock,” senior Kyle Beckett said. “He brings the same energy every day. He loves us. We love him. We were brought together on that day (of the funeral). That universal experience brought us closer to coach, something we all got through together.”

At 62, Christy is an interesting study as a coach. He took over as Masuk’s head man only in the summer of 2021. He is a long-time Monroe football guy. He got involved coaching his boys and spent 16 years with the Lions youth program. He was an assistant at Harding and Masuk, offensive coordinator when the Panthers went to the state finals in 2017.

His son Brian, who played on the 2003 Masuk team that went to the state finals, is a realtor in the area. His son Scott, a two-time All-State performer, has taken over SportsLook, Steve’s screen printing and athletic apparel business. He assists with the football team.

In the meantime, Christy pushes on. Masuk advanced to the state Class L semifinals last year. Christy has a young team this year. Several sophomores start on offense and defense. He also has a talented team, which came within seconds of beating No. 8 Trumbull on Sept. 9 before defeating Notre Dame-Fairfield, 38-0.

“In June and July, I was absent,” Christy said. “I didn’t go to passing leagues. I didn’t go to team functions. Eric Giordano saved the program. He’s associate head coach and offensive line coach. He carried us. Every morning at 6 he was there for the morning run. He and Sal Longo.”

Robert Giordano’s cemetery plot is only a few away from Cathy’s. Eric’s dad died last December, and the team attended that funeral. There is much emotion within the Masuk program.

“We’ve talked about loving the journey,” Christy said. “I don’t know about wins, losses, rankings. I do know this. We have overcome a heartbreaking loss two weeks ago. We’re getting enormous crowds. Masuk football has brought together a lot of people.”

In the moments after the victory over Notre Dame-Fairfield, Christy said, “(The celebration) will be over in about an hour and then it’s on to the biggest game of our lives and we’re good for that, we are ready for that.”

Masuk takes on No. 7 St. Joseph on Saturday in a substantial Connecticut Football Alliance game.

“I wouldn’t wish that loss (to Trumbull) on my worst enemy,” Beckett said. “But we bounced back even harder. We’re preparing like it’s the last game we’ll ever play.”

Monday’s practice was a grueling one. Steve Christy is a demanding coach. The same coach who has his kids come over and hit golf balls in his backyard. The same one who tears up when he talks about his players.

“I know coach is really dedicating this season to his wife,” said junior Jason Champagne, who ran for 170 yards and three touchdowns against Notre Dame-Fairfield. “We want to end up on top, win the state championship. It would be so great for him.”

Petroccio was in Italy when Cathy died. He was unable to get back for her funeral.

“It really bothered me, really bothered me,” he said. “And then to play Steve, who I’ve known 25-30 years, in the opening game was really strange.”

Masuk dramatically erased a 20-point second half lead and took a 43-42 lead on a two-point conversion with 26 seconds left.

“All of a sudden a great blue heron leaves those woods,” said Christy, pointing to the far end of Masuk’s Benedict Stadium. “It flies across the field. Everybody gasps. I know it’s my wife. She was very spiritually with the birds.”

“I’m thinking, ‘My God, this is a sign,’” Petroccio said. “Now we’re really in trouble.”

Longo went over to Christy and gave him a huge hug.

“He goes, ‘That was Cathy,’” Christy said. “I go, ‘I know. I know.’ I start bawling, bawling in my hat.

“Last year, we won five games in the last minute. I’d come home and my prayer warrior would say how she was praying. When I go home now, I turn on the channels and they’re still set to (religious programing). This is who she was.”

The victory was not to be. The ensuing kickoff was ripped hard but hit one of Trumbull’s front men. The Eagles took over on the 46 and dramatically went 54 yards in three plays to score with three seconds remaining and win, 49-43.

“The kids had fought so hard and rebounded so well,” Christy said. “I was proud of them. I’m telling you. Through my grief, this group has saved my life.”