Mike Rapone has accomplished about all there is to accomplish during what has been a storied career at Notre Dame High School. Nine sectional championships, two state titles, a selection to the Section V Hall of Fame, the list of accolades goes on and on for the longtime Irish coach whose career began during the Regan administration and remains active to this day.
A 1971 graduate of the school, Rapone has become an institution at ND beginning with his days as a modified coach in the early 70s and finishing with his incredible run as the varsity boys basketball coach throughout the past four decades. Plenty of great moments define Coach Rapone’s illustrious career, but perhaps none more than Notre Dame’s 2010 Class D Semifinal win over Arkport, which was career win No. 546 for Rapone and set a new Section V boys basketball record.
EYES ON HISTORY
The Notre Dame boys basketball team had a primary focus from day one of the 2010 season. A program that hadn’t won a championship since 2001, that year’s team had its sights set on getting back to Blue Cross Arena where they hoped to achieve championship glory for the first time in nearly a decade.
With that being said, the ‘10 team was also well aware of the extraneous circumstances surrounding its season that year.
“We started off our season and we played Alexander and he tied or passed the second (most-winningest Section V coach),” recalled Vin Zambito, Notre Dame Class of 2011 and the starting point guard for the 2010 team. “All year long we had a goal in mind to get coach (the all-time) record.”
It would take one heck of a season for the Irish to accomplish that goal, as Coach Rapone was still nearly 20 wins away from achieving the all-time mark previously set by Bishop Kearney’s Ed Nietopski. In order for Rapone to set surpass the all-time record that year, his team would have to win a total of 18 games and advance to the sectional final - a tall task indeed.
However, after an opening night victory gave Rapone win No. 528 and the second spot on the all-time list, 16 wins later the Irish found themselves in position to complete their task, as now all that stood in their way was a semifinal victory over the Blue Jays, which would provide their coach win No. 546 and the record.
Although the Irish entered the semifinal matchup with the wins record on their minds, there wasn’t much talk of No. 546 during the team’s pregame activities.
“(Before) that game it wasn’t on our mind too much,” said Zambito about being one win away from Rapone’s wins record. “It was a semifinal game so we just wanted to get to Blue Cross.”
Since day one the Irish had been dreaming of playing at the ‘War Memorial’, something the ND boys’ program hadn’t done in more than five years.
“(Before) that game they wanted nothing more than to get to the ‘War Memorial’,” recalled longtime assistant coach and Coach Rapone’s son Mikey Rapone. “Before the game we got into a little huddle and there wasn’t much talk about 546, but there was a lot of talk about the ‘War Memorial’.”
That attitude is something instilled by ND’s longtime head coach, says his son.
“That was because of the way he coached - he wanted to get to the ‘War Memorial’ more than he wanted (win No. 546),” said Mikey Rapone about his father. “From day one, we talked about the hot locker rooms in the basement of the (arena), and I think that all comes from my father. He never wanted the light to shine on him.”
Although it took many years and many great teams and victories for Rapone to achieve such a prestigious mark, on that night against Arkport things came rather easily to his team. From the opening tip the Irish dominated the Blue Jays, using a 15-2 first quarter run to put themselves on the road to what turned out to be a blowout victory, 60-41.
“I was proud of the way the kids played that night,” recalled Coach Rapone, whose team went on to fall to Fillmore in the Class D Final just days later. “That was a great team. We probably should have won sectionals that year, but it was a memorable experience nonetheless.”
Following the game a celebration ensued with countless individuals seeking to congratulate Coach Rapone on an esteemed achievement, but what he remembers most is seeing his daughter as soon as the two teams finished shaking hands.
“Probably the biggest thing I remember is, my daughter wasn’t supposed to be there but she flew home from Maryland that day (and was at the game),” said Coach Rapone. “That was a big surprise.”
Rapone’s son, Mikey most remembers how great it was to see such outstanding support for his father.
“It’s a great feeling to watch that kind of support for your father,” he said. “To see the guys come back from ‘85, there was guys from the state championship team in ‘92. Just the level of support was amazing.”
Many great victories have helped define what has been nothing short of a legendary career for Mike Rapone. However, win No. 546 stands out above the rest as perhaps the defining moment of an all-time run as head coach.