Zizzi more than just a coach

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, October 31, 2007

MONTEREY — If you were to walk into the Monterey High School gym any particular morning you would see him sitting there.

His chair would be turned backwards and a big smile would be on his face.

If you were one of his players he would call you by the nickname he gave you. He never forgot one of those.

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His obituary will say that a longtime Monterey baseball coach and Natchez native died of a heart attack Sunday night.

But Hank Zizzi was so much more than that.

Zizzi was an original, that’s for sure. Billy Wallace, who coached with Zizzi for the past four years said “When God made him he broke the mold. I’ve never met anyone like him and I never will.”

Hank Zizzi, whose visitation will be held at Young’s Funeral Home in Vidalia on Thursday from 5-9 p.m., was always two things, an athlete and a jokester.

He played everything except basketball growing up because, as his wife of 45 years Sandra said, he was “too low to the ground for that.”

He broke the home run record in Babe Ruth baseball as a kid and went on to play football at Southwest Community College.

He started coaching football at McLaurin and later Martin Middle School in Natchez before going to Monterey as the baseball coach where he stayed for the final 19 years of his life.

It was there where Zizzi became by far the most popular faculty member at the school.

Walking by his classroom, one might hear him break out into song, because as one of his players, Jared Ensminger said, “He would just want to make everybody laugh.”

Grumpy was the nickname Zizzi gave Ensminger, just as he gave a nickname to all of his players.

“He couldn’t remember your real name, but he could sure remember your nickname,” Ensminger said.

“I don’t know how he remembered 60 or 70 kids’ nicknames,” assistant coach Cary Shively said. “But he never forgot a single one.”

Zizzi was just one of those guys who when you saw him, you knew it would be a good day.

“No matter what kind of day you were having, he would turn it around,” senior baseball player Jon Lipsey said. “It didn’t matter if he was having a bad day or if you were, he would make it better.”

Sandra Zizzi said it was Hank’s love for the students that made him the way he was.

“He just loved being with the kids,” she said. “They are going to miss him.”

The stories about Hank Zizzi the jokester could go on forever, but another story shows just the kind of man he really was.

Every year at the Monterey baseball banquet, Zizzi would use his own money to purchase bouquets of flowers for each of his senior players to give to their mothers. He would also give one to Sandra.

“He didn’t have to do that,” Shively said. “He thought it was important for the mothers of the players.”

“He loved doing that,” Sandra Zizzi said.

“He looked forward to doing that every year.”

The news of Zizzi’s death was devastating, but no one was hit harder than Sandra.

They were supposed to go on a cruise Monday with a group of friends before Zizzi’s death Sunday night.

“We had our bags packed and were really looking forward to it,” she said. “We went on it last year and had a really good time. This is just the most devastating thing I’ve ever been through.”

Players and coaches at Monterey echoed those thoughts, and no doubt everyone who ever came in contact with Zizzi throughout his life has as well.

He will be universally missed.

Hank Zizzi was a highly successful baseball coach, but none of this story has been about his baseball accomplishments. Perhaps that, more than anything else, shows just what kind of man he was, and how important he was to the students and faculty at Monterey High School.