There's a new sheriff in town. But this time around, he's been in town all along.
Starpoint High School principal Gil Licata will get back into the coaching world next winter once he takes over for former boys basketball head coach Ben Scaffidi. Everything that went into the move was all about timing and was a key factor in Licata's decision.
Scaffidi had been coaching in the Spartans basketball program for eight seasons, before deciding to step down this past April. According to Starpoint athletic director Tom Sarkovics, he said the move was simply that Scaffidi wanted to step away from coaching for a while.
Sarkovics believes that Licata brings some tools to help the Starpoint program moving forward and sees some parallels with this situation in comparison to another in their school district.
"He's got a great basketball background," Sarkovics said.
"I think it'll be interesting to have a principal coaching a team. We have an assistant principal, Joe DiMaria, in the high school and he coaches JV (boys) volleyball. So it's not the first time we've tried this. They know the kids and the kids know them. ... I don't think (the kids) look at them as some big authority figures when they're also coaching them. They get to see a different side of the person that's running the school. I think it's a great idea."
Licata was "shocked" when Scaffidi stepped down and he had nothing but high praises to share about the former head coach. According to Licata, no other teachers in the Starpoint school district had applied for the gig, leaving a vacancy in one of the school's premier coaching positions.
For Licata, the timing of this position opening up coincided with a new dynamic taking place within his family.
"I have four kids, Rachel, Claire, Joey and Grace. They all played high school basketball," Licata said. "And Grace actually played four years at Buffalo State College. So I have no kid playing basketball the first time in 24 years next year. So it's been a great journey watching the kids play."
Aside from his daughter Grace playing for Buffalo State, his lone son, Joe, was one of the most highly successful quarterbacks to play for the University at Buffalo football program. He is currently the school's all-time leader in career passing yardage and touchdown passes.
Licata has been the principal at Starpoint for the last 20 years now. Prior to his tenure in Pendleton, he coached at Bryant & Stratton College in the late '70's, Daemen College in the mid '80's for three seasons, now defunct Turner-Carroll High School in the 1985-86 school year, before becoming a part-time assistant under Nick Macarchuk at Canisius College in the 1986-87 season.
After a year with the Griffs, Licata returned to Turner-Carroll for the 1987-88 season. Licata had a high level of success at Turner-Carroll, leading the school to its first Manhattan Cup in 1986 and then went on to win its first state championship over Stillwater High School in 1988. His last stint was with Canisius High School, where he coached from 1990-93.
The point guard of those Manhattan Cup and state championship Turner-Carroll teams was Kevin McCarley. McCarley enjoyed his time as a player under Licata and expects a positive impact to be made for Spartans basketball.
"Playing for coach Licata, it was a good situation," McCarley said.
"He was hands on, he really expected a lot out of his players and he was a solid basketball coach. He was about X's and O's and paying attention to detail. He was real big on paying attention to detail and just running your (play) sets. When we played, we had no stars on our team. Everybody gelled and played together. He was big on that, just playing together. Moving the ball, running the offense and just trusting in our offense, no matter what the score was."
Before he became the "Wing King," Drew Cerza was one of the Licata's small forwards at Bryant & Stratton from 1980-82. The creator of the National Buffalo Wing Festival, Cerza has developed a strong relationship with the Starpoint principal ever since.
"Gil was very unique. Gil wasn't just a coach, he was a mentor to me and still is, even to this day," Cerza said.
"He taught me a lot about life and not just basketball. I think that's why we've always maintained a friendship after coaching. Gil always gave respect, but he demanded respect too. He was the kind of guy that earned it. So I think it's great that he's getting back into coaching, because I think he's the kind of guy that kids need nowadays. Not just a coach but a mentor, because sports nowadays it's a great way to learn about life. You need guys or ladies that understand that and Gil's one of those people that do."
For Sarkovics, he is eager to see what Licata will bring to Starpoint even after a lengthy hiatus from the coaching ranks.
"I think when you've got a guy that knows this much basketball, been around it for years and years, he (also) knows a lot of people in basketball (too), that can only help the program," Sarkovics said. "I think it's going to be great. ... he's got more than enough experience, more than most people applying for the job."
Licata is most looking forward to working with the kids at practice and watching them develop. He will also have the unique chance to coach against Joe's new program, Bishop Timon St. Jude High School, where he serves as the athletic director, head coach of the football team and is an assistant coach to the boys varsity basketball program.
"That's gonna be fun," Licata said. "Timon's a well-coached team. It should be fun."