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Constantino resignation a huge loss for Niagara Falls

After nine highly successful seasons, Sal Constantino has resigned as the head basketball coach of the Niagara Falls Wolverines.

Constantino sent an email late Sunday morning notifying local media of the decision to step down. The Wolverines finished the 2018-19 season with a 59-57 loss to eventual NYSPHSAA state champion West Genesee of Section III in the state semifinals.

Niagara Falls has won the last four Section VI class AA titles and eight of the last 9 under Constantino’s guidance. This past year, the Wolverines made it to the NYSPHSAA final four.

Constantino took over the program in 2010. Known as a coach of great character, he has always had the respect of his peers. “Sal is one of the most generous and giving coaches,” current Kenmore West Blue Devils coach Mike Meetze said. “In victory or defeat he was always gracious giving credit to our kids.”

That was the common theme after talking with a number of other coaches from around the Niagara Frontier League.

“Sal Constantino and his program have set the standard for our (NFL) league,” Ryan Mountain, the current head coach at North Tonawanda, said. The Lumberjacks have had some success over the years against the Wolverines but Mountan is quick to give credit to Constantino.

“Sal and his program has forced us to get better. (He) brings out the best in his players but he brings out the best in myself and the rest of the coaches in our league.”

This is a huge loss for NFHS and competing against them won’t be the same. Sal will be missed, he is an outstanding coach and just a great guy who has earned the respect of the entire WNY coaching fraternity.” Mountain said, adding that he asked Sal to join him as an assistant once he learned that he was stepping down.

Constantino had the ability to reach all of his players. It didn’t matter if you were in the starting rotation or a role player. One such player, Ryan Hogan, played for Constantino’s Niagara PAL teams. “Besides my parents, he has actually been one of my biggest role models,” Hogan says. Constantino is one of the reasons Hogan started coaching. “I have nothing but respect for Sal, how he treats people, his sense of humor, time, and service devoted to children and others.”

Hogan has been an assistant coach at Kenmore West for more than a decade and is currently the JV head coach.

“Before our teams would play (during the JV) Sal and I would always talk hoops and life stories cracking me up. Over the years we’ve become good friends. He’s an absolute class act for sure.” Meetze said.

Another former player, Jermaine Crumpton, a standout during his four seasons with the Wolverines who then went on to play for Jim Baron and Reggie Witherspoon at Canisius College said “Sal came in when I was a sophomore. It was an amazing experience playing for him. He (Constantino) is a true players coach. He was very good to me and always true to himself and his players.”

Another common theme in talking to former players and coaches was Sal’s “tough love” approach. Over the last few years of covering high school sports I developed a sense that Constantino dealt with a lot of the same off the court matters that other coaches experience. I often breeze through internet sites and read comments from parents complaining that Constantino didn’t always pick the best players in the school or was too hard on kids. “He was always there for me and said what he needed to in order to get me to play better,” Crumpton said. I wanted to play at a higher level and Sal had a lot to do with me achieving my goals.”

Constantino helped many former players focus on academics as much as they did on athletics. Reaching the next level isn’t attainable for a majority of high school athletes and Constantino understood this when most parents don’t. That’s one of the many reasons he continually checked in with his players and their schoolwork.

“We had, I believe, seven seniors and just about all of them if not all went to college and graduated,” Crumpton said. “Sal would find you a school, he had his player’s best interests in mind on and off the court.”

“He’s going to be missed! He (Sal) is everything right about Section VI hoops,” Erik O’Bryan said. O’Bryan is the varsity head coach at Niagara Wheatfield. “He’s all about the players first and not worried about himself. Sal is a good friend of mine and it’s sad to see him leave.”

Constantino was quoted in the Buffalo News earlier citing that one of the reasons for leaving is the harassment. His family has had to endure some negative comments and most recently, some pretty salty language was used in public while Constantino was out with his son. People take things too far nowadays.

“Niagara Falls can be a very tough community,” Constantino said via private message Sunday.

There is so much more to coaching than just playing the game that many outsiders do not realize. Constantino understood what it took to build a program better than most and he continued the rich tradition of winning at Niagara Falls right up until his final game.

Constantino will miss coaching the Wolverines but not as much as the Wolverines will miss him coaching them.

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