will open with different staff this year, but the change is a big one.
Head Coach Vito Montelli, one of the few remaining staff from the school's beginnings, has officially stepped down.
But the 80-year-old Trumbull resident says he'll still be in his office and off the court, sitting in a corner and ready to dispense advice if asked. He still meets with his former assistant coach, SJH alumnus Chris Watts, to whom he passed the reins.
Montelli's story begins 50 years ago when he fulfilled his dream of being an athletic director by moving from Notre Dame to St. Joseph, where he began with basketball and cross-country.
"I always wanted to be an athletic director," he said. "I have no regrets." Montelli noted he has a bachelors and Masters degree in physical education and health and recreation from the University of Bridgeport. He's originally from Bristol.
Since then, the programs has ballooned to volleyball, bowling, golf, football, baseball, softball, hockey and swimming, to name a few. But it was slow, careful growth.
"If we started a sport, it was going to last. We added slowly, but we built up the program," Montelli said.
Over the years, the program also moved into the larger athletic conferences.
For Montelli, the focus was always the school and the students. He has stayed in touch with many of those he coached, and four of five of the athletic staff are St. Joseph alumni.
Montelli said he has faith in Watts.
"I think he was a good fit. I'm happy he got the job," Montelli said. And he'll still be watching the school's games.
Deciding to hand over the wheel was not easy for the head coach. "I've been at it for a number of years," he said. Each day he asked himself when it was time to retire.
"My answer every year was, 'It's not my call. It's God's call."
When he got the message, it happened to be after 50 years. "It's just one of those things. I couldn't have planned it any better."
In 50 years, he's been honored many times and racked up numerous titles. His final record is 878 wins with 11 state titles.
At a 2010 ceremony where he was inducted into the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame, Montelli said, "It's such an honor. I've been so blessed in my career to have been recognized for what I love to do."
Montelli came to St. Joseph's in 1963, and has served as its only basketball coach. As the coach, he has guided his team to win nine state championships, and finished second six times.
He has been recognized regionally and nationally when he was inducted into the National High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 2005 and the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.
He credits "my faith, my family, a lot of hard work [and] having good players with his success."
And he predicts Watts will follow in his footsteps. "He'll do a fine job. He's a man of character," Montelli said.
The head coach has been married to his wife Dolores (Murphy) Montelli for 53 years, has six children and 17 grandchildren.
"My kids grew up in the St. Joseph gym," he joked. They all attended the school too. He'll miss all the children he coached over the years and the job where he spent half a century.
"I'm going to miss the hell out of it," Montelli said.