WILMINGTON — In the fall of 1979, Tom DeMatteis scored the first goal in the history of varsity soccer at St. Mark’s High School.
Seven years later, in his initial season as the Spartans’ boys head coach, he guided St. Mark’s to its first state championship in the sport, but certainly not its last. The Spartans won 10 more titles during his 25 seasons at the helm.
When the state added girls’ soccer, DeMatteis became the first coach of the girls’ team at St. Mark’s in 1994. The Spartans instantly were one of the top teams in Delaware, and in his 14 seasons leading the squad, they won four state championships and once went 65 straight games without a loss.
DeMatteis, whose legacy in the Delaware soccer community is secure, will be enshrined with the state’s best athletes, coaches and administrators on May 15 when he is inducted into the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington. He and eight other First State standouts comprise the Class of 2014.
“The whole fact that I’m getting this honor is because of so many people,” DeMatteis said recently at St. Mark’s, where he has taught English since 1984.
He mentioned former players who nominated him; his soccer coach at St. Mark’s, Carmine Chickadel; Marty Apostolico, a 2004 DSMHOF inductee who was a football coach at Dickinson High School; and his wife, Theresa, and children, Liz and T.J., both of whom played for their father at St. Mark’s.
His credentials are impressive. In addition to the 11 boys’ titles – including six in a row from 1996-2001 – the Spartans were runners up another six times. His teams went undefeated in 1987, ’96 and ’99. Between 1998-2000, St. Mark’s won 41 straight contests. His teams had four unbeaten streaks of 20 or more games. The team did not lose to a Delaware opponent for 57 consecutive games between 1997-2001. St. Mark’s was ranked first nationally for one week in 2000. He also coached five state players of the year.
Scott Mosier, DeMatteis’ counterpart at Salesianum School, said the honor is richly deserved. DeMatteis, he said, enhanced the sport in Delaware at a time when it was really starting to grow.
“He set the bar for success,” Mosier said. “The amount of championships he won and the fashion in which he won them is impressive. Not only the wins but the program he created is something he should take a lot of pride in. At the end of the day he helped a lot of people grow and mature and become good young adults.”
He proved equally adept at coaching girls. The Spartans won their four titles in consecutive years, from 2000-03. They reached the championship game another four times. The first championship team, in 2000, defeated four-time defending champion A.I. DuPont by a goal after falling behind, 2-0, in the first three minutes.
.804 winning percentage
Overall, DeMatteis posted a record of 579-98-43 with 25 trips to the finals. He said the secret to the success he had on the field was due more to his players than him.
“The credit goes to the players,” he said. “Obviously we had good players, but they were good people. Sometimes you had to ask them to play a different role or a different position than what they were hoping for. Almost without any exceptions, they would all do it, and it led to good things. And then it just built on itself.”
That applied to both the boys’ and girls’ teams, DeMatteis said.
Both genders went on extended runs of success. He estimates he coached 37 sets of brothers, and the younger ones saw the success the older siblings had and wanted to duplicate that. His players never went into a season complacent and were “always up to the challenge” of defending their titles.
The four-year run with the girls included about a dozen players who were part of all four teams.
“We had a strong group of seniors (in 1997) and this great group of freshmen that came in. They were on varsity and a couple of them played key roles. Their roles grew and grew, and their last three years they ran off 65 games in a row without losing. They were a terrific group,” recalled DeMatteis, a parishioner at St. John the Beloved.
DeMatteis’ goal as a student at St. Mark’s and Cabrini College was not to coach soccer, but to write about it. He wanted to be a sportswriter, but during college he saw how tough it was to break into that field, so he added secondary education as a major. He was a student teacher at St. Mark’s during his senior year at Cabrini and was hired full-time before the 1984-85 academic year. That first year, he was an assistant freshman soccer coach, and the next year he became Chickadel’s assistant soccer coach. When Chickadel moved to Montana, DeMatteis, not yet 24 years old, took the reins.
“I was very fortunate,” he said. “I guess it helped that I played here, and I played through college. Then I got to coach under Chick as well. I was very fortunate to come into a situation where there were a number of good players who, more importantly, were good people. That’s the key. They have to be coachable. We always had an abundance of players like that.”
The Spartans, after losing the championship game in his lone year as an assistant, promptly won the next two, in 1986 and ’87.
He did get to scratch his sportswriting itch at The Dialog, where he freelanced during the school year and worked full-time for three summers.
DeMatteis and his wife, a guidance counselor at St. Mark’s, knew their children would be Spartans. One of the highlights of his life is having the chance to coach them. He stepped down from the girls’ job after Liz’s senior year and did the same for the boys when T.J. graduated.
“It was really great. It was really the highlight. Getting to coach the two of them was just fantastic. It was really the last thing to get to do,” he said.
The induction banquet will take place Thursday, May 15, at the Chase Center on the Riverfront. Tickets are $60 and available through May 7 by contacting Sue Holloway at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 992-0550. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., with dinner starting at 6:45.