Above: Alhambra head coach Joe Petralia ,standing, with assistant coach Joe Khouzam, kneeling, in the first half during a playoff basketball game between Roosevelt and Alhambra at Alhambra High. (Keith Birmingham/Staff Photo)
This column appeared in print Feb. 14, 2009, on page C3 of the Star-News sports section.
Some call him “The Godfather.”
It’s not all that farfetched, really.
Joe Petralia has walked the Alhambra High School hallways for 30 years. His slick-backed hair is as unmistakable as his baritone voice.
For 14 years as the Moors’ boys basketball coach he’s stomped his feet and clenched his fist in disapproval — either of a player’s shot or referee’s call — all the while looking like he just stepped out of the pages of GQ magazine.
Whether it was on the court or in the classroom as a U.S. history teacher, Petralia earned his students’ and players’ respect, not that his presence alone didn’t command it.
He’s as no-nonsense as a teacher as he is as a coach. Some might say he’s old school, and isn’t that who our parents would rather us learn from?
It never fails.
Former students and players of Petralia return to the gym on Fourth Street to pay their respects to an Alhambra High icon who for many years stood for what was just, teaching his students and players that there was more to life than X’s and O’s, and that if we paid attention and gave it our best effort we wouldn’t disappoint ourselves.
Friday night was Petralia’s final home game of the regular season. He will retire as coach at the end of the season and then as a teacher at school year’s end.
What better way for a man of his stature to leave than as a champion, clinching his fourth Almont League championship with a 61-49 win over rival Keppel in front of a boisterous home crowd paying homage to the man who took pride turning boys into men with his tough but endearing discipline.
It’s that kind of “tough love” that affected the lives of so many who have gone on to become successful, including this sports writer.