Russo took care of his girls just before passing away

By Miguel A. Melendez
Staff Writer

As one of his last act of duties as Alverno High School’s athletic director, Frankie Russo Jr. arranged for chartered buses last Friday so the girls soccer team had a comfortable ride to its semifinal game Tuesday afternoon in Carson.

Later that Friday afternoon, Russo suffered a stroke and died two days later at Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale. He was 48.

“He made sure he attended to all the details ahead of time,” said Cathie Snyder, administrative assistant to Alverno’s head of school Ann Gillick.

The school is mourning the loss of Russo who was the school’s its athletic director for 15 years and softball coach for 19.

The Jaguars arrived at The Home Depot Center on Tuesday to see the largest contingent ever to attend an Alverno soccer game.

Gillick let school out early that day so students could attend the game. Almost 15 faculty and staff attended the game, too.

Alverno usually doesn’t use chartered buses for road games unless Russo felt a long road trip warrented.

“Our school isn’t big on that kind of stuff but they made a real big deal out of this,” said Alverno assistant soccer coach Steve Lesse who was not aware Russo made the final arrangements.

When Russo arranged for the chartered buses, he knew there would be extra seats.

“There were about 20-25 seats available after the soccer team,” Snyder said. “It was open to the first 25 students who signed up so they can get a safe ride to the game.”

You can expect another large gathering when Alverno plays Vasquez in Friday’s CIF-Southern Section Division VII championship game at Mission Viejo High.

The game initially was scheduled for 4 p.m. but it’s also the same day Russo’s funeral is scheduled.

The Southern Section allowed Alverno and Vasquez to instead play at 7.

Gillick and her administrators decided there would be no school today or Friday so the entire school of 45 faculty and staff members and 260 studdents can attend today’s viewing from 5-8 p.m. at Crippen Moutary in La Crescenta. The funeral will begin at 10 a.m. Friday at St. James Catholic Church in La Crescenta, followed by a procession to the San Fernando Mission and a private reception at Dominick’s Italian Restaurant, which is family owned.

“(Gillick) knows how important it is to the school,” said Snyder who answered the phone Wednesday afternoon to say Gillick was gone for the day. “She’s always very generous with allowing us time to grieve and attend services.”

Tuesday’s 4-1 win over CAMS was emotional.

“The girls were real emotional,” Lesse said. “When you have something like this you have to win but at the same time it makes it harder to play.

“Everybody felt that (Russo) was there participating. They tried to take everything in good spirit for him.”

Lesse has been involved with the school two years but it didn’t take long for him to recognize the special bond developed not just his players but every student on campus.

“What I remember most is how well he related to the kids,” he said. “He was a really great guy and very supportive. I had just been talking to (Russo) last Friday about (Tuesday’s) game. It’s hard to believe. We’re there (Tuesday) at the game and he wasn’t there.”

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