Perhaps it was only fitting that the road to the celebration of the life of the Rev. Louis Falcone — if you were coming from his home in Luzerne — ran up Memorial Highway and straight toward the old Mark II Family Restaurant.
Because that is where his youth sports teams would wind up immediately after winning a league championship.
For decades, it seemed like he lived there.
Because more than anything, Lou knew how to win.
That’s what we called him.
Oh, we were aware he was a Reverend, and a devoted family man, and a man of great spiritual faith with loyal congregations at the numerous churches who listened to his sermons across the Wyoming Valley and beyond for more than half a century. We knew he ran the Kingston Rec Center.
All that was memorialized in a beautiful ceremony Saturday, over three months after he passed away at the age of 84, at Camp Orchard Hill in Dallas.
But to us, he was always Lou. The coach. The guy who, some 40 years after you were done playing for him, elicited immediate recognition and respect by the mere mention of his first name.
To his teams, he preached the success he was driven by — on the LCP Little League and Luzerne Lions mini-football fields, on the St. John’s and Sacred Heart basketball courts, in a highly respected life.
Sometimes too hard.
His brother-in-law Bill Black remembered Falcone as being honest, direct, a little tough on people at times.
“No guts,” he loudly bellowed at a young shortstop who passed up a chance for a tag play at third base and instead threw to first.
I still say first was the better play.
Make an error? Count on fielding ground balls off Falcone’s bat long after the game was over.
A beloved coach? Sometimes, it seemed, he was more loathed.
That’s OK. You’d swear Lou Falcone relished in playing the part of the bad guy.
He once stood up at a Phillies game at old Veterans Stadium and yelled out, in that booming voice, “Go Yankees,” then laughed heartily at the stunned looks he received. He didn’t have many coaching friends, or at least anyone who would admit they enjoyed coaching against him, in the Fort-Swoyer Teener League.
Other than his old coaching adversary/pal Don Minkoff, there weren’t a lot of people in the LCP Little League who looked forward to playing him.
But just about every kid Falcone coached looks back on the time he shared with them as a treasure.
That’s why Luzerne will rename Charles Street Park in his honor — and why so many showed up Saturday to celebrate his life.
There was Andy Barilla, the St. John’s basketball star nobody could stop in the 1970s, and his old grade-school teammate Chris Walko from Falcone’s days coaching kids on the court.
Over to the right of the room was Bobby Razvillas, the running back on Falcone’s Luzerne Lions team that went to the mini-football Super Bowl and later the catcher on the LCP team that won the first District 16 All-Star B Division championship.
Falcone always seemed particularly proud of that moment — one of the dozens and dozens of coaching titles he won — because he fought to add a B Division where first-round losers get a second chance, long before double elimination took hold.
Across the way at Camp Orchard Hill was the ace pitcher of that LCP championship team, Paul Kotch. And sitting way in the back was local musician Chas Evansky, who shared championships with Lou on the LCP Orioles team that turned into the Luzerne Lions Club when sponsors started putting their names on jerseys.
Of course, his old sidekick of an an assistant coach Jimmy Reino delivered one of about a half-dozen moving eulogies,. He pulled out a list of 450 names he admitted should have been well over twice that, listing kids Lou coached who turned into champions in various fields through all walks of life.
It’s no coincidence their success started way-back-when with Lou.
“Good teams, good times,” he smiled the last time we talked.
All constructed by a man greater than anyone knew.