SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Sports

March 6, 2014

After 33 seasons, Heil steps down as Peabody coach

(Continued)

Heil said there are three magic numbers in her mind. No. 1 is this year’s team, which she said will be first in her heart because it’s the last one she coached. The other two are No. 66 for her current age, and No. 33 for the years she coached.

Heil admitted she thought wins and losses were more important in her first 18-year stint, but came to realize it’s more about the lasting friendships you make. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, but never missed a game or practice in that 19-2 season. She has said many times it was family, friends, and the girls on the basketball team that helped her get through it.

She was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Mass. Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame this last November.

The long-time coach said she couldn’t begin to put into words what the program has given her. She will remain on as a consultant until a new coach takes over.

The former Jane Appiani grew up in the gym watching her father, the late Leo Appiani, coach the Medford High team. She and her husband Bob started coaching together along with his sister, Karen Connolly, at Higgins Junior High (now the middle school). Bob Heil has been Jane’s assistant through the years.

Other longtime members of her staff (all present except Bob, who is recovering from surgery) are Diane Broughton, Stan McKeen, Jean Hallinan, Kristin Heil Papanickolas, Nick Papanickolas and Catie Cullen. Heil’s two beloved grandchildren, Angelia and Mike, were also on hand yesterday.

Describing Heil’s legacy, people used words like ‘caring’, ‘life lessons through basketball’, ‘passionate’, ‘do it up proud’, ‘family’ and ‘bleeds blue.’ Four senior players gave their coach flowers.

“We’re losing a coach valued throughout the community, but we’re gaining our No. 1 fan for the future,” said Sheridan, who told a funny story about the years he shared the Peabody High fieldhouse with Heil when he was the track coach. Somehow, they managed to remain friends while the two teams tried to practice at the same time.

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