By Gianna Addario
---- — Jane Heil’s life and career has centered around basketball.
The sport has been a longstanding tradition in her family since she was a young girl. Heil grew up in the gym watching her father, Leo Appiani, coach the Medford High boys team, and her love for the game took over from there.
Now having made an illustrious career for herself as the highly successful head coach of the Peabody High girls basketball program for the last four decades, Heil will be recognized for her devotion to the sport and success of it. She is set to be inducted into the Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame this weekend.
The banquet will be held Sunday at The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.
“This honor which I will be receiving belongs to dozens of wonderful family, staff, players and friends — not to mention the entire administration at Peabody High for their support for so many years,” said Heil.
“I bumped into a former player recently and she congratulated me. I told her that she’s part of it; hundreds of people are part of it.”
The storied coach, who celebrates her 66th birthday today, enters her 33rd season with the Tanners this winter, having coached the squad for half of her life. She coached for 18 years, took four seasons off to watch her own daughter, Kristen, play basketball at Beverly High, and has been back behind the Peabody bench for the last 15 winters.
Currently, Heil’s coaching record is 512-167. That’s with four years off between 1995-99 as well as the 2004 season, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Yet Heil still managed to be with her team for every practice and game while undergoing chemotherapy and later radiation.
“If one lives long enough and coaches for this many years, has the talented players and dedicated staff that I’ve been blessed with, milestones will happen,” said Heil after notching her 500th career win last December. “So many players, parents, coaches, family and friends have helped contribute to these wins through the years.”
Heil will be honored along with two other coaches: Jim Grant from Nipmuc Regional High School and Bromfield High’s Tom Hill.
“Nominations for potential Hall of Fame candidates may come from any coach/individual and the MBCA executive board reviews all applications and votes each year to choose three deserving candidates,” said MBCA Hall of Fame Banquet Chairman, Jim Reynolds.
“An automatic induction into the MBCA Hall of Fame occurs when a coach reaches a 500-win milestone in their career. Coincidentally, all three of our inductees this year qualified by attaining the 500-win milestone during last year’s basketball season.”
Heil found out about the MBCA honor this past summer. She was at the airport in Illinois waiting for her delayed flight home. Her husband, Bob, who has been by her side as her assistant coach for many years, phoned her with the good news.
“They sent a letter to my house and Bob had opened it,” explained Heil. “I kept asking if he was sure he was reading the right thing.
“I was completely taken aback by it. I thought it was a possibility at some point after I retired, but I was really flattered and honored that it happened at this particular time in my career.”
Heil’s 500th win came against Everett last season, one in wich she made her 27th state tournament appearance with the Tanners. Through the years her teams have won 17 Greater Boston League titles and captured one very significant Division 1 state championship in 1985.
“I got thinking about (Red Sox outfielder) Shane Victorino’s interview after his monster home run during the World Series (this fall),” said Heil. “He said all he ever wanted was the ‘opportunity’: the opportunity to wear the uniform, the opportunity to bat, the opportunity to contribute in any way he could because he felt he could make a difference.
“I guess having suffered through the years of no sports for women when I was in high school, I can relate to this. All I ever wanted was the chance — and I was blessed to have the chance when I was selected to coach.”
A multitude of support
Heil’s coaching career has been filled with a wealth of talented Peabody High players. She’s had five 1,000-point scorers: Kristen Foley (1982); sister Kim Foley (‘85); Jen Webster (‘93), and both DeAnn Larrabee and D’yana Delpero, who each surpassed the plateau in their senior season of 2003.
Heil’s family and friends have been on the journey with her — especially her husband, who will introduce her at the ceremony; her daughter Kristin and son Bobby. Heil’s father-in-law, Charlie Heil, would often make appearances at her practices. Even up until a few years ago, he’d shoot the ball around with the girls at the age of 93.
“It’s been great to have them all be involved and interested,” Heil said. “My in-laws would take the bus rides with us to away games when we were first establishing the program in the late ‘70s.
“My husband has been there since Day 1; it’s really been 50/50. We got engaged the first year I started coaching. My daughter would bring her coloring books while we scouted and practiced. My son was born during the 1988 season. I had him on a Tuesday, my husband coached the girls the next night and I was back for the game on Friday.”
Heil’s sister and brother will also be at the banquet Sunday along with her son-in-law and former player Jeannie Hallinan.
“I hope everyone involved shares in this honor,” added Heil. “It’s worth mentioning the wonderful friends I’ve made over the years through sports and my gratitude to all the people (parents, boosters, fans) who have supported the Peabody girls basketball teams for so many years.”