The Franzoni Era has run its course in North Adams.
For the past 11 years, John Franzoni has been the single driving force for the Drury girls' basketball team. He has stepped down as head coach to turn his attention to his new role as principal of Brayton Elementary School.
"I'm excited by the challenge I'm facing with my new position, but I will definitely miss going to practice each day to work with the kids on my team," he wrote in an email. "We've built a great family and tradition in our program, and I'm proud of what we have all accomplished together both on and off the court."
His practices were one of the memories 2013 graduate and four-year varsity player Danielle Racette recalled from her time as a Blue Devil.
"He always was positive about things but knew when it was time to buckle down," she said. "He definitely worked us hard in practice. There was never a practice that you thought, ‘Oh this is going to be an easy practice.' There was never a day like that. He worked us hard every day, and I think that made us a good team."
That approach never wavered during his tenure, and the results followed.
Franzoni finished with an overall record of 161-76 in his 11 seasons, for an average of 14.6 wins per season. Drury won three North Division crowns and two South Division titles (the only two years Drury played in the South under his leadership).
He guided the Blue Devils to three Western Massachusetts final appearances, including back-to-back trips in 2005 and 2006 before ending his run with a return trip in 2013. He led Drury to the Cage each of his first five seasons and made six trips in all. The 2013 ride to the final was his first trip back since 2007. The Blue Devils made it to the postseason in 10 of his 11 seasons.
"It's nice for me personally. Now I've been [to the Cage] with three different groups of kids," he said ahead of the 2013 championship game. "We came back and had some good teams, but just couldn't get there, which just shows how special it is to get there."
But it's never been all about basketball. Whenever he's had the chance, he spoke highly of his student-athletes for being just that: student-athletes. It's always been something he has taken pride in.
"That's what our kids are. They are good students, good family members. They are role models," he said back in March. "They are disciplined in all aspects of life and that translates onto the court."
Franzoni said his desire to become a principal began about three years ago when he started taking classes for his principal certification. The added workload put a strain on his time, but he stuck with coaching.
His athletes recognized his commitment to the team.
"I know he had a lot going on my senior year," Racette said. "So I'm glad he stuck it out, and I think he influenced a lot of people in a very positive way."
It wasn't the firs time he impressed with his dedication. In November 2008, he underwent emergency back surgery and hardly missed a practice, opting to hobble around with a cane. When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he asked his doctor if he could forgo surgery for a month so he could finish out the basketball season.
"I didn't want to leave the girls in the middle of the season," he said. "I just appreciate how much they put up with that year with all the health issues."
"[That season] stuck out in my mind because with everything he went through, he still showed up and was still committed to the team and still gave his all as our coach," said four-year player and all-time leading scorer Taylor DeSanty, who was a senior that year. "It just shows his character."
His dedication and ability to always be there for an athlete is why his players took it hard when he informed them in late August he wasn't coming back.
"It was tough to hear that he wasn't going to coach us," said senior Morgan Lamarre, who played varsity for Franzoni since eighth grade. "We all know that it was the best decision for him. He's always taught us to make the best decisions both on and off the court."
Just because it was the right one, doesn't mean it was less difficult.
"It has really been an honor and a privilege to work with such tremendous student-athletes over the past 11 years at Drury," he wrote, "and that made it very difficult emotionally to meet with the girls last month to tell them that I would not be able to coach this season."
The position has been posted on the district's website -- as it is every year -- with a deadline of Oct. 11. Athletic Director Molly Meczywor anticipates a large pool of applicants. Practices can begin Dec. 2.
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On Twitter: @NAT_DigitalJosh