A dapper figure in the Fauquier High gym for four decades, Wayne Brizzi recently told school administration he is stepping down after 27 years as Falcons’ boys basketball coach.
Brizzi’s tenure is the longest in county history for a basketball coach, and his self-estimated 350 career victories also is a county record.
"You can't coach forever," Brizzi laughed when contacted Sunday about the rationale behind his decision.
"I think after every season you look at how everything is going and how you feel physically," Brizzi began. ”You think about where you stand and whether you want to continue to deal with (the job) and keep doing what you have done in the past.
"It was a little of this and a little of that. Things were pointing that direction," Brizzi said. "It was a tough decision," he admits, emphasizing there are no health issues and his life in retirement from teaching is going well.
His decision caught almost everyone off guard. Brochures for his annual and highly successful youth basketball camp held in early to mid June had been circulating. That approaching responsibility led him to look at the calendar more closely.
"Things wind down, but once our (youth) camp comes, all of a sudden (the cycle) is gearing up again," the long-time coach said, citing the two weeks of the youth camp, followed by team camps at the University of Pittsburgh and the Paul Webb camp in Richmond.
There also are summer and fall leagues, preseason conditioning in the fall and innumerable days and evenings of open gyms.
"I also wanted to make the decision to give the administration enough time to search for a replacement," Brizzi said.
Brizzi, who will soon turn 66, arrived in Fauquier County in 1988 and was an assistant to then-boys basketball coach Allen Creasy. When Creasy became Fauquier's athletic director in the summer of 1994, Brizzi took over the basketball program. He pointed out he began his coaching career at the age of 21 immediately after graduating from college.
"I've been coaching and teaching for more than 40 years," said Brizzi, who usually always wore a coat and tie during games.
“Coach Brizzi has been a class act throughout his tenure as our basketball coach at Fauquier,” said FHS activities director Mark Ott. “His dedication to the athletes is unparalleled and the time he has spent preparing them not only to play basketball but also to become productive and well rounded young men is next to none.”
“He has inspired both male and female athletes to enjoy and excel at the game he has so much passion for. Not only has Wayne been there for the student athletes but he has also molded and mentored many coaches along his journey. He will be missed at FHS and it will be difficult to fill his shoes with a replacement,” said Ott.
Brizzi’s teams were always well-drilled and moved the ball with precision, often working to set up an open 3-pointer or layup. Among his top players were Duane Gilliam, who played at American University, and Jerrelle Benimon, who starred at Towson and briefly played in the NBA.
Brizzi retired two years ago from his teaching position at Taylor Middle School. Wife Paulie retired last year from the Loudoun County school system. He said total retirement will allow time to visit his native Pittsburgh more frequently and make other travel plans.
He also will be able to spend more time with their two children. Ben, 30, is a computer programmer in Northern Virginia, while Brianna, 26, works at Fauquier Health Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, but will be returning to school this fall for more advanced medical training.
Brizzi said he will carry many fond memories, small and large.
"First of all, I feel lucky and fortunate to be a Falcon,” he said, pointing out he had "great" relationships with the three principals and other administrators with whom he worked.
"And all the young people I met. That was very important to me. It was fun to be able to be a part of all of that."
Other highlights included seeing players mature and exciting victories. Many of those successes led to multiple district championships, regional play, a trip to the state tournament, a 19-game winning streak, multiple titles in the old Fauquier Democrat Holiday Classic.
"That was a community thing. It was a lot of fun to be able to do that," Brizzi said of the Christmas break event.
Those memories mean his bond with the athletic department will remain strong.
"Heck yeah. As I said, I've always been proud to be a Falcon, so I'm definitely going to support them," he said firmly.
"I will miss coaching and the players, no question," Brizzi concluded. "But it was the right decision."