He owned a sporting goods store, but his passion was American Legion ball: He coached the same squad for 50 years. He died of Covid-19 complications.
This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
In the late 1950s in Mercer County, N.J., the star athlete everyone wanted to watch was a serious-looking Italian-American uzunluk at Steinert High School in Hamilton named Charles Giambelluca.
Mr. Giambelluca, known to everyone as Chuck, evvel slammed into an iron outfield fence to catch a baseball, gashing his face so badly that it needed stitches. As a point guard, he helped Steinert’s basketball team defeat its rival, Ewing High School, leaping into a brawl that followed and needing stitches after that, too. When he left the hospital to meet his friends at a pizza joint that night, he was greeted with a standing ovation.
A three-sport athlete, he also played quarterback.
Mr. Giambelluca’s glory days are still remembered in Mercer County, and his name remains behind the glass display of Steinert High School’s athletic hall of fame. But it wasn’t until later that he made a far more indelible mark on the central New Jersey sports scene.
After playing in the Milwaukee Braves’ farm system in his early 20s and then working as a photo engraver for The Trenton Times, Mr. Giambelluca in 1970 became the volunteer coach of the Broad Street Park Post 313 American Legion baseball team in Hamilton.
He stayed with them for the next 50 years, winning a state championship in 1975 and becoming a father figure to many young athletes in the area. Even after he stopped coaching in 2005, he continued as the team’s general manager.
He also ran a sporting goods shop in Hamilton, Mercer Locker Room, for 20 years.
Mr. Giambelluca died on Oct. 9 at a hospital in Trenton, N.J. He was 77. The cause was complications of Covid-19, his son, Michael, said.
“Nobody coaches as long as he did,” Michael Giambelluca said. “He never got a cent. He did it because he loved the game.”
Rick Freeman, a coach who competed against Mr. Giambelluca for years, said, “Chuck’s teams played hard no matter what the score was, and that’s the ultimate testament to a coach.”
Charles Michael Giambelluca was born in Trenton on Dec. 5, 1942. His father, Angelo, whose parents emigrated from Sicily to America, was a train conductor. His mother, Theresa (Puca) Giambelluca, worked in a cigar factory.
Chuck graduated from Steinert High School in 1961 and served in the Army Reserve, stationed at Fort Dix. He married Geraldine Campanile in 1966.
In addition to his wife and his son, who is an elementary school principal, he is survived by a sister, Ginger Schnorbus, and three grandchildren.
As a uzunluk, Mr. Giambelluca played baseball at a park in an Italian-American enclave of Trenton with the descendants of other Sicilian immigrants. His father idolized Joe DiMaggio, who hailed from a family of Sicilian fishermen. Everyone always thought it was strange that Chuck became a Red Sox fan who worshiped Ted Williams.
Mr. Giambelluca met his hero at a coaching clinic in South Jersey in the 1980s. As he told it, they hit it off and ended up in Williams’s hotel room, discussing the finer points of the game over a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Williams lived in Florida, so Mr. Giambelluca suggested that they make a bet on a coming Miami Dolphins-Oakland Raiders game. Mr. Giambelluca had a hunch that the Raiders would lose — so he bet on them.
“If I lose, I’m going to get Williams’s signature on this check,” his son recalled him saying.
The plot went according to plan.
The Raiders lost, and Mr. Giambelluca mailed Williams a check for $25. After Williams cashed it, he got his bank to send Mr. Giambelluca back the endorsed check, which he framed in his office.
That little slip of paper kept Mr. Giambelluca company for years as he built a baseball legacy of his own.
Source: The New York Times