May 27, 2005

Gino's joys
Former Comets star Schiraldi revived by daughters' success

By J. BRADY McCOLLOUGH
The Kansas City Star

The other dads are quieter. Twenty-five years in Kansas City hasn't changed Gino much. If anything, Gino looks and acts much the way he did when he was the face of the Kansas City Comets in the 1980s. The face is pudgy and weather worn now, the gap in his front teeth still there.

These games are serious for Gino. His daughters, Gina and Alix, start for the Shawnee Mission West Vikings.

"They both wear my number," Gino says proudly of Gina's No. 2 and Alix's No. 22 jersey.

Early in the game, a referee makes his first mistake, calling a foul on an SM West defender and awarding Emporia a penalty shot.

"CLUELESS!" Gino yells at the ref, throwing his hands in the air. Refs got everything wrong when Gino was a Comet, so he's not surprised.

"Unbelievable," Gino says.

A dad approaches Gino.

"How you doing other than that bad call?" he asks, laughing.

Everyone enjoys being around Gino. Even at 5 feet 7, he's hard to miss. His passion stands out.

There was a time when Gino was slogging through life without that passion. But now, it's back in full fury.

SM West beat Emporia 5-0 Tuesday night and, at 18-1, is headed to the state tournament for the first time in school history. The Vikings play in the semifinals against Manhattan at 7 tonight in Maize, Kan.

Gino's girls will be playing for a championship, and that's not just Gina and Alix. Eight other SM West players are his girls, coached by Gino on their club team, the KC Comets.

They are SM West coach Mark Sheldon's girls right now, but Gino can't help feeling a little responsible.

"He takes a lot of pride in it," says Alix, a freshman. "It's so awesome for him. We had eight players make All-Sunflower League, and six of them were Comets."

***

Over the years, Gino had become quite the businessman. He'd work long hours, first at his pizzeria and later at his doughnut shop. Combined with all of the traveling he did when he was with the Comets, Gino's hours were too long for his wife, Shelly.

Shelly asked for a divorce in 2000, and Gino was shocked. He never thought she would leave him. He never thought he'd have to admit to his Italian Catholic parents in Toronto that he couldn't hold a marriage together. Gino moved in with his best friend, Enzo DiPede, the former Comets goalie.

"I didn't want to do anything," Gino says. "I was depressed."

Alix was, too. She took it much harder than Gina, the less emotional of the two.

"Alix was totally devastated," Shelly says. "She cried and screamed and threw things."

Things would get only worse for the Schiraldis. In 2001, an endorsement deal at Body Scan Imaging Center in Westport turned bad for Gino. As part of the endorsement, Gino had to have his arteries, heart and organs examined.

The scan discovered that, at age 42, Gino had four arteries blocked, including his aorta, which was 90 percent blocked.

Gino had a ski trip to Colorado planned with his daughters for their spring break. The altitude could have set off a massive heart attack.

"They told me I was a walking time bomb," Gino says. "I couldn't believe it. This is not happening to me."

Gino went in a week after the scan for what was supposed to be a quadruple bypass heart surgery. It ended up being eight bypasses.

Before the surgery, Gino laid in his hospital bed, tubes coming out of him in every direction, and wondered whether he was about to die.

***

The day after the surgery, Gino allowed only DiPede and Gino's brother to see him, his chest stitched up like a tin man with a new heart. It wasn't for his daughters' eyes.

It took only a couple of days before Gino was up and running again, despite doctor's orders. To Gino, the doctors were like referees. What did they know?

"The surgery changed my whole life," Gino says. "I'm enjoying every day. I have less stress, and I am spending a lot more time with my daughters and my friends."

Gino made a decision. He would no longer let his business life become his life. He would sell his Lamar's Donuts franchise and coach more soccer teams. Gino got a job working at UPS as a pre-load supervisor from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. every day. The rest of the day is his to play, coach and relax.

"My passion, my joy for life is back," Gino says. "Coaching soccer is my calling card."

Gino's recovery led to SM West's. Sheldon knew that Gino had been grooming six girls that would be freshmen this season. He knew they'd come in ready to play at the level of his four seniors, who were poised for a breakout season and are led by Chelsea Curry, who leads the team with 22 goals and six assists.

"They come from a very competitive and successful program with Gino," Sheldon says. "He develops kids that will work hard and play hard."

They expect to win, like Gino. They were a part of the Under-15 Comets team that won the Kansas State Cup last summer.

"When we won state, he ran up to me, and he was crying," Alix says. "He has been working at this. He wants it more than our team sometimes."

***

Gino regrets that he wasn't around as much when they were growing up. Spending high-quality time with Gina, Alix and 12-year-old Shelby is a part of what Gino calls his new path in life.

"I'm closer to my children right now than I've ever been," Gino says. "During their upbringing, I wasn't able to be at school events. I'd work at Lamar's and be in bed by 9. I've had a lot of catching up to do."

Coaching has helped him catch up.

Even though he doesn't live with his daughters anymore, he can see them every day. Gina and Alix say that while Gino sometimes can yell too much as a coach, he makes it fun by adding his own flavor.

"All of our teams know what shoot, pass, tackle and switch the field are in Italian," Alix says, laughing. "He's definitely not a quiet coach. It's the Italian way."

Alix, a freshman forward, is SM West's third-leading scorer. She's an aggressive player with peerless field vision. Gina, a junior midfielder, plays similar to Gino, a very physical style.

During games, Alix wears makeup and doesn't have a hair out of place. Gina rolls her eyes when Alix's makeup is mentioned.

Gino doesn't understand it either.

"She's a princess," Gino says. "I told her she'd look too pretty and that the other team would think she was a wuss."

These are the things that come out of Gino's mouth regularly. It's a lot easier to handle Gino's verbal lashings when they're spending so much time with him, going to movies and going out to dinner.

"He was always there for soccer," Alix says. "Now, when we hang out, we do more meaningful stuff."

Gino thinks back to the days when he was a young indoor soccer star, the days when Kemper Arena was a packed house. Before each game, Gina would run down to the glass, and Gino would find her. They'd press their hands together against the glass as a pre-game ritual.

Before Tuesday night's game, the SM West girls ran toward their fans and threw miniature soccer balls with their names on them into the seats. Gina picked Gino out and threw her ball to him. He carried it around all night.

"They're my girls," Gino says. "It makes me feel so proud. I just tell them not to forget me when they make it big."

To reach J. Brady McCollough, sports reporter for The Star, call (816) 234-7747 or send e-mail to jmccollough@kcstar.com.

 


J. Brady McCollough - jbrady@coveringsports.com (email) - 816-868-2621 (cell)