Love and Caring Are Deana Capaldi’s Gifts to North Providence Basketball

Deana Capaldi and North Providence basketball team
Deana Capaldi and the North Providence Basketball Team – Photo: Deb Weinreich

NORTH PROVIDENCE HIGH BOYS’ BASKETBALL TAKES ON WESTERLY THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 20 AT 6:30PM ON YURVIEW, COX CHANNEL 4 IN RHODE ISLAND AND STREAMING LIVE ON YURVIEW.COM

Tim Walker, a senior guard on the North Providence basketball team, looked towards the opposite side of the court in the stands. The Cougars home game against Narragansett was about to start.

Someone was noticeably missing.

The game was underway and Walker and several of the other players glanced in the stands at half court.

Yes, someone was noticeably missing.

During a time out, Walker again searched the stands.

Still missing.

Prestige

The game ended. The Cougars upset the visiting Mariners, 65-55. The victory was monumental. Narragansett had just come off a huge victory over Pilgrim – one that made national news after the Mariners’ Colby Corson sunk a full court shot at the buzzer which put the game into overtime and led to an upset Narragansett victory. Corson’s shot was highlighted on ESPN Sportscenter’s Top 10.

The very next game, North Providence was the team to earn the upset, beating the Mariners by 10. The win also marked the Cougars first home victory of the season.

Deana Capaldi wasn’t able to celebrate with the Cougars. Capaldi was the one the players sought out before, during and after the game. She was the one missing from the stands.

An English teacher for the last 17 years at North Providence High School, Capaldi is at every junior varsity and varsity game – both home and away. She makes sure she acknowledges each player before the game, cheers them on during the game and analyzes the game with each player long after the final buzzer.

Before this year, she hadn’t missed a game in nearly five years. This season she has missed two.

“I told the kids a long time ago, if I am not at your game it means I’m in the hospital,” Capaldi said.

She was joking at the time. But now, no truer words have been spoken.

Last Monday, while her favorite team took the court, she was, in fact, in the hospital. She is suffering from large kidney stones, which have caused her tremendous pain. She has been hospitalized three times since the school year began in September and has had surgery twice.

Deana Capaldi and team members
Deana Capaldi and North Providence High team members – Photo: Deb Weinreich

“It was like coming home and your mom not being there,” said Walker of Capaldi’s absence during the victory over Narragansett.

“It was concerning that she wasn’t there,” said NP senior point guard Pierre Imad. “We did grab a win and I know she would have loved to see us win.”

She certainly would have.

Capaldi has always loved basketball. Her passion for the game intensified when she attended the University of Rhode Island and followed the Rams journey to the Sweet Sixteen during Capaldi’s senior year in 1988. That year, led by Tommy Garrick and Carleton “Silk” Owens, the Rams reached the Sweet Sixteen before suffering a heartbreaking 73-72 loss to No. 2 Duke. She talks about the game in detail as if it were yesterday.

“I love URI. That team was amazing. I watched every game,” said Capaldi.

What is it about this North Providence team that has Capaldi hiding her pain and driving to places like Portsmouth and Middletown on cold winter nights after a long day in the classroom?

“They’re MY team,” said Capaldi of the Cougars, who are hoping to make the Division II playoffs this year.

“Her illness has resulted in a really painful situation for her, but she never complains. She won’t let on, especially to the kids,” said North Providence head coach Taylor Rabbitt.

Capaldi has taken on the role of tutor, mentor, friend and a million other things for the North Providence basketball team.

“She and I have adjacent rooms up on the third floor,” said Rabbitt, who teaches history. “She is always a knock away. She is a big help to me as an educator. She does really well with the social emotional needs of students and in this day and age it’s more and more of a factor. More and more teachers are forced to deal with various issues and we don’t always know how to deal because there’s not a protocol for some of these issues that are coming up. It just takes someone with a big heart and Deana definitely has that.”

“You can talk to her about anything, any different situation and about any aspect of life. Whatever you’re dealing with, she is always there for you and you will always be able to talk to her about anything,” said senior guard Evan Gavlick.

Capaldi arrives at the school from her Smithfield home each day at 7 a.m. – long before the first school bell rings. Her door is open for the players – or any students – who want to talk, receive tutoring or just say good morning before they start their day. Several hours later, when the final school bell rings, the door swings back open and it’s much of the same.

“North Providence has a strict academic policy. If you fail one core subject you’re done,” Rabbitt said.

Capaldi’s goal is to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“She has ‘Ms. Capaldi’s Tutoring’ from 2-3 p.m. every day and it’s not just athletes she is helping,” said Rabbitt. “She helps ALL students. It’s great to have someone on top of the students’ needs like she is.”

Her day is far from over at 3 p.m. She is thankful that North Providence is located on Mineral Spring Avenue – a mecca for restaurants and fast food -making it easy to grab a quick bite before she returns to the school or hits the road if the teams are away. The game ends and she returns home and prepares for the following day. It’s a long day. She loves every second.

Deana Capaldi and Player
Deana Capaldi and North Providence Player – Photo: Deb Weinreich

Capaldi goes to every game regardless of the location. She sits in the same spot in the stands at half court so if she arrives at the game late, the players will know where she is.

So when she wasn’t at half court during the Cougars game against the Mariners, there was obvious reason for concern.

She has been suffering from large kidney stones since the start of the school year. The pain is excruciating. Capaldi has been hospitalized three times since September and had surgery twice.

“She’s a tough lady and won’t let on when she is hurting,” said Rabbitt.

Last week, just two days after she was hospitalized and was forced to miss the Cougars game against Narragansett, she managed to muster up enough strength to go the game at Juanita Sanchez and witness the Cougars earn their second straight victory.

The junior varsity game was underway when Capaldi entered the gym. The NP varsity team was sitting in the stands watching the game. When they saw Capaldi walk towards them, one by one each member of the team got up from their seat and went over to Capaldi and hugged the woman wearing North Providence basketball branded sweatshirt and sweatpants.

“I love this,” she said. “Going to the games and being part of this team helps me through the pain. It’s definitely healing for me.”

Her love for the Cougars is even greater than her love for the game itself. Make no mistake, though, she doesn’t coddle the players. She knows the game and is critical of their performance – on and off the court.

“She has helped me control my anger issues on the court. She and I talk about basketball and she tells me what I can do better,” said Walker.

“She knows how to set the tone and let you know there is no ego in life, in sports and in the classroom. You are always helping somebody and somebody is always helping you,” said Imad.

“It’s important for teachers to meet students where they are – football, soccer, dance etc. It’s important to meet them and form relationships with them and show them respect… show them you care. We want them to understand that we grow a culture (at NP) that wants them to succeed both athletically and academically.”

NORTH PROVIDENCE HIGH BOYS’ BASKETBALL TAKES ON WESTERLY THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 20 AT 6:30PM ON YURVIEW, COX CHANNEL 4 IN RHODE ISLAND AND STREAMING LIVE ON YURVIEW.COM