Putnam County legend Joe Massino dies at 83

Joe Massino remembered for instilling confidence, getting most out of players

When three high schools consolidated to become Putnam County High School in the late 1960s, Joe Massino made sure it was a smooth and successful transition for the athletic programs.

After coaching at Hennepin High School, Massino took over the basketball and baseball programs at the new high school.

“I think he really took on a difficult task when Putnam County became Putnam County, coaching student-athletes from three different schools and bringing them together to be successful,” said Jerry Zielinski, a 1968 PC graduate who is a member of the PC, Northern Illinois University and Illinois Basketball Coaches Associations Halls of Fame. “He had a knack for bringing people together and bringing teams together. He really got the most out of the athletes he had.”

Massino died Friday at the age of 83.

“Joe was one of those guys you think is going to be around forever, and now he’s gone,” said 1972 PC graduate Tom Pomatto, a PC Hall of Famer. “His legacy will live on. The lessons I learned from him many years ago are still with me.

“I was very fortunate to have learned the game from Joe and play the game under Joe. It’s something that has lasted me a lifetime. I’ll never forget him.”

Massino led his baseball teams to a 191-42 record with three regional championships, a sectional championship and a state tournament appearance in a one-class system in 1972.

“In terms of the overall impact, coach Massino had on then baseball program, the numbers don’t lie,” current PC baseball coach and athletic director Chris Newsome said. “He certainly paved the way for PC baseball by setting the bar high. From the yearbooks I’ve gone back through and former players with whom I’ve spoken, he expected hustle and hard work. He would tell you when you screwed up then coach you up so that you didn’t repeat the same mistakes.

“He will certainly be missed, but his legacy and the same team characteristics carry on into current PC baseball teams.”

Pomatto, who was a standout pitcher on Massino’s state baseball team, said Massino was innovative.

“He was ahead of his time back in that era,” Pomatto said. “Yes, we had talent, but coach had us doing things that I believe were ahead of their time. We mastered the squeeze bunt. That was something I believe put so much pressure on opponents. It was something we used strategically, often and successfully to win a lot of games. We also stole a lot of bases. We did a lot of things to put the pressure on the defense.”

As a basketball coach, Massino led PC to a 59-16 record in then school’s first three years with a 20-4 record in 1966-67 and a 25-1 mark in 1967-68 — Zielinski’s senior year.

“He saw something in me that I hadn’t seen in myself,” Zielinski said. “He really instilled in me the work ethic to become a better player. He worked me very hard. I didn’t always agree with it at the time. He taught me how to work, how to prepare and how to become a better player. I really give him probably most of the credit as far as the success that I had in high school and at Northern Illinois University. The things he taught not only me, but I think everybody around him, I used in my teaching and coaching professions. He had a tremendous impact on my whole life.”

Pomatto also said Massino’s impact carried on beyond high school. Pomatto kept up his relationship with Massino over the past five decades, even receiving a text from his old coach last week congratulating him on his Senior Baseball World Series title.

“Joe was really a quiet guy, but as a coach, when he spoke, you listened,” Pomatto said. “He gave me a lot of confidence. A lot of times I was out there on the mound, he said, ‘Get your head up.’ He instilled a lot of pride in the program. His actions probably spoke louder than his words. He gave us respect.”