Mark Vitarelli – Discipline and Hard Work = Winning
As background information - Mark is a member of the legendary Vitarelli sports family from Peterborough, a name synonymous with lacrosse. His father (Lou) and uncles, (Ned and Donald "Dootch" Vitarelli) and older brother (Lee Vitarelli) have helped establish the family legacy in Peterborough sports for over 70 years. Mark’s brother Lee and Uncle Donald have both been inducted into the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame and the Peterborough Sports Hall of Fame. In addition, Lee is in the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Mark Vitarelli was inducted into the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2018 and the Peterborough and District Sports Hall of Fame in 2019.
Lacrosse and Hockey Coaching
Only the most dedicated sports coaches in Canada such as Mark Vitarelli are two sport coaches, doing both competitive lacrosse and hockey. Specific to hockey, Mark dedicated a full decade to competitive minor hockey in Peterborough. Similar to lacrosse, the hockey teams he coached were immensely successful and Mark has been acknowledged, accordingly.
• In 1995, Mark was the Head Coach of the Peterborough Major Novice Triple "A" team that won the All Ontario championship. Mark was acknowledged as Coach of the Year.
• For the two seasons, 1996 and 1997, Mark was Head Coach of the Minor/Major Triple "A" Atom teams winning back to back Ontario championships. Mark was acknowledged as Coach of the Year both years.
• In 1998, Mark was Head Coach of the Peterborough Minor Peewee Triple "A" team.
• In 2000, Mark was Head Coach of the Peterborough Minor Bantam Triple "A" team. This team lost in the Ontario championship game in double overtime.
• In 2001, Mark was Head Coach of the Peterborough Major Bantam Triple "A" team. This team won theOHL Cup. Mark was acknowledged as Coach of the Year.
• In 2002, Mark was an Assistant Coach of the Peterborough Provincial Tier 2 hockey team.
• In 2003, Mark was Head Coach of the Peterborough Provincial Tier 2 hockey team.
• In 2009, Mark coached in the Peterborough Minor hockey Triple "A" program at the Major Peewee level.
Lacrosse Builder - Coaching
Despite having his career as a player sidetracked, Mark Vitarelli's love for the game of lacrosse did not end. He took it upon himself to stay involved as a coach.
• In 1977 Mark was an assistant coach to Don Barrie, followed up as an assistant coach to Cy Coombs in 1978 with the Peterborough Gray-Munros Junior "A" team.
• In 1979, Mark was the Head Coach of the Peterborough Junior "A" team. They lost in the Minto Cup final to Burnaby. Mark continued to coach the Junior "A" Peterborough James Gang team who won three consecutive Minto Cups in 1981, 1982 and 1983. This team was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2015.
• Moving over to Senior caliber lacrosse, in 1984, Mark was the Head Coach of the Mann Cup winning Peterborough Red Oaks. He coached this team until the end of the 1986.
• In 1989, Mark returned to coaching the Junior "A" Peterborough Maulers winning another Minto Cup.
• That same 1989 season, Mark coached the Peterborough Don Bye Novice team winning the OLA Provincial championship.
In summary, Mark Vitarelli won four Minto Cup championships as Head Coach in the years 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1989. This signifies direct involvement in 8 Minto Cup champions (4 as a player* and 4 as a coach). *Mark Vitarelli played Junior "A" lacrosse with the Peterborough PCOs for five seasons, where he was a player on a team that won four consecutive Minto Cup championships in the years 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975. This team was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2010
• In the early 1990's, Mark Vitarelli took upon exclusively coaching minor lacrosse, winning four provincialchampionships with the Peterborough tyke team in 1992 and 1993 and the Peterborough novice team in 1994 and 1995.
• Returned to coach the Peterborough Junior "A" Lakers in 2008.
• Coached MSL Lakers in 1999 winning "Coach of the Year" award.
• As a coach in the OLA Junior "A" league, Mark Vitarelli's record is 295 games coached, 229 wins, 65 losses, and 1 tie. That is a phenomenal achievement of a .778 winning percentage - meaning the teams he coached won almost 79% of the games they played. That is a winning percentage higher than Hall of Fame coaches such as Jim Bishop (.767), Jim Brady (.649), Bob Hanna (.632) and Lindsay Sanderson (.666).
• As a coach at the Major Series level, Mark Vitarelli's record is 140 games coached, 102 wins, 37 losses, and 1 tie. That is an impressive .732 winning percentage. That is higher than Hall of Fame coaches such as Peter Vipond (.681), Bobby Allan (.709), Terry Sanderson (.708) and Morley Kells (.649).
• Mark Vitarelli also coached lacrosse at the professional level. First, in 1991 as Head Coach of the Guelph Power in Canadian National Lacrosse League. This team won the league championship (Nations Cup). A decade later, Mark coached in the renewed NLL, as an assistant coach with the Syracuse Smash in 2000 and the Ottawa Rebel in 2001.
Along the way, as a result of his huge successes, Mark Vitarelli was awarded back to back "Coach of theYear" in the OLA Junior "A" league in 1982 and 1983. In addition, he coached another season with the Senior Peterborough Lakers and was acknowledged in 1999 as the OLAMajor Series Coach of the Year.
Mark Vitarelli has been inducted into two Sports Hall of Fame as a Builder:
- Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2018
- Peterborough and District Sports Hall of Fame in 2019
Mark Vitarelli has been inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame twice as a part of a team
- The Peterborough Junior “A” PCOs inducted in 2010 (player on team). Winners of four consecutive Minto Cups – 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975
- The Peterborough James Gang inducted in 2015 (Coach of team). Winners of three consecutive Minto Cups in 1981, 1982 and 1983.
Mark Vitarelli continues to be an key member of the MSL Peterborough Lakers executive. It is quite conceivable that he may sometime in the future be inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame as a Builder.
This interview with Mark Vitarelli took place in Victoria, British Columbia in September 2019 at the Mann Cup. The Peterborough Lakers defeated the Victoria Shamrocks in five games to win the 2019 Mann Cup
1, When did you get into Coaching?
Injuries ended my playing career. I played just three games of Major Series level lacrosse. At age 22, to stay involved in the game, I had to take up coaching. I hurt my knees in Junior. I tried to play Senior, and ended up tearing my groin. In addition, with my brother Lee and his involvement with the Junior team it was a good fit for me to get involved. Lee and I helped Don Barrie with the Junior team and that is where it began. I always coached minor as my son Cory was playing minor novice. Chad Evans, Matt Currie and Cory were playing lacrosse and hockey together and I coached them in both sports. I went from lacrosse to hockey to lacrosse and back and forth as the seasons changed. We had a run of several Ontario championships in hockey and had similar success in lacrosse.
Coaching gave me a way back into the game I loved. Dan Quinlan provided me an opportunity with the Peterborough Junior “A” James Gang team. Dan Quinlan and Lee did a great job and we became a good team (won 3 Minto Cups). Eventually I knew it was time to step away from Junior lacrosse and the Senior team was looking for a Coach. I took on that opportunity and we had success there winning a Mann Cup in 1984. I was also in the NLL with the Ottawa Rebel in 2001.
2. Do you have a particular philosophy or style of coaching?
When I look back - I was a huge disciplinarian. I am not sure everyone agreed with that. But when I made a personal commitment to coach a team, it was a commitment to work hard and to win. We worked hard. I was loud and aggressive, but fair. I had good assistant coaches. We had a good core group of players and we always made sure to keep adding to the team with up and coming players. We had good goaltending and played a strong defensive team game.
3. Who or what influenced your style of coaching?
As a youngster playing the game at the peewee and bantam level, I played for a fellow named Jimmy Patterson. By midget, I was playing for Ben Floyd and on to Junior “A” with the PCOs. Benny Floyd and Bobby Allan - both were coaches who expected hard work and discipline from their players. That recipe was the type of coach I became – teams that worked hard and played with discipline. Bob Allan and Don Barrie helped me out at times, particularly in working with defensive strategies. I worked at developing myself as a coach. I was always watching other coaches, learning from other coaches, watching games and practices, seeing what they were doing and taking what I felt would help me become a better coach.
4. Who is the coach you most admire? Why?
Ben Floyd was very influential for me. He was nothing but fun to play for. However, don’t kid yourself, we had fun playing for Ben, but we worked hard, very hard. But to answer your question - I really admire Peter Vipond. He was a hard-nosed guy, but he knew the game very well. We battled hard against each other as opposing coaches. With time, we became really good friends. We never coached together. I always wanted to coach with Peter, but it never happened. (Editor’s note: Pete Vipond and Mark Vitarelli have huge amounts of respect and admiration for each other. If you read the article on “Coach Pete Vipond.- A CandidInterview” at www.majorserieslacrosse.ca, (May 15, 2020) you will read Peter Vipond’s flattering comments about Mark Vitarelli).
5. What do you feel are the reasons why you were as successful as you are?
We had a great group of players, we had good leadership, always a great management team, supported with a good executive. Certainly, we had great goalies and we prided ourselves on defense. The players wanted to come to the arena every night and we had some real tough kids. Once we implemented a system, they put it all together. We were at the arena 6 to 7 nights every week. I pushed them hard. We ran hard in practices. We ran the stairs at the arena. I was tough on them and they knew when I wasn’t messing around. And we did have success. I could get mean and I could be a hard ass. But it was meant with good intention as I wanted the team to do well. Sometimes, I had to make some tough decisions, but that is part of being a coach
6. Best team you ever coached? Why?
There were multiple junior teams. We were small teams physically, but the players worked and played their asses off. I cannot just mention one team. We had committed players, with strong leaders who made the teams successful. To pick one team would not be fair. There was a core of 6 or 7 players. Along the way, our General Manager (Lee Vitarelli) would pick up a player or two that we needed to make a difference.
7. Best (most skilled) player(s) you coached? Why?
You know what…. Larry Floyd. When you are born in the city of Peterborough, you are born and bred lacrosse and I think of so many players who did both lacrosse and hockey. Gordie Duncan, Bobby Wasson., Larry Floyd, Steve Smith, Doug Evans and Mark Evans Many of these players were both Junior “A” lacrosse and hockey players in Peterborough. Those guys made big sacrifices to help us be successful. And the Batley brothers were great lacrosse players as were the Hiltz brothers. It was never just one guy. We had three lines that we rolled and every night a line would step up. We didn’t have Line 1, 2 and 3. It was whoever was going. There was plenty of inter-competition within our own lineup every game, all the time.
8. What do you think (in general), your players thought/felt about you as a coach?
(Stating with a huge smile accompanied by a laugh), I know all of them didn’t like me. But I do believe we had good relationships. When I got married, the entire team showed up. I was very close to many of the players. Some of them at times were on the border of making bad life decisions that would get them into trouble. My brother Lee and I went out of our way to help them. I believe having a strong relationship with the players made a difference. Here we are years later and when I see so many of them in Peterborough and when the Lakers are out West like now - we get together and laugh and share stories about back in the day. Some of them will say to me, “Remember when you did this or did that?” I will respond, “No, I never did that!” And we share some chuckles.
9. Did you ever have any player quit because you were too hard on him.
I had some tell me they were quitting. But they went home and thought about it and they came back. I pushed them hard. No one ever just quit the team or me. Overall, if there were any ongoing issue it would be with a parent, not the player. But again, I made decisions in the best interest of the team. Sometimes, it was not easy for a player but they understood. As far as a parent, it didn’t matter what they thought.
10. Were there particularly tough decisions you had to make?
Absolutely, there were some. For example, in Junior, sitting out Jimmy Milligan in the 7th game against St. Catharines. I felt we needed a change to the roster, needed to shake things up and it worked - we won. In Major Series, having to sit Lenny Powers out. He was getting a bit older, and we had to inject some youth. But it worked out as we won the Mann Cup. And at times, having to tell John Grant (Sr.) to do it our way, you have to move the ball John, or he was going to sit. It was tough. But I did what I felt was necessary for the team to have success. And think about it, having to make tough decision was also tough on me, but I made the tough decision. And I always did it in the best interest of the team. It was never about the individual player; it was about the team.
11. If you could go back in time, is there anything you would do different.
There were times at the end of the day, I would ask myself Why I said or did some things that night at a practice or during a game, thinking maybe, I shouldn’t have been so hard on the player. But I am not a big believer in hindsight. I know I always coached with the best interest of the team my priority.
But I learned from the players too, when I pushed too hard. I made adjustments. Again, I give credit to my brother Lee, who would take me aside and have a chat with me. With Lee being five years older than me, he had more life experience. Remember, when I started, I was a young coach. I learned so much from Lee and always respected his opinion and made adjustments based on his advice.
12. What do you think of today’s game?
I played and coached in a time when players went both ways. That era of lacrosse fit my style. When players went both ways, if someone give you a whack, there would be opportunity for returning the whack. With today's, game, it is in one door and out the other door. No opportunity for returning a whack. Defensive players don’t always have to pay the price for some of their nastiness on offensive players. I don’t like that aspect of the game today.
For me to coach today, I could not be such a hard disciplinarian. And that is fine, I would adapt. Now, you nurture players more, you bring them along. It is just the way it is. It is not a good or bad thing. I would be different coach today.
13. Do you miss coaching and if so, Why?
I do miss coaching. I miss the competitive nature of coaching. Trying to outdo the other team. When I coached, my focus was often on the other team. It was the challenge. My focus was how do we adjust and how do we get better? I delegated plenty of tasks to assistant coaches. If you were the offensive coach, you ran the offence. If you were the defensive coach you ran the defense.
As a Head Coach, I was always thinking - we have to this, we have to do that to make adjustments to what the other team was doing. Or to utilize a play or tactic I knew they couldn’t handle. I miss that strategizing as a coach.
Coaches have more tools today. They have video available for review. Assistant coaches who specialize, team physiotherapist, chiropractors, nutritionists, etc., The game has changed in that regard.
14. Do you believe if you did go back behind the bench, you could be successful?
I believe I could I could get behind the bench and could come up with a game plan that would be successful (The Peterborough Lakers MSL team have extended to Mark the opportunity to join their coaching staff more than once over the past recent years). Mark noted, the hard part would be coaching my own son Cory. And he doesn't need his Dad coaching him. (Mark's son Cory Vitarelli has been a player on the MSL Peterborough Lakers since 2007. He has been on 6 Mann Cup championship teams). I would love to go back and coach, but I would be afraid of falling off the bench after having a heart attack (accompanied by a huge laugh). If I did step behind a bench, I would look like a grandfather to so many of the players. But I do miss it. I would love to go back to coach, but I know better.
Clearly, in his sports life with decades of commitment to lacrosse and hockey in Peterborough - Mark Vitarelli was able to touch the lives of countless youth, young adults, and adult men - teaching them lacrosse and hockey skills. along with important life lessons. The players on the teams he coached learned the true value of hard work, discipline, team play and competition. And obviously, the joy of winning as evidenced with numerous championships.