The best two hours of the day come during practices and games, when Sebe Gangemi can watch the geometric angles that turn a soccer field into a chessboard. It is when Gangemi can plan strategy, improve players and set them up to maximize their potential.
It is also the 120 minutes when Trumbull’s boys soccer coach can block out the stress and anxiety from the other 22 hours.
“It’s a big time relief,” Gangemi said. “I don’t think about anything when I’m on the field except how can we get better. What do we do for this, what do we do for that. That’s a huge, huge relief for me.”
Gangemi knew something was amiss in the spring, when his normally high energy level started to betray him. Simple routines became an effort as he was consumed by lethargy.
“In the beginning of April I started feeling really tired during the day,” Gangemi said. “I would go in my office and sit down a couple of hours and then get up again and do it again. Going home and falling asleep on the couch right away. We knew there was something wrong.”
After a battery of tests, Gangemi was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the myeloid line of blood cells, characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal cells that build up in the bone marrow and blood and interfere with normal blood cells.
It was determined that Gangemi’s initial treatment would be chemotherapy. He went through a round for 10 straight days, and spent 35 in all at St. Vincent’s Medical Center.
Gangemi returned home but immediately suffered severe stomach pains. His gallbladder was inflamed and infected and had to be removed. That meant another 10 days in the hospital.
Gangemi is going to require a bone marrow transplant. He is on a nationwide search list. His son was tested and is a 50 percent match. No other family member has proved a perfect donor.
So Gangemi waits and battles the weariness that allows him to stay active for brief stretches. He has closed down the repair part of his gas station. He can last two to three hours before needing to rest. He has already had seven blood transfusions and there are weekly tests.
What keeps Gangemi going is his soccer team. He admitted that naps are scheduled so he will be most alert for the time spent each day with his players.
“I try not to let it affect me coaching the team at all,” Gangemi said. “”I will try and relax before going to practice. I have been to every practice, every scrimmage and every game. I try to make my appointments around it but I don’t know if the transplant comes about. I don’t know what is going to happen.”
The Eagles have won three FCIAC titles in Gangemi’s first 13 seasons, most recently two years ago. They reached the final last season. With a 3-0-1 start, Trumbull is currently tied with Staples and Darien atop the conference standings.
“The team is not going to suffer one bit,” Gangemi said. “The team is aware. They have been tremendous. Tremendous.”
Gangemi is popular with his players and opposing coaches alike. When the FCIAC had its fall coaches meeting last month, Gangemi was greeted warmly with hugs. He had received a number of cards and notes once news of his condition circulated.
Gangemi has been looking forward to his son’s wedding this weekend. “I have to be strong for that,” he said.
Gangemi has a close support group between family, friends and Sil Vitiello, his long-time assistant. The Trumbull players have been a constant source of comfort.
As soon as a practice or game concludes, Gangemi turns his attention to the next one.
“I count the days when we are going to play again,” Gangemi said. “My spirits are great. What helps me is being part of the team. Doing the coaching, which I love. That helps out a lot.”
At a time when parents think it is their domain to interfere with school athletic departments, their personal agendas are blinded to how coaches find the love of the profession and working with kids a fair tradeoff for little pay and constant abuse.
And for Sebe Gangemi, coaching soccer is much more. He admitted the value is immeasurable.
When asked what his daily time with the Eagles meant, Gangemi paused.
“Oh man, it’s everything,” he said. “It’s everything to me.”