Friday, 23 September 2016 10:31
It’s one thing to learn that other people recognize the favorable things you do, it’s another thing entirely, to learn that you’re having a positive effect on others without realizing it. This is the perfect description of the late Anthony Bellai, beloved coach and teacher from Saratoga Springs High School, who passed away last Saturday. What kind of person was Coach Bellai? Here’s an analogy. Have you ever gotten into lifting weights, or simply watched people do it? It’s amazing how the slightest bit of assistance from a spotter – with force equal to the weight of just a finger touching the bar – can help someone lift far more weight than he, or she could on their own. It’s the same concept here – just that small expression of confidence can push people to achieve more – and then to be thankful for the help. Bellai was that kind of guy! Most of us have self-doubts; it’s a normal feeling. Every time I write a column I wonder how people will react. When others simply say they believe in you, it becomes easier to believe in yourself. Coach Bellai did that for his athletes and students through his persona with a smile and an occasional joke. I can honestly say that I have never heard a negative word used in reference to Anthony Bellai; everyone just loved him! Coach Bellai was a resident of Rotterdam and a graduate of the now defunct Mount Pleasant High School. There’s an irony here, in that former PE teacher and coach Brenda Adams, who passed away about three years ago, was very close to Coach Bellai, and also a Mount Pleasant grad around the same time. Both were so connected to the Saratoga High School community, and believe me when I say they were loved by their students. Anthony Bellai’s history as a local high school wrestler was exemplary, he was a New York State champion in 1981, a two-time NJCAA Champion when he attended Delhi Junior College and accepted a full athletic scholarship to Oklahoma University, which is one of the nation’s top NCAA wrestling programs. Coming to Saratoga during the late 1990’s, he assisted Robert Stulmaker in wrestling, with the intention of taking over the wrestling program when Stulmaker moved on to become director of athletics. For 10 years he was the wrestling head coach for the Blue Streaks, retiring from wrestling to get involved with his children’s athletic endeavors. His selfless demeanor became the tool of his popularity as a coach and PE teacher at Saratoga. My personal connection with Anthony was based on friendship through similarities of coaching. When we talked, it was sports-related, both sharing and comparing coaching situations dealing with the athletes. Many times there would be a joke or two and a good laugh between us as we touched common experiences. He was such a great guy to talk with sharing personal insights that often turned into suggestions or advice we could both share. Coach Bellai was a good sounding board for me, as I was for him. The respect we had for each other gave us a strong connection and wonderful friendship. The sadness that haunts me is of his family enduring the void of a missing husband and dad. There is no substitute or replacement for what he meant to his wife and children, through his love, advice and sense of humor. Physically he is gone forever, but his memories will be deep for the Bellai’s. He will be remembered by his friends and colleagues as an easy-going man who valued and loved his family so much. Brandon Polcare, who is also one of my former students and a wrestler from the class of 2001, is one of several athletes struggling with the loss. “He was the most influential person outside of my parents in my entire life,” said Polcare. “He helped me grow from a boy to a man inside and outside of the wrestling room, and always led by example. He taught us a lot of valuable lessons, but the most important was: if you work hard, anything is achievable.” Another of Coach Bellai’s class of 2001 wrestlers, Rob Wilson, added, “Coach was a role model to all of us and impacted a lot of lives. He taught us about the power of strength and perseverance, but I think most importantly, he taught us to treat each other with respect.” Accepting his loss will not be easy for those who taught and coached with him. The emptiness that has been left for us who knew him is indescribable, and even harder to believe! In my mind’s eye, I see Anthony being met by his longtime friend and colleague, Brenda Adams, at the “Pearly Gates.” My condolences to his family, wife, children, and all those close to him. He will be missed!