A Delaware man who became involved in youth sports because of a coaching opening has received statewide recognition for helping to provide positive and safe athletic opportunities for local youngsters.

A Delaware man who became involved in youth sports because of a coaching opening has received statewide recognition for helping to provide positive and safe athletic opportunities for local youngsters.

Tony Bonofiglio -- a 43-year-old father of three and current fixture on the sidelines during Delaware youth basketball and baseball games -- has been named the 2008 Ohio Youth Sports Coach of the Year.

As of press time, Bonofiglio was slated to receive the award during a ceremony last Friday in Westlake, Ohio. The honor was bestowed upon him by the Youth Sports Committee of the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association.

"I had no idea," Bonofiglio said. "That was a total surprise.

"I'm very honored, but it wasn't something I was seeking out. I'm in this so the kids can learn and have fun."

Bonofiglio's selfless dedication to providing a positive environment for youths to develop physical tools and understanding of the games of basketball and baseball was cited as a primary reason he was nominated for the statewide award by Jeremy Byers, program coordinator for the city of Delaware's Recreation Services Department.

In lobbying on Bonofiglio's behalf, Byers said Bonofiglio devises well-structured practices that teach youths the basic principles of basketball and baseball, as well as sportsmanship, respect of referees and teammates. Byers also said Bonofiglio places significant emphasis on having fun while on the hardwood or ball diamond.

"Tony has coached in our co-ed basketball league for the past three years, coaching fifth- and sixth-graders for the past two (years)," Byers wrote in nominating Bonofiglio. "He has done an outstanding job with all of the kids, encompassing all the qualities of a good coach.

"Coaching a co-ed team definitely has its challenges. With only two girls on a team of 10, Tony always gave equal playing time and team roles to the girls. The respect he showed the girls translated directly into the conduct of the boys on the team."

Byers also lauded Bonofiglio for his treatment of a young boy who suffers from a form of autism that hinders the boy's social interactions and physical development, and which has resulted in a compulsive eating disorder.

Byers said Bonofiglio helped the boy overcome a propensity for traveling violations on the court. The work culminated with the boy grabbing a key rebound and gaining an assist that led to a decisive score in the championship game for Bonofiglio's fifth- and sixth-grade team.

"It would be very easy for Tony to minimize (the boy's) role on the team, to play him the minimum amount of time required, to let him walk when the others have to run," Byers wrote. "Tony chose, however, to push (him) to reach his full potential so that he would know that he was a valuable member of the team."

Bonofiglio and his wife, Lisa, moved to Delaware in 1992, and shortly thereafter started a family. Their oldest son, Jacob, 15, this year served as an assistant coach for the fifth- and sixth-grade team, alongside fellow assistants Mark Watkins and Joel South.

Bonofiglio took up the clipboard about four years ago when another coach was trying to manage two teams.

Since then, Bonofiglio has coached his 11-year-old son Nathan's basketball and baseball teams, and he's coaching T-ball for his 6-year-old son Sam's baseball team this summer.

"I like teaching the kids," Bonofiglio said. "I try to teach teams the fundamentals, to be a good sport, and I try to teach them to treat people the way they want to be treated.

"It's really fun watching the expressions on their faces when they start to get it. You can see it when they get it, and it's really neat to see."

Although guiding his fifth- and sixth-grade basketball team to an undefeated season and tournament championship this year was a coaching highlight, Bonofiglio said he had just as much fun with his third- and fourth-grade team, which finished around .500.

"I think we had a lot of fun with both teams," he said. "I think all of us felt a reward just working with the kids and watching them grow and develop and have fun.

"I think the learning and the fun they experience, and instilling the whole team concept, that's very valuable. We try to teach them to respect their teammates, respect their opponents and respect the officials because I think that's very important."

On a personal level, Bonofiglio said he's enjoyed coaching with Jacob, and he's been pleased with the athletic development of Nathan. He hopes to continue coaching throughout Sam's youth sports career, if that's in the cards.

"If Sam wants me to, I'll follow him along," he said.

Tony Bonofiglio