For the past 26 years Joel Tuoni has spent his time coaching girls basketball and softball at various high schools throughout the state.
He has been in charge of both programs at South Kingstown High School – his alma mater as a graduate of the class of 1982 – for the last decade but as Tuoni said by phone Tuesday morning, “life’s about changes.”
Tuoni will not be returning to coach the Rebels this season as he is planning to move to Florida to finish up his bachelor’s degree.
“I have to pursue other opportunities and venues to make an income,” he says. “I can’t work with my back being pretty shot after working for UPS for 22 years and I always wanted to be in warm weather anyways.”
It should come as little surprise that after working with high school kids for as long as he has that Tuoni intends to get his degree in secondary education so he can teach history.
After all, he knew from his playing days that teaching young adults – in this case basketball and softball – was where he belonged.
“I knew when I was playing hoops at CCRI that I wanted to coach and that’s what I wanted to do,” he says. “I started at Prout with the softball team in 1987 as an assistant coach. Then Timmy Coen brought me up to Exeter-West Greenwich and I coached softball and middle school basketball.”
From there it was back to his roots at South Kingstown, where he spent the last 11 years coaching softball and 10 girls basketball.
Over the years Tuoni has had his share of ups and downs as a head coach, and when asked what one of his highlights was he was quick to point out the 1996 championship his EWG slow pitch softball team won.
“Any time you win a state title you always remember that,” Tuoni says. “It was definitely a nice moment and a proud moment for the kids.”
Then there were the Meg Morrissey, Allie Jones and Annie Lawler SK girls basketball teams that came so close to breaking through with a Division I Championship.
For three straight seasons – from 2007 to 2010 – the Rebels were one of the best teams in the state with a combined regular season record of 46-5.
Each time, however, South Kingstown was eliminated in the semifinals, the last of which a gut-wrenching 55-45 loss to LaSalle in 2010 after an undefeated regular season.
“We had a great run there but it was disappointing to not have finished,” Tuoni says. “We went 68-10 over that stretch [including games out of state]. There’s always the disappointment of not closing it out.”
While Tuoni’s departure leaves SK Athletic Director Terry Lynch with two jobs to fill each new coach will be stepping into good situations in their first season.
The South girls basketball team returns exactly what you want as a first-year coach; veteran leaders and young varsity-level talent.
Seniors Mary Eden and Mary Matthews have been varsity players since they were freshmen, while Madision West and Isabelle Pesante cracked the Rebels’ rotation as freshmen last season.
Along with returning players Taylor Lynch, Annie Madden, Tori Zeyl, Stephanie and Britney Laraway, the Rebels have a good mix of youth and veterans that should help with the transition from Tuoni.
“It was hard for all of us,” Tuoni says of leaving the basketball team. “It’s a very good group of kids.
“…Matthews started at point guard as a freshman and by the time we had that playoff game against Woonsocket that year Eden was playing too. It’s always tough walking away.”
The softball team, meanwhile, is coming off a tough 3-13 season but was forced to play a lot of freshmen and sophomores – which at least bodes well for the future.
“It’s nice to see that different kids are progressing,” Tuoni said. “That’s when the reward comes in. In softball we haven’t had a lot of success in wins and losses but the group of kids have been great.”
Over the years Tuoni enjoyed far more success in girls basketball than he did in softball.
In his 11 years the softball team went 29-97 in Division I regular season games and 14-34 in Division II after moving down for the 2011 season.
On the court, however, the Rebels were 86-90 during the regular season in D-I under Tuoni but a much improved 68-37 since the 2007-08 season. SK has made the playoffs in each of the last seven seasons.