Tommy D’Amore estimated that his father’s coaching record was 2,500 wins and 100 losses.
His brother, Doug D’Amore, disagreed. “He didn’t lose 100 games,” he said. “More like 10.”
To which their youngest brother, Tyler D’Amore, further stirred the debate. “I lost two games in my whole career with him,” he said. “I remember both of ’em.”
The D’Amore brothers are a force of energy and personality, a cross between a Billy Crystal dialogue and an episode of “Cheers.” They are the product of their father, “Big Doug,” who was like a character from a 1970s sitcom wearing old Bike brand shorts, high socks with his wallet tucked inside, and big glasses that covered the square footage of his face.
If you grew up north of Ina Road, you (and your kids) surely crossed paths with Big Doug D’Amore. He coached softball at Sports Park, baseball at Arthur Pack, basketball at Tortolita Junior High and every sport in every conceivable league in Oro Valley.
“At every game, he was the first to arrive,” says Tyler, an all-city quarterback at Ironwood Ridge High School. “When the lights went off at Arthur Pack, he’d be the last to leave.”
When Big Doug died last week of a heart attack, 66 years young, the D’Amore brothers got hundreds of text messages and phone calls from those whose lives Big Doug touched: Ka’Deem Carey of the Chicago Bears, former White Sox outfielder Brian Anderson, ex-Nevada Wolfpack shooting guard Michael Perez and on and on.
Every call had the same message: Your dad changed my life.
Over the years, the D’Amore siblings became widely known in Tucson for their athletic careers. Tyler played football at Nebraska-Kearney and basketball at Pima College. Doug, the boys basketball coach at Catalina Foothills High School, played at Idaho State and in Europe. Tommy was a 3-point shooting machine at Montana-Billings. Their sister, Sheri, is married to former Stanford wide receiver Jon Pinckney.
“With all that we accomplished in sports, it doesn’t compare to what my dad accomplished,” Doug says. “When I run into someone around town, it’s not ‘how are you doing or how’s your team doing,’ it’s ‘how’s your dad?’ ”
After moving to Tucson from Milwaukee in the early 1970s, Douglas John D’Amore, a pool hustler of note, spent more time playing basketball at Bear Down Gym than he did in his UA classrooms. He chose to influence lives rather than work the 9 to 5 shift.
For 35 years, he ran a boys group home near Canyon del Oro High School. Every day was fourth-and-goal with young boys placed into foster care through the state’s welfare and juvenile system.
“Although my dad coached basketball and everything else, he coached kids first,” says Tommy. “His life was like a tornado all around him, but he was perpetually optimistic. He was always saying ‘take the shot,’ rather than give in.”
At Christmas last year, 68 of Big Doug’s closest friends showed up. The door was always open.
When the D’Amore brothers began the process of going through their father’s possessions, they discovered a letter written 22 years ago by Rene Dulaney, father of former Mountain View High School all-state basketball standout Regan Dulaney.
Mr. Dulaney’s letter to Big Doug began this way: “Your calling in life is definitely to work with the young. You have a rapport, a strength, a softness and a sense of what to say and what to do to aid young people during their formative years.
“They all love you and are secure that you love them regardless of their shortcomings. What a blessing you are to so many.”
Tyler played basketball at Ironwood Ridge, stepping into a significant role after the Nighthawks won the 2008 state championship. Big Doug was at all the games. Sometimes he’d get there at 3:30 p.m. for a game that didn’t tip until 7.
“I’d say, ‘Dad, the game doesn’t start for three hours,’” Tyler remembers. “He’d always have some of the kids from the group home with him. On the way home we’d talk about how I could’ve done things differently. He’d say, ‘I agree with 60 percent of what you did, but the coach is in charge; never humiliate the coach.’”
Brian Peabody, who coached Tyler D’Amore at Ironwood Ridge, says that he saw Big Doug at every game. “But not once did he talk to me about changing Tyler’s role or doing something this way or that way. He was a good man.”
As Foothills reached the Class 4A state semifinals in February, Big Doug was always in the bleachers. He’d get restless, nervous, like all fathers. “He’d say, ‘tell Dougie to press,’ or, ‘I can fix that kid’s shot,’” Tommy says. “But that was just him. He could negotiate anything with anybody. His heart was in a good place; he quoted John Wooden about doing things the right way.”
The D’Amore boys had difficulty choosing a facility at which to hold their father’s celebration of life Saturday at 3:30 p.m. How many seats will they need? Is 350 enough? Or maybe 500?
Ultimately, they chose Vistoso Funeral Home.
“He has 150 kids who call him dad,” Tyler says. “I hope he can look down from heaven and see how many lives he touched.”