Wolfgang Weber has coached Salpointe Catholic’s boys soccer team in nearly 700 games, including nine appearances in the state finals and 14 trips to the semifinals.
None of those games, however, were as tough for him as the one last Friday night.
When Weber and the Lancers, who have won back-to-back state titles, were on their way to play at Phoenix Brophy, the longtime coach got a phone call.
His wife Nina Panipinto-Weber, who had an aortic aneurysm 4½ years ago, died that afternoon. Nina, 78, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and was in hospice care at home. Her son, Matthew Panipinto, was with her when she died; he called Weber to give him the news.
“We were almost at the stadium already when the phone call came,” said Weber, who was inducted into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. “It certainly was difficult but, really, there was no way to get back right away.”
Weber said coaching that night was the toughest thing he’s ever done. Salpointe players and assistant coaches, such as Jeff Rogers, managed the game.
Weber told Salpointe captains Will Martin and Alex Flores, what had happened, but no one else.
When Weber finally returned home, he looked ahead to the next week, unsure how everything would play out and unsure if he’d have to miss any of the games, with Salpointe playing in the Chris Maier Invitational at Sabino.
By Sunday night, Weber came to the conclusion that, rather than sit at home and grieve, it was important to be back with the team.
Weber didn’t miss a game. He coached in Monday’s 10-0 win over Cholla and again Tuesday as Salpointe beat Cienega 2-0 to open up the Maier Invitational, which the Lancers have won in each of the last three years.
“I think she would be very upset if I wasn’t going to take care of my job,” Weber said.
Salpointe’s players wore black armbands to honor Nina. On top of that, Weber said he’s had an “incredible support system,” ranging from the Lancers and athletic director Phil Gruensfelder to his colleagues at Tucson Soccer Academy. Weber said simply being around the game has helped fill the void in his life.
“Clearly Nina was the most important thing in my life,” Weber said. “But right behind that I’ve got just a great love for the game of soccer. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been in it since age 6.”
There will be no additional services for Nina. The family has arranged for a cremation and will spread her ashes in places of “special significance.” Weber said that will likely include a trip to Italy.
Weber called Nina his friend and business partner. The two ran Eiger Sportswear together for 25 years before she suffered the aneurysm and her Alzheimer’s progressed.
Nina was also the one who kept him grounded, making sure he didn’t get too high after a win or too low after a loss; she reminded him they were just playing a game. That’s one of the biggest things Weber will miss about her, but it certainly won’t be the only thing.
“Sometimes she couldn’t recognize the people around her, but every morning there was that big smile on her face and the, ‘I love you, honey,’” Weber said. “That was still there every day. It was wonderful. It made everything so worthwhile.”
Salpointe to celebrate state football champions tonight
Salpointe’s boys basketball team hosts Goodyear Desert Edge at 7 tonight. At halftime, the school will honor its undefeated Division II state championship football team.
Two-way star and Arizona Wildcats commit Cameron Denson will certainly be there seeing that he’s on the basketball team.
The 6-foot-1-inch senior is one of two football players who made the quick transition from the turf to the court with junior Jaylyn Juan being the other. Denson is averaging 16 points per game.
Dorados football team holding charity event
For the third year in a row, Canyon del Oro will hold its Hoodie Drive, today from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Prince Elementary School.
Coach Dusty Peace and his team will supply around 650 donated or purchased sweatshirts to the students at Prince. Players will also spend time and play games with the students during lunch.
Four years ago, the CDO football team held a similar event, only with shoes instead of hoodies.
2-day Cholla Duals to host 16 teams this weekend
Sixteen wrestling teams, including four from Texas and four top-10 Arizona squads, will compete at the Cholla Duals starting at 9 a.m. today. The two-day meet will conclude with Saturday’s finals, which start at 4 p.m.
Unlike in invitationals, the teams in the duals face each other directly rather than have individuals wrestle by weight class. The host Chargers also make a community event out of the meet by having several student groups and surrounding elementary and middle schools participate.