In Connecticut’s “Quiet Corner,” there's one girls soccer coach who has been anything but quiet. For three decades, Tourtellotte Memorial High School's Deb Spinneli has been setting records and expectations.
Wherever you look in Deb Spinelli's office, you'll see reminders of a successful 30 year career. You’ll see records of a career that almost didn’t happen at all.
“I was going to be a nurse,” said Spinelli with a laugh. When she got to Southern Connecticut State University, she learned she had a big conflict.
“The advisor said, ‘nursing classes start at 3 o'clock and they go until the evening.’ I go, how's that going to work with my basketball schedule?”
That's the attitude that started it all. She became a physical education teacher instead and started her career coaching field hockey, basketball and track, but never soccer.
That's what those records don't tell you that make her latest milestone that much sweeter. This season, Spinelli and the Tourtellotte Tigers won her 300th career game.
“I didn't know I was that close to 300,” said Spinelli. “It seems like yesterday I was at 200. I can remember the game it was at Griswold. I even remember the faces of the kids on the team.”
Her players said they felt the pressure. It showed. On that October 22nd game against Parish Hill, Spinelli described seeing accomplished goal scorers missing left and right.
“It's just such a big number that you never really hear it,” said Kaylee Tackson, a senior on the girls soccer team.
“All I was thinking was 'it’s another game, don't think about the rest,’” said Gracen Vanderswaagh
Spinelli and her team were greeted with a fire truck escort and social distant celebration. The record books show 30 years and 300 wins, but the celebration showing Spinelli something else, too.
“Since I've been coaching, I've been promoting girls sports,” said
Spinelli has also been the school’s athletic director for the past 21 years. In that time, and well before, she has been fighting for equality for her female athletes.
At the first school she taught at in Massachusetts, Spinelli tells the story of directing her basketball team not to practice until they had the same amount of gym time as the boys varsity team.
At Tourtellotte, she once sold candy bars to pay for new uniforms. After her team won its first championship in 1993, she said she “pushed buttons” until the girls got the same rings and recognition as the boys.
“But that's, from day one I've been fighting,” said Spinelli.
And she doesn't need records to know that hard work has paid off.
She's like the best coach I’ve ever had,” said Kayla Tackson, a senior on the girls soccer team.
“She's my favorite coach ever,” said Kaylee Tackson.
“I love her, she's been the best coach I've ever had,” said Vanderswaagh. “And I've had my dad as a coach before.”