SOUTH BURLINGTON -- The Rice Memorial High School baseball field
belongs to varsity baseball coach Mike Pearo. "He's dropped a lot of sweat on
that field," said Brent Tremblay, assistant coach, a former player and the Catholic
school's assistant principal. "It is Mike Pearo's field." The field will be dedicated
in honor of Pearo this weekend. This is his 40th year coaching the varsity baseball
team and 43rd year coaching at Rice. Pearo, 65, has no plans to retire. The Rice
varsity baseball team has been a perennial competitor under Pearo but has not
taken home the state title. His teams are known for having respect for the game,
wearing neatly kept uniforms, involving everyone who makes the team and taking
risks to get the most out of players. He's also known as a passionate social studies
teacher who has taken more than 2,000 students to Europe and many to South America.
"The sports part of me is important, but it's only part of me," Pearo said. "There's
the old joke that every history teacher's first name is Coach. Well, really, the
classroom is such an important part of my life." Pearo said he's proud of the
number of future historians and social scientists he's seen graduate from Rice.
There have been far more of those than professional baseball players like Jamie
Merchant, who graduated in 1999, and is currently playing for a Class A club in
the Carolina League. "I always tell players you have to be tough to play baseball
in Vermont," Pearo said. "It's cold. Spring in Vermont is not baseball weather.
You have to be committed." Longtime junior varsity coach John Varricchione said
Pearo has been an innovator during his time at the high school, finding creative
ways for the team to win and the players to still have fun doing it. Over the
years, he's used a four-man outfield when scouting shows an opposing player often
splays the ball in the outfield and rarely hits a grounder, Varricchione said.
When he's had only one quality pitcher, Pearo has used that player in as many
games as possible. During the ace pitcher's off days, Pearo has used the remaining
pitchers one inning at a time to throw off opposing teams. "During a hitting slump
he doused the bats in holy water," Varricchione said. "I'm pretty sure they won
that game, too." Pearo also hired Mari Goodridge-Miller as an assistant coach
-- hiring a woman to coach varsity baseball is a rarity in Vermont, Varricchione
said. "For someone like Mike, who has been around for so long, to do something
so forward thinking like hiring a female coach is huge," Goodridge-Miller said.
"You'd think he'd be so traditional that he wouldn't think of it." Goodridge-Miller
said she's always been struck by how Pearo will work so hard to get all players
into the games. If someone has passion for the game, she said, he'll find a way
for that student to play. Earl Handy, who graduated from Rice in 1993, was one
of those players. In middle school, he became a bat boy so he could be near Pearo
on bus rides. Handy played for two years at Rice. "I was not one of the best players,"
he said. "I was an average player. But I got to play for Coach Pearo." Pearo said
it will be a great honor to play his games on Mike Pearo Field. He gave credit
to his assistant coaches and his players for the wins over the years -- nearly
400 of them. "I've had opportunities to leave," he said. "The offers have been
very attractive, but Rice has been my home. I've always felt comfortable. I've
always felt appreciated. And most of all, I love the students here."