Jay Horth, by many accounts, lived a life of religious conviction and in the end set a blueprint down for what a man should be. The longtime St. Joseph's volunteer assistant football coach died suddenly at his Dalton home on Sunday afternoon while preparing notes for a coaches' meeting later that day.
Horth, 61, was feeling extra frisky this Labor Day weekend. After two decades as an unpaid assistant, he was finally on the payroll this fall as an assistant under new Crusader head coach Ben Kline.
Longtime head coach Gary Bianchi and his veteran assistant, Jack Quinn, remained with the program this year as weekday coaches. But Jack's son, Brodie, is a captain with the Springfield College team and Gary's son, Jon, is a member of the Cushing Academy grid squad, and both "dads" have chosen to spend their Friday nights and Saturday afternoons with the boys.
Horth, no doubt, would have approved. A devoted father of three, Horth and his wife, Debbie (Bianchi, Gary's sister), were both very generous with their time and efforts in the youth sports arena.
"Debbie's known as ‘Aunt Deb' at St. Joe," said Lillian Quinn, the school's dean of students. "If a kid needed anything like sneakers or cleats, then the Horths stepped up and delivered. Jay was a great student of the game, and was instrumental in teaching both skills and character."
The St. Joe administrator added that the football team wore their jerseys and served as honor guards at the burial, which was scheduled for Ashuelot Cemetery in Dalton on Wednesday.
Bianchi said that Horth did a little bit of everything for the St Joe team.
"We depended on him," the former head coach said. "He'd do things that no one else wanted to do. If Jackie and I had different thoughts about a play, we'd ask Jay. In that sense, he was the glue. A lot of stuff went through Jay. So, all that and he remained a pretty humble guy."
The St. Joe team begins their season on Friday night. It's a young team with a new coach that suddenly had to deal with a real tragedy. Quinn and Dr. Amy Gelinas, the school's new principal, met with the team on Monday.
"It is a very young team," said Quinn, who added that addressing the squad was somewhat of a fragile situation. "For some of these kids, it was the first time they had ever lost someone close to them."
Horth's unexpected and sudden passing was part of a Labor Day weekend that was nothing short of a nightmare for the Pittsfield, Dalton and Catholic communities. On Friday evening, Jimmy's Restaurant co-owner Joe Breault, a longtime youth sports advocate and Berkshire County Jimmy Fund treasurer, was involved in a near-fatal accident on Merrill Road.
Paul Dowd, the longtime Berkshire County Jimmy Fund president, died on Monday afternoon following a gallant three-year battle against Lou Gehrig's disease. Paul Dowd Jr. had been a stellar three-sport standout at St. Joe in the early 1990s, and Paul Sr. emerged as a huge advocate for St. Joe sports. Dowd's two daughters, Kathleen and Mary Beth, also attended St. Joe.
Horth, meanwhile, was deeply involved with Dalton youth football, and with brother-in-law Gary Bianchi, helped form the youth football team at the Catholic Youth Center known as the Saints. He coached girls' basketball at the CYC, where he was once honored as volunteer of the year. Horth also coached Little League in Dalton.
Mike Sondrini, who lives in Dalton, was a key figure in Dalton youth football for a number of years. Sondrini grew up on Lyman Street in Pittsfield near the Bianchi household.
"I got to know Jay after he and Debbie met," Sondrini said. "He was very instrumental in getting that CYC youth football program off the ground. The kids loved him at that level and at St. Joe. He would play that role of good cop in that good-cop bad-cop scenario.
"And he was a man of faith. He never missed that 8 a.m. service at St. Joe. He will be missed by a lot of people, especially in the Catholic community."
Brian Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.