The woman who considers her job in the Greenport Athletic Department to be a treat had been distributing treats herself for years.
A crystal bowl that sat on Joan Heaney Dinizio’s desk in the athletic office served as a candy dish. Students regularly visited Ms. Dinizio for small talk and something sweet.
It was a tradition that began when Ms. Dinizio was in charge of detention. “If you weren’t on my detention list, then you could have a piece of candy,” she said. “So it was kind of like a bribe.”
The understanding was that students could stop by for a piece of candy, one a day, as long as they used words like “may I,” “please” and “thank you.” Greenport athletic director Chris Golden said, “If the kid did not say ‘please’, the transaction for the candy was not made.”
“I could tell you on a daily basis what kid would be in [the office] when,” said Ms. Dinizio, who spends about $400 a year on candy. “Lollipops are the biggest hit. Kids like the lollipops.”
And Ms. Dinizio likes kids. The feeling, judging by the activity around the candy dish, was mutual. They came for the candy, but they stayed for the conversation.
‘They probably would have had to carry me out of that school on a stretcher. I love it there. I love the kids. The kids are what makes it for me.’Joan Dinizio
Those days are nearing an end. Ms. Dinizio, 65, announced last week that she will soon retire as assistant to the athletic director. Her posting of that news on Facebook shocked some.
Even Ms. Dinizio herself couldn’t have foreseen it. Retirement wasn’t in her immediate plans. Like many things these days, though, it’s related to the coronavirus pandemic. Her daughter, Jennifer, a teacher in Stafford, Va., will be returning to in-school work while her 9-year-old son, Jamey, has 100% virtual learning. Grandmother’s help is needed, and she is headed for Virginia.
(Ms. Dinizio and her husband, Southold Town Board member Jim Dinizio Jr., also have a son, Jeff, a physician’s assistant in Tennessee).
“Nobody saw that coming,” said Ms. Dinizio, whose retirement takes effect Oct. 13. “They probably would have had to carry me out of that school on a stretcher. I love it there. I love the kids. The kids are what makes it for me.”
A lifelong Greenporter, Ms. Dinizio said her children represented the seventh generation of her family to attend school in Greenport. “This is home,” she said. “This is the only place I know.”
Ms. Dinizio was hired by the school district in 1994 to work as an aide in the high school library, which she did for 18 years. A former cheerleader herself, she was Greenport’s cheerleading coach, on and off, for 20 years.
One day in 2013, Todd Gulluscio, the first of five athletic directors Ms. Dinizio worked for, asked if she would be interested in working as an aide in athletics. For her it was a no-brainer.
“It was my dream job and it still is,” said Ms. Dinizio, who served under Rob Costantini, Jim Caliendo and Paula Nickerson before Mr. Golden.
The duties of her job are numerous and include such things as communicating with bus companies, corresponding with county sports officials, arranging chaperones for games, processing student-athletes’ contracts and dealing with the press. What she likes best about the job, though, are her interactions with students. “Sometimes they make me pull my hair, but they actually make me laugh and smile as well,” she said.
The athletic department oversees 300-plus student-athletes a year in grades 7-12. As Ms. Dinizio sees it, they are all her kids. “And no one messes with my kids,” she said.
Mr. Golden sounded as if he was still trying to process the fact that he will soon be losing his right-hand woman. “She had a heart as big as any person’s I’ve seen, a heart of gold,” he said. “I owe her a lot. I owe her so much. She meant a lot to me in so many ways.”
Tracey Moloney of Southold met Ms. Dinizio while working as a teen librarian at Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport and then got to know her better when her son played on combined sports teams. “Joan goes above and beyond to support the youth, to be there for them — year in and year out — her dedication to the students, sports, community, and school is an example of greatness,” she wrote in an email to The Suffolk Times.
She added, “Countless students will say that Ms. Dinizio helped them tremendously and that they would [have] been lost without her.”
Ms. Dinizio, who has written the Greenport neighborhood news column for The Suffolk Times since 1985, was asked about what her last day on the job will be like. Taking a deep breath, she sighed and said, “I’m not looking forward to that.”
That will not be so sweet.