NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – North Salem’s Henry Sassone, varsity basketball coach for 34 years and athletic director for 31 years, will retire from the school district effective July 1, North Salem News has learned. His retirement was approved by the school board last month.

Though he remained on as a physical education teacher, his tenure as athletic director and basketball coach ended in 2019, when the school board chose not to reappoint him to either position, sparking outcry from much of the community. Little explanation was given by the school board about the removal of Sassone, who has mostly kept quiet about the controversy.

Sassone, 61, arrived at North Salem in 1985 as head basketball coach and phys ed teacher. He took over the varsity basketball program in 1988, and has also coached tennis, modified baseball, and JV and modified soccer.

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During his tenure as basketball coach, Sassone-led teams compiled a record of 425-344, won four Section 1 championships and nine league titles. He’s been Section 1 Coach of the Year once, was Journal News Coach of the Year in 2008, and was named Conference Coach of the Year eight times.

In 2018, Sassone was inducted into the New York State Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, and last year the Lower Hudson Basketball Coaches Association created the “Henry Sassone Legacy Award” to honor coaches who have left an indelible mark on local basketball. In 2010, he was honored as the Section 1 Athletic Director of the Year.

Sassone said he’s still not sure how he’ll be spending all his free time.

“I’m not quite sure what’s next,” Sassone said this week. Sassone resides in Patterson with his wife, Cheryl. The couple have three children, Melissa, 33, and twins, Nicole and Kaitlyn, 31.

“It’s the right time, and I’m looking forward to the time off,” he said. “It’s been a long time… And my wife (a teacher at Brewster) is happy.”

Sassone said it was the relationships made that will leave a lasting impression.

“The most precious memories are the relationships developed with student-athletes, for four decades at North Salem,” he said. “It’s incredible to have been there.”

His longevity factor was driven home in 2017, when one of his players (Andrew Outhouse) was the son of a player on his ’91 title team (James Outhouse).

“I coached a player in the early ’90s, got a section title (1991), and that player’s son played for me on my 2017 title team,” he said.

During his tenure as athletic director, North Salem football merged with John Jay (Cross River) in the first football merger in New York, according to Sassone.

“With the size of North Salem, it was tough,” he said. “We started in 1992, and it was the longest football merger in New York, ended in 2010.”

In 2007, the team went to the sectional championship, where it lost to Ray Rice-led New Rochelle.

When asked about other memorable achievements while he was AD, Sassone also mentioned two state championships by the soccer team, two state championships by the varsity baseball team, a state championship in volleyball, and a state champion wrestler, as well as a state champion track runner.

Sassone takes great pleasure in seeing former student-athletes coaching or teaching.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “I see a lot of kids who played for me who are now out coaching, teaching… That’s pretty special. That makes it all worthwhile. When the kids walk into the building or come up to you, that’s special.”

He pointed to his 2008 championship team as also being special. “We lost our first game, then won 19 in a row,” he said. “Then we won five straight in the playoffs, then lost to Mount Vernon in the regional final.”

The coach recalled another unusual situation in 1991 when North Salem won a sectional title, then lost in the regionals to a team that was declared ineligible after its win.

“That went to court, and the team that lost to them actually ended up moving on. It was crazy,” he said.

Sassone said it was his 1989 team where he coached the best player who has passed through the program: 6-foot-7 Mark McMahon.

“We had three big players,” he said. “A pair of twin-tower brothers—Tom and Mark Gustinus—and McMahon, probably the best player I ever had. They had quite a run, went 24-2. We beat some big teams, and were up 17 in the regional finals at halftime, but we lost by one. We ran out of gas. Those were special times.”

Sassone said he felt lucky to get his chance at North Salem, and has enjoyed growing the athletic program.

“To have spent 34 years as a coach is incredible, and 31 years as AD is just as incredible,” he said. “The number of scholar-athletes we’ve had is pretty impressive. I was lucky to have the opportunity to coach and teach here.

“When the opportunity to come to North Salem came up, it was a quiet town,” he added. “We had the opportunity to grow it. It’s been an amazing ride, to see it grow to where we have such great participation by our student-athletes. That means a lot of kids are involved, and it’s fantastic to have some incredible coaches that have worked with me.”

Sassone said one of his favorite memories came from a student he did not coach.

“A kid who had never played for me, I met him at the deli,” Sassone recalled. “And he was telling me about things we did in gym class in 1992. Those are the things that are so important to coaches and teachers. A lot of student-athletes I see regularly. I’ve been to players’ weddings, christenings, engagement parties. It’s cool to develop a relationship, and over time still be involved.”

Sassone mentioned several special players over the years, including names like Mike DePaoli (the program’s all-time leading scorer), and Marc Miller (member of the 2008 title team), and also pointed to Claude Keith as a key figure.

“Claude came on board September 1990, the year my dad died,” Sassone recalled. “He was a mentor and a father figure. He was with us for the 1991 sectional title, as well as the 2008 sectional title, and it wouldn’t have been possible without Claude on the bench.”

Two other players Sassone mentioned were Chris Alterio, the Class C MVP on the 2017 Section 1 championship team, and Ryan Donovan, an All-League player, and one of the “hardest working players who ever played for me,” Sassone said.  He’s currently playing at Maritime College.

Sassone said he hopes people will remember him as instilling a tough work ethic in his players.

 “I hope people remember I gave 100 percent, the best I could give,” he said. “I tried to instill a toughness. It’s hard to get by in the world without some toughness. I hope I’m remembered for instilling a work ethic. You can get lost with what’s happening in today’s world, but stick-to-it toughness, never giving up, that’s what I hope I’m remembered for.”