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After 30 Years, Beloved Basketball Coach Retires

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Richard F. Rago has announced his retirement after completing 30 years as varsity basketball coach at St. Elizabeth High School. Rago served as JV coach at St. Elizabeth from 1983 through 1985, then succeeded Chuck Haney as varsity coach in 1986. Coach Rago has been on staff at St. Elizabeth for a total of 33 years. He was Coach of the Blue-Gold All-Star Game three times and Catholic League Coach of the Year five times. His varsity teams have compiled a record of 358 wins and 319 losses.

“Most of those wins took place after the high school teams moved into the new St. Elizabeth Center athletic facility in 2001,” Rago pointed out. “But a winning tradition did start at ‘The Box,’” he added in reference to St. Elizabeth’s legendary old gymnasium.

In the last 10 years, Rago’s teams have qualified for the state tournament nine times. They made it to the Final Four twice and the quarter finals three times.

Over the years, his Vikings won the championship in four out of seven Poly Tech Tournaments, and finished second twice. They participated in the old Slam Dunk to the Beach Tournament three times and brought home the Delaware Memorial Bridge Trophy twice. More recently, in the new Slam Dunk Tournament, they became the first team in Delaware to beat an out-of-state team when they defeated national powerhouse St. Raymond of the Bronx in 2015.

Rago’s teams have also displayed a high caliber of talent in other competitions such as the Kennett Tournament, where they defeated defending state champion and the No. 1-ranked William Penn. “Since it was an out-of-state tournament and such an astounding accomplishment, I remember receiving calls to make sure that it was the William Penn from Delaware and not a lesser-accomplished team from some other part of the country,” Rago said.

With Rago as coach, the Vikings participated for five years in the Kennett Tournament. They won the championship once and placed second twice. They participated in the Friends Quaker Classic eight times and won the championship of their bracket five times. One of those wins included a victory over Pennsylvania powerhouse, Academy of the New Church.

Probably the most memorable evening of Rago’s coaching career came in a game at the St. Elizabeth Center against Caravel Academy on February 10, 2012, when Andre Patton and Tim Massado each scored their 1,000th point and Rago won his 300th game.

Beyond the wins and accolades, what Rago cherishes most are the relationships he has developed with his players over the years. “It has been a wonderful, wonderful experience being part of these boys’ lives,” he reminisced. “They say they learned a lot from me, but I have learned a lot from them.”

Of his St. Elizabeth players, 24 went on to play college basketball, and 16 have become coaches at the Catholic Youth Ministry or high school level. “I think one thing we have proven is that talented and hardworking kids don’t have to go anywhere else to get noticed; colleges will find you at St. Elizabeth High School.”

Shirley Bounds, St. Elizabeth’s head of school, praised Rago’s intensity for the game and his personal guidance of players:

“Coach Rago leaves behind a legacy of sideline passion, basketball knowledge and accomplished young men. In 2001, when the St. E Center opened for basketball, he took it as his mission to establish a program that could hold its own in a magnificent new space. He most certainly did that as the St. E Viking Men played competitive, high-caliber basketball before sold-out crowds for Catholic Conference and State Tournament games. More importantly, Coach Rago cared for his players not just on the basketball court but also in their development to become young men of character and accomplishment. The VKNation of students, faculty and alumni are grateful for his years as a coach of the Maroon and Gold.” 

Although Rago will be spending less time on basketball courts in the coming year, he will be spending just as much time in courts of law, as he plans to continue his legal practice in Wilmington. He also plans to spend more time with his family, which includes his wife, Evelyn, and their three sons and two grandchildren.

Rago is a graduate of Salesianum School. He obtained his undergraduate and law degree from Villanova University, where he played freshman basketball for Jack Kraft and donned the Wildcat costume several times as a substitute mascot in his junior year.

“The Athletic Department at St. E’s extends our appreciation to Coach Rago on his career and accomplishments as the head boys’ basketball coach for the past 30 years,” said athletic director Joe Papili. “He continued to pursue the ideals of the school’s rich history in the men’s basketball program and has left a good foundation for his successor to build on. We wish Coach Rago the best in his retirement.”

Richard F. Rago

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