GazetteNetMobile

Updated: Northampton swim coach Steve Constantine dies

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
Northampton swimming coach Steve Constantine, seen here at left in 2007, died over the weekend, according to Northampton athletic director Jim Miller.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Northampton swimming coach Steve Constantine, seen here at left in 2007, died over the weekend, according to Northampton athletic director Jim Miller.

By MIKE MORAN @mikemoranDHG
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
(Published in print: Wednesday, May 8, 2013)

He died during the weekend, according to Northampton athletic director Jim Miller, who said he was not aware that Constantine had any prior health issues.

Constantine, a senior lecturer in the University of Massachusetts college of engineering, lived in Northampton.

Police do not suspect foul play.

“Nothing appears suspicious,” Police Lt. Kenneth Watson said Wednesday.

Watson said members of Constantine’s family became concerned over the weekend when they had not heard from him and observed newspapers lying uncollected on his front porch.

Around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, police went with a family member to Constantine’s Hinckley Street home and discovered the 58-year-old swim coach on the living room couch, Watson said. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary about the scene.

Watson said it appeared Constantine had died sometime during the weekend.

Meanwhile, NHS Athletic Director Jim Miller said grief counselors would be available today for high school students.

“The kids adored and loved him,” Miller told the Gazette Tuesday. “A lot of the kids stayed in the program for him. He’s always very thoughtful and helpful.”

Miller said he was not aware that Constantine had any serious health problems.

Funeral arrangements for Constantine are being handled by Czelusniak Funeral Home of Northampton.

Northampton girls swimming coach Jim Hirtle had worked with Constantine for the past eight seasons.

“He was always good for a joke and was good if I was having a bad day to talk me into reality instead of letting me get too pessimistic,” Hirtle said. “He did a lot with the kids and had a positive impact on a lot of those boys’ lives. He’s going to be hard to replace.”

Under Constantine, the Northampton boys program thrived in the middle part of the last decade. The Blue Devils went 49-0 between 2005 and 2008, winning sectional championships in 2005 and 2007, and finishing second in 2006 and 2008.

Leslie and William Lashway have three sons who swam on teams coached by Constantine for a total of 10 years. Nick Lashway, who graduated in 2008, was a standout during the undefeated run.

“It’s a big loss,” Leslie Lashway said. “He moved the sport that was kind of an unsung sport. He made the kids feel proud and good about it. I know we’ll miss him as a family.”

Northampton senior Colin Machat was one of the captains for the Blue Devils this past season. About five years ago when he participated in the Bay State Games the West team was coached by Constantine.

“When I first saw him on the first day of practice I thought he was a parent talking to one of their children — then I realized he was our coach,” Machat said of Constantine, who wore traditional sneakers along with his long white hair in a ponytail. “I was surprised. He had a great sense of humor with all the kids and coaches. He was very easy-going.”

Machat said he had been looking forward to returning next year from college and jumping in the pool at JFK Middle School where the team practices.

“One of the things a lot of the seniors in the past years have looked forward to was coming back during winter break and be able to swim again with the underclassmen and Steve-O,” he said. “Me and a couple of the seniors were looking forward to doing that next year. I was talking with some of the seniors earlier and we all know it won’t be the same without him.”

Carla Soutra, who has coached the Easthampton High School boys and girls teams for the past 16 years, has known Constantine a long time. Soutra coached Constantine’s daughters — Rebecca and Alison — at the youth level, and coached against him in high school meets.

“I’m just shocked,” Soutra said. “I find him honest, up-front, driven. He’s a very loving father. He loves his swimmers just as much.”

Constantine’s contagious laugh will be missed, according to Leslie Lashway.

“If the kids drove too fast into the JFK parking lot he would pull a kid aside and say it’s safety,” Lashway said. “Steve was a positive. The sport of swimming will miss him.”

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com.