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Towson gathering honors Greg Giovanazzi's life of sport and community

Hundreds attend university event for former NCAA, Olympic volleyball coach

By Jim Joyner, jjoyner@patuxent.com

10:47 PM EDT, March 24, 2012

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Some wore Towson University items, others bore UMBC jerseys and Columbia Volleyball Club gear.

There was at least one player from the 1992 U.S. Olympic team, another from the University of Michigan, and a coach from UCLA.

Despite the diverse allegiances, the roughly 300 people who gathered Saturday at Towson University's West Village Commons Ballroom were all members of Team Giovanazzi — honoring the life of Greg Giovanazzi, a NCAA volleyball champion, college and Olympic coach and Catonsville resident.

And they were members, too, of the team of his wife, Deb Moriarty, vice president for student affairs at Towson University and president of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, and their daughter, Casey Giovanazzi.

"It's incredibly overwhelming," said Moriarty of the support. "All week we've been wrapped in a blanket of love from the university and the community. It will sustain me for a very long time."

Giovanazzi, 54, died in his sleep March 19 at the family's home. He had suffered from debilitating migraine headaches for much of is his life, at times causing great pain, yet nevertheless excelled as a coach and mentor to hundreds of players.

During the "Life is Good" celebration in his honor at TU, colleagues and friends recalled Giovanazzi as a man filled with passion for life, a love of sport and a capacity to lift those around him.

"He was a wonderful father, a great husband and always supportive of Deb's role as a community and chamber leader," said Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson chamber.

The event was a reflection not only of love for Giovanazzi, but admiration and respect for Moriarty as well.

That respect was reflected in the turnout of the Towson community, and also in their attire. Moriarty had asked for an informal event, suggesting "Hawaiian shirts" — and no funeral flowers.

Paul Schwab, a Towson attorney and Lutherville resident, showed up in a yellow and green short-sleeve flower print.

"I think it's the first time I've worn this," he said, smiling.

"Deb has been so involved in the community, on events and with the Towsontown Spring Festival," said Schwab, a chamber member. "She's done a great job. It's important to come out to support her."

Hafford said the chamber fielded calls of condolence all this past week, and got together with members of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations and Radebaugh Florists, also in Towson, to solve the "no funeral flowers" request.

Instead, arrangements of bright spring flowers stood atop every table in the hall, and the heart-shaped urn that held Giovanazzi's ashes were accompanied by flowing red and yellow blossoms.

"We wanted to do something, so the chamber an the GTCCA paid for the flowers," said Hafford. "I think it suits him. He touched so many lives, and was so bright."

GTCCA President David Kosak added that, "in times like this, you see how Towson is one family."

"That's what makes our community unique," he said. "It's important. When a member of our family needs us, we're there."

Ed Kilcullen, past president of the GTCCA, said he came as a show of support for Moriarty, a friend he has come to know since their time serving as co-chairs of the University Relations Committee. In that capacity the two worked on issues that, at times, had divided TU from Towson neighborhoods.

"She's demonstrated a real commitment to the community," he said.

He said when she greeted him at the memorial service, Moriarty even joked that, "I bet you never thought we'd become such good friends."

Remembering 'Big G'

Giovanazzi was a member of the 1976 UCLA volleyball team that won the national championship, then had a stint playing professional volleyball. He became a coach for UCLA women's team, and that squad won national titles in 1977, 1978 and 1984.

He was also a coach for the University of Michigan, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Johns Hopkins — and the 1992 U.S. Women's Olympic Team that captured a bronze medal in Barcelona.

He also coached the 2011 Columbia Volleyball Club Comets team — and coached his daughter, Casey Giovanazzi, a Catonsville High School graduate who now plays for the University of North Florida.

At Saturday's celebration, Caren Kimner, a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic team, shared stories about Giovanazzi's exploits at home and overseas, but turned serious when she said of her former coach, "He gave me happiness. I'm so fortunately for the past 20 years for being part of his life."

And former UCLA volleyball coach Andy Banachowski, who coached Giovanazzi as a player and later worked with him on the Bruins' coach staff, described his friend's knack for sharing photo albums with people, and also for passing along praise and lifting spirits.

He said that from the East Coast to West Coast, Giovanazzi had sent him several electronic messages over time that he had never deleted — and now cherished. One of them told his former coach to "let me know how you are ... and how much you miss me."

"Gio," Banachowski said, "I'm good. And I miss you."

Throughout the afternoon music, slides, food and drink — and volleyballs — accented a mood of reunion and celebration.

The thread of community ran through it all — from Towson to Catonsville and across cyberspace. Kathy O'Dell, Moriarty's sister, said the family had received countless messages of remembrance through Facebook, and the family's Catonsville home "has been a swinging door" of support from neighbors.

"It's hard to put into words the support from the university, the community," she said. "It's brought us great comfort."

Moriarty reiterated that sentiment in her comments. She recalled the life of family and sport that she, Greg and Casey have shared, and said when Casey came home Florida this week after the news of her father's death, Moriarty picked her up at the airport and they shared a hug.

"I said, 'Now it's just you and me against the world,' " Moriarty recalled.

But looking out on the crowd that had come to Towson to show love and support, she added, "I couldn't have been more wrong."