By Tiffany Whitfield and Jefferson Huddle
Tony Colizzi, better known as Coach Colizzi on the cross country and track field, was recently inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Coaches Association (SCACA) Coaches Hall of Fame.
But before this accomplishment, Colizzi worked toward achieving the first of his two master's degrees at Old Dominion University.
His first was in oceanography, and his second MS was in education. Colizzi said his time spent learning with the Department of Ocean & Earth Sciences at ODU is how he truly found his muse with teaching science along with the joys of running.
"The teaching of oceanography at ODU, the work I did with the marine science Sea Camp program and outreach programs through the oceanography program all led to me becoming a teacher," Colizzi said.
With the outreach program, several of the graduate students would go to local middle and elementary schools and talk to kids about science, particularly marine science.
Colizzi was a teaching assistant for associate professor Ron Johnson, who taught a large undergraduate oceanography course while Colizzi was enrolled.
"Thanks to Dr. Johnson, I discovered I wanted to go into teaching," Colizzi said.
He also acknowledged emeritus associate professor John R. McConaugha and his wife, Cathy; emeritus associate professor Anthony Provenzano; and professors Larry Atkinson and Denny Kirwan for their time and commitment in helping him at ODU.
Colizzi and some other OES graduate students also held science programs aboard the American Rover in downtown Norfolk.
"We would talk to the tourists and local kids about the marine environment, and we would collect samples from the local waters as we sailed for the groups to observe," Colizzi said. "This early experience with educating others showed me what my calling was."
His enthusiasm peaked after he did research with OES faculty, including studying larval and mature blue crabs with McConaugha and raising hybrid striped bass with Provenzano.
For a stress reliever, Colizzi often ran while at ODU.
"A group of the oceanography students would meet several days a week and run over our lunch break," Colizzi said.
Eric and Ellie Langsam, both fellow graduate students, were in the running group. After Eric finished the graduate program, he and his soon-to-be wife moved to Charleston, South Carolina.
"They asked me to move to Charleston to help them start a Sea Camp program much like the one we worked on at ODU," Colizzi said.
After graduating from ODU in 1998, Colizzi packed up his belongings and moved to Charleston and ran a Sea Camp program for many years. While living in South Carolina, he took a teaching position at Bishop England High School.
The school was looking for an assistant track and cross-country coach and "I agreed to help with the program," said Colizzi. "After two years, the head coach retired from coaching, and I became the head cross country and track coach."
Colizzi has been the head coach since 2001, and in the last two decades, his track teams have won more than 20 state championships. In 2021, Colizzi reached a pinnacle in high school sports.
"It was a great feeling to be inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame," Colizzi said. "Many of the coaches who are now in the Hall of Fame helped me in my early years of coaching, and to be in the Hall with them is very special. I always looked up to those coaches."
Colizzi said building a dominant track program is similar to teaching science - it takes time, dedication and ingenuity.
"An understanding of science gives you a better understanding of the world around you," he said. "Without science, you would not have many of the items that you use on a daily basis."
Colizzi's commitment to teaching science to his students was something he discovered he enjoyed doing when he was a graduate student at ODU, but he still feels the same excitement today.
He credits ODU for his success as a science teacher. "I would highly recommend pursuing a science degree at ODU to current students. ODU's oceanography department was the driving force in me becoming a science teacher. Even after over 20 years, I still enjoy teaching and coaching at the high school level."