It seems like kind of an odd association, but former Henninger High School boys basketball coach Joe Mazella will be the name of a teacher in Tim Green’s next book – “Left Out.”
Green, the Skaneateles lawyer/author/speaker whose latest literary focus is writing books for young people and speaking to students on the virtues of reading, said Mazella’s name was selected after he held a five-day contest on Facebook, where followers could vote.
The former Syracuse University football star, who played in the NFL before launching successful careers as a lawyer and author, said he began writing books for “middle grades” – kids from 8 to 14 years old – about 10 years ago.
At first, Green used names of his children and their friends as characters. Several years ago, he came up with the idea of holding online contests to come up with names.
“One day I thought, instead of making up names why not solicit names from people who follow my Facebook page,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just someone who has a lot of friends on Facebook. But it seems like lately it ends up being, more often than not, someone like Joe who was wildly popular.”
Mazella was a well-known coach, teacher and administrator at Henninger whose teams won five Section III basketball titles and a state championship in 2002. The Eastwood resident, who coached former Syracuse University guard Lazarus Sims and NBA player Andray Blatche, died in 2009. His death, from self-inflicted wounds, was blamed on the over-perscription of anti-depresant drugs.
Green said other local people who have, or will, appear as book characters include Cicero youth Griffin Engle, who died at 7 in 2014 after a battle with brain cancer and Christian Brothers Academy baseball player Jack Sheridan, who is battling leukemia.
Engle appeared as a character in the book, “Kid Owner,’ and Sheridan will be in Green’s newest release, “Home Run,” a baseball-themed work.
“Really it just feels good,” he said, “because people are happy to remember someone. They’re happy to know they’re going to be in this book. It’s something that’s just fun. Instead of throwing away the opportunity. I thought it would be nice to provide people – like all of Joe’s fans and supporters – an opportunity, even if it’s just on Facebook, to say how much they miss him, how much they loved him, everything he did for them.”
Mazella’s widow, Janice, said her three daughters, who still live in Syracuse, were excited to see their father win the contest.
“I’ve gotten tons of calls,” she said, from people who saw the Facebook posts about her late husband, whose calling hours and funeral were attended by thousands.
Janice Mazella didn’t miss the obvious marketing angle of using her husband’s name.
“He’s pretty smart to have done that,” she said.