Remembering Eric Ciucci

Remembering a Friend
By Jared Bell

Image courtesy of the News Tribune
In late October 2013, I sent a text message to every area golf coach asking for final season stats and player accomplishments.

Within an hour, Putnam County girls golf coach Eric Ciucci emailed all the information needed along with a case for Stephanie Wilson being the NewsTribune Girls Golfer of the Year.

Later that afternoon, he texted me to make certain we received the email and, a few days later, he checked in again to see if we had made our decision.

All I could do was laugh. Ciucci’s dedication and passion was evident — as was his persistence.

A few days later when NewsTribune Sports Editor Kevin Chlum finally did leave a voicemail with Ciucci asking for Wilson’s number to arrange Golfer of the Year stuff, Ciucci was so excited he immediately called back, so quickly and frantically that he completely forgot to write down Wilson’s number so he had to end the conversation and call back seconds later.

It just showed Ciucci’s love of the game, the pride in his student-athletes and how much he truly cared.

Little did he know how much everyone cared about him.

Ciucci died Friday at the age of 37, and his sudden death has rocked the Putnam County community and beyond.

His passing has shaken the area but has made us all remember how great of a guy he truly was.

Ciucci was the area’s most grateful and appreciative coach and always more than willing to assist the pesky NewsTribune sports staff in anyway he could.

Last fall, when searching for a Monday Spotlight story idea, I texted nearly 15 area golf coaches asking if they had anything they felt would make a good story. Many responded with a simply “No” or “Not really” and only a handful replied with multiple sentences. Some didn’t even reply at all.

However, Ciucci, in true form, replied with a novel that took four separate text messages to receive. It was so long I nearly tripped and fell off the treadmill in disbelief. He was not only trying to help me but trying to help his golfers.

Every year in mid-August when working on the boys and girls golf previews, I most looked forward to talking to the Putnam County girls golf coach.

I last saw Ciucci at the Class A Eastland Sectional at Lake Carroll Golf Club near Lanark, where I spent time with him, his family and his golfers waiting out an afternoon rain storm that forced the tournament’s postponement.

Little did I know it would be the last time I’d see his prideful smile and encounter his appreciative words in person.

Ciucci is on the short-list of my favorite coaches in the area and he took as much pride in his Putnam County girls golf program as any coach has in his or her program in the area.

He helped start the program five years ago with the backing of former PC athletic director Dave Garcia and built it into one of the area's top girls golf programs.

Ciucci was proud of what he and his golfers had built thus far — the program won its first regional in 2013 — and was looking forward to the challenge of sustaining future success, and I was rooting for him every step of the way.

Ciucci was also the only person I personally knew who shared my birthday — March 3 — and over the last few years, amidst the birthday texts and well-wishes that I received, I made a point to tell my birthday buddy that I hoped he had an incredi-Bell day. His replies were always a highlight of my birthday.

It’s one of the many things that has made his untimely death such a struggle.

I’ve written some difficult stories in my time at the NewsTribune, but this may be the hardest.

A few days ago, I had already written and submitted a column intended for this space, but as my sentiment and grief grew I finally found them too hard to ignore.

It took awhile and a sleepless night before I finally found the courage to write this story. I was never fully certain I wanted to do it — I’m still not — but deep down, I knew it was the best way to honor someone who I and many others considered a great guy and a true friend.

Eric, you are loved and adored by all and positively impacted the lives of many, including the life of a sports writer who you may never have expected.

You will be missed, my friend, in more ways than you will ever know. You were one of a kind and I always looked forward to seeing you.

You may be gone, but you will not soon be forgotten.

Jared Bell is a NewsTribune Sports Writer. He can be reached at 220-6938, or at Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.

Source: News Tribune