By Bruce Mastracchio
I often wonder how the parents and students today would react if they had encountered the man who was almost solely responsible for the sterling academic reputation of East Greenwich High School. We had many good teachers there in all subjects and they were all demanding.
But, Dom Iannazzi was the most demanding of all. He had rules upon rules and if you broke any one of them. You suffered.
Still, if you wanted help in math or athletics he would accommodate you. Wanted to come into school at 6 a.m. He would meet you there. Wanted to come in at 6 p.m. He would meet you there. Weekends? No problem.
In his classroom, shirts tucked in. Collars down. Only the top button could be unbuttoned. No pencils resting on your ears. No talking except pertaining to the subject.
In my case I was put at a desk right next to his. Usually I would get a “cuff” a day. When I asked “What’s that for?” he would answer, “That’s for nothing. Wait til you do something.”
I did not go home and cry to my mother. I had no father to cry to. I just took it and battled with him for 2 1/2 years. I never got higher than a C from him. Though he was one of my football coaches, he flunked me in algebra. Yet I learned so much in that class that, later on, in college I got B’s in my math classes, even attempting the “New Math” of the new binary system used in computers.
The smarter kids flourished under him and he turned out quite a few National Merit Scholars, which gave EGHS its reputation. He had contacts at colleges around the country and his recommendation was enough to get you into a school, particularly Brown, where several of my friends went. I was not Brown material, or even PC, so I went to URI and got a great education. I think better than some of those Ivy league types.
Later I earned a master’s degree and came close to a CAGs (Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study) except I had no desire to do a thesis. The point is, it was a far cry from my attitude towards education while I was in high school. There was a reason, which I won’t get into here, but when during high school, my teachers felt college would be a waste for me. Iannazzi, who I had battled with during my high school days, said, “Go, you will do fine.” And, I did. And I did.
The story today concerns another kid from “below the hill.” He was and is one of the smartest people I have come across in my travels on this big, blue bubble. But, he hung with a tough crowd and sometimes, to save the “busting” and the “jeers” that came from the group, which was not academically oriented, he would mask his knowledge of many things, which came up both in and out of school.
In general, below-the-hill (BTH) kids did not do well in school. Many were constantly in trouble. In one instance a group of them held a teacher out of the second story window at Eldredge. They were in 6th and 7th grade but should have been in 8th or 9th, having stayed back due to academic deficiencies. Many of them were good athletes but again some could not participate due to poor grades.
Nunzio Grazano (name changed) was not one of them. He had no trouble with school. Though not prone to studying, he constantly and consistently managed good grades. His parents sent him to City Catholic to start but he did not like it and convinced his parents he would be better off at East Greenwich High.
He came in his sophomore year and made his mark immediately in football, basketball and baseball. He was well liked, a chick-magnet and popular but he still hung out with the tough BTH crowd and they still disliked academia.
Nunzio had Mr. Iannazzi for algebra, then later geometry then calculus. He did well in all. Actually, he breezed. Later on, in college, Nunz got straight A’s all four years and hardly opened a book. Learning just came easy to him.
Iannazzi hit the students with “pop” quizzes, unannounced, mid-term exams and final exams.
The basis for this story comes from a mid-term that he gave. It was to cover the work done in the first half year in geometry. Most of the students were sweating it. Nunzio was not.
The day of the exam came and Nunzio breezed right through it. After class all the students were moaning and groaning about how tough the test was. Nunzio said nothing.
When the results came back the following day, Iannazzi passed the exams back. When Nunzio got his he was shocked. He had gotten a 96, the highest grade in the class, BUT, next to it there was a BIG, FAT, RED F! Nunzio just stared at it not really knowing what to say.
After class he approached Mr. Iannazzi to inquire what the grade was all about.
“I want you to take that paper home and have your father sign it,” Iannazzi said.
“But, Mr. Iannazzi. My father will kill me,” Nunzio sputtered. “This a 96. How is that an F?”
“Grazano,” Iannazzi fired back, “you knew the answer to that question you missed. I think you missed it on purpose. I think I know why. So, let your father see it and explain it to him. When you bring it back you can explain it to me, and, I don’t think you will do it again.”
Iannazzi was right. Later Nunzio told me that he didn’t want to get the 100 because the guys would have busted on him for being too perfect. Plus, they had not done well and his 100 would have stood out too much. He thought a 90 plus grade would have been alright.
But, it went to show you that you could rarely fool “Iron”. Nunzio never tried it again. As I said, he went to college, scored straight A’s and ended up a successful businessman.
I sometimes think of that incident. In 36 years of teaching and 45 coaching I ran across a lot of parents who could not accept the reality of their children’s shortcomings. Many (not all) seemed to think their kids were all “A” students, or All America athletes, when in fact, it was not so.
How might they have reacted to the 96 F? Iannazzi did not give participatory trophies in his classes, nor did he on the athletic field. You had to earn it. Isn’t that the way it should be?
He failed me, but I learned my lesson from it, and it actually helped me later on.
He failed Nunzio with a 96 F. I think Nunzio learned something too!
Hey, Nunzio ! Told you I’d do that story one day.
The rumor during the 1950s was that Iannazzi was fired for being too mean from La Salle (a school not exactly famous at the time for having kindly teachers). At our first meeting he threw a book into my gut as hard as he could. I always felt he had serious mental problems.
Bruce, you did it again. Cliff laughed out loud at this story ; especially the part of hanging a teacher out the window.
Keep writing,, we love it.
Cliff and Donna
While a hero to his chosen few, he left too many carcasses in his wake to keep up the deification effort, Bruce. Should I write my experiences with him to balance it out?
No. He’s dead and powerless.
Great story really enjoyed reading it.
Do more stories of our high school years.
He was a bully. He loved to make a big fuss about the length of the girl’s skirts which in retrospect seems a little perverted . There’s no doubt that he was smart but he abused his power.
It’s a funny story but sadly fiction. For most girls in the ’60s and ’70s, he was difficult. For those of us who were not athletes or academically gifted, he was oppressive, frightening, and at times abusive. God rest his soul, he did what he thought was right at the time. I’m glad things have changed for the better.
Great tale, well told, Bruce!
Bruce, I enjoyed reading your article about Iannazzi. It brings back a bunch of memories from my two years at EGHS (Class of 1960). His geometry and trig classes gave me the confidence to pursue a science degree in college and an analytical career after that. Thanks for the memories.