Gail Urbanik laughs when she thinks about the fact that her father had only daughters – three of them.

But that never stopped Attilio “Toch” Ghiringhelli from immersing himself in St. Helena sports. He played in adult leagues, watched countless games at Carpy Field and traveled to Berkeley to watch former high school Saints on the Cal gridiron. He was a founding member of the St. Helena Bocce League, refereed local basketball, and gave tips to young athletes as they developed their skills.

“He was really into sports,” said Urbanik, his youngest daughter. “The thing that was hard is he ended up having three girls, so we always kind of laughed because it was like, here’s a guy if he had three boys he would’ve been in heaven.”

All of that community involvement was as an adult, though. When Ghiringhelli attended St. Helena High, he was a four-sport athlete, and his accomplishments paved a path into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. This Saturday, he’ll be posthumously inducted as a member of the fifth class alongside Del Britton (Class of 1957), Andy Vanderschoot (Class of 1965), Kirk Mulligan (Class of 1968), Rich Lomeli (Class of 1978), Allison Zumwalt (Class of 1985) and Tobe Wolf (coach for 25 seasons).

Ghiringhelli is the oldest inductee, having graduated in 1936 when the Saints were known as the Thunderbirds. Published information is sparse, but his exploits were noteworthy enough on a fairly regular basis to put together an impressive picture of what kind of talent he was.

In football, he did it all. As a sophomore on the varsity team he was First Team All-League as both an offensive and defensive tackle. As an upperclassman, he developed into a weapon on offense, and ended his career with 21 receptions for 212 yards and three reported touchdowns.

His senior year as a team captain, defensively, Ghiringhelli recovered five fumbles. On special teams, he made 12 of 17 PAT attempts and recorded a 70-yard punt on Oct. 29, 1935 against St. Vincent of Vallejo, the second longest in school history. The Thunderbirds went 6-1-2 overall and only surrendered three TDs the entire season.

In track, Ghiringhelli had a personal best 161 feet, 2 inches in the football throw and 32 feet, 7 inches’ in the shot put. In basketball he averaged 7.8 points per game, and was part of a Solano County Athletic League championship his freshman year.

However, Ghiringhelli’s true love was baseball. As a batter, he amassed a .376 career batting average, a .520 slugging percentage, and hit one homer, three triples and nine doubles. He drove in 27 runs and scored 26 runs.

He was stingy as a pitcher, holding a 1.56 career ERA (sixth best in school history) and a 15-7 record over the course of his prep career. Ghiringhelli struck out 210 batters in 193 innings, averaging 9.4 punch-outs per game.

In 1935, he had a dominant year on the hill, evidenced by 21 hits allowed in 62 innings of work, the second-best mark for a single season in school history. At one point, he pitched 15 hitless innings and put together 18 scoreless frames. St. Helena was North Bay League II champions that year.

Jim Hunt, revered Hall of Fame founder and a St. Helena Star sports columnist until he died in June, once wrote about Ghiringhelli and the other branches of his family tree that shined on the diamond over the years. For Urbanik, that was one of the first times she was able to truly grasp her father’s dominance as a prep athlete.

“He never really talked about high school,” she said. “He’d make an allusion to it, but you don’t really pay attention that much. So when these articles (came out) that Jim (wrote), it was kind of like news to us.”

After high school, Ghiringhelli worked at Sunny St. Helena Winery before joining the construction battalion of the Navy prior to World War II. As a “Seabee” he was stationed in Tinian, located in the Mariana Islands in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, where they built the Enola Gay airstrip — the launching point for the atomic bomb missions.

After the war, he spent most of his career at the naval shipyard on Mare Island.

He married a local schoolteacher, Cecilia Riordan Ghiringhelli, in 1941. After the war ended, they had three daughters — Ellen, Nan and Gail — from 1947-50.

Their home was off of Stockton Street, which is shouting distance from Carpy Field, and the Ghiringhelli clan was always in attendance for anything competitive happening between the lines.

“It was right there,” said Urbanik. “It was like two blocks away. So I remember, growing up, we would walk down.”

The Ghiringhelli girls were raised during a peculiar period in St. Helena history when the high school didn’t field girls sports. That stifled interest at the youth level and naturally meant Ghiringhelli had to wait another generation until he literally had some skin in the game.

When his grandchildren came along, including 2016 Hall of Fame inductee Kelly Urbanik, one of the top volleyball players in Saints history, Ghiringhelli supplied any athletic principles he could.

“I think where it really came in was when I had kids … he would always be over,” Gail Urbanik said. “The kids would have pickup games (with their friends in the neighborhood). They’d be playing either football in the streets or shooting baskets. When my daughter (and son, Scott) started out, when they were all playing, he would always be giving them tips.

“As it turned out, when they got older and Kelly started playing for the schools, he would just be there. Her main sport was volleyball, but he still gave her pointers on how to do stuff, especially basketball. Her forte – she was a pretty good 3-point player – and he would always be over there giving her pointers and showing her how to shoot free throws.”

Ghiringhelli also attended Saints football practices when he got home from work. On game days, they would pass up on the team’s rooters buses and cram the entire family into one car so they could ride together.

“He would just go to every game,” Urbanik said.

Ghiringhelli’s athletic career didn’t stop after he graduated high school, either. For 20 years, he played semi-pro baseball for the St. Helena Blue Sox, Urbanik said, coached by his childhood mentor Al Carpy.

The day after Urbanik graduated from San Francisco State in 1972, Ghiringhelli retired. For many years after that, he served as the local district’s bus driver and endeared himself to future generations. In fact, in the Facebook group “You Grew up in St. Helena if…” local natives have occasionally shared remembrances of the bus driver who used to drive as far south as Yount Mill Road.

“It was really fun because he’d come home, and these little kids would make cookies for him,” said Urbanik. “They just loved him. I’m sure he had to be tough, but they really liked him. It’s funny because years later, you find out who these little kids were when they got out of high school and stuff.”

Ghiringhelli represented the kind of life force that runs through every aspect of St. Helena life. He prioritized his family and the community, as a whole, until he died on Jan. 4, 2002 at age 85.

He rarely sat still, and if there was competition of any kind, he was probably nearby.

“All this involvement, he lived his whole life here … he was out and about. He just loved St. Helena,” Urbanik said. “In a way, it was good for him. It’s a great place.”

This story has been updated to correctly state specifics regarding Ghiringhelli's military service after high school.


Yousef has been a sports reporter at the Napa Valley Register since February 2015, and hosts the Napa Register Radio podcast. He is a proud UGA graduate and has written for the Sacramento Bee, The Advocate and the Athens Banner-Herald, among others.