Prolific Prep honored the late Bill Connolly, who formed the Napa-based basketball academy’s advisory board and was board president, Saturday night when the Crew faced Elite Prep at Napa Valley College.
Connolly passed away on Oct. 27 at Queen of the Valley Medical Center after falling at his home in St. Helena. He was 74.
Connolly is a member of the Bellarmine Prep-San Jose Athletic Hall of Fame and Santa Clara University Athletic Hall of Fame. He played basketball and baseball, and was in the Minnesota Twins’ minor league system.
Saturday was dubbed “Bill Connolly Night,” as Prolific Prep recognized Connolly during a ceremony.
“He just did everything,” said Jeremy Russotti, the founder of Prolific Prep, which plays a national schedule for boys basketball around the country each year. “Bill Connolly was my hero. I lost my mentor, my friend, a role model as a father.
“When we first started to work together, he told me, ‘What your group built in the first three years was phenomenal, but you were doing it all wrong.’ He then went on to say, ‘Let me teach you how to turn this into magic.’ And that is what Bill did. He turned Prolific Prep into something magical by connecting us deeply within our local community.”
Connolly was closely involved with Prolific Prep, attending practices and offering support and assistance.
“Our team was crushed. Our kids were crying the day we told them,” said Russotti. “He touched our players and no doubt they will benefit for the short time he was in their presence. I think about him every day, what he taught me. All the decisions I make for Prolific Prep I try to first think, what would Bill do?”
Connolly and another local donor put in six new backboards and rims in the gym at Napa Christian Campus of Education, where Prolific Prep players are enrolled as students.
“He didn’t have to do any of this,” said Russotti. “He did it because he was passionate about our program, connected with our kids, and he wanted to make an impact. Bill Connolly has created something magical.
“Bill was a visionary.”
He was an assistant coach for the St. Helena High varsity baseball team from 2012-15, working with the infielders and hitters.
“He had a significant influence on our baseball program,” said Saints head coach Darrell Quirici.
Connolly is in the Bellarmine Prep Hall of Fame for basketball. He is in the Santa Clara Hall of Fame for baseball.
“His love of sports continued on past his playing days,” said Scooter Barry, Connolly’s stepson, who played on the University of Kansas’ national champion basketball team in 1988.
Prolific Prep has established a memorial fund in Connolly’s honor, the Bill Connolly Memorial Fund.
Connolly was a partner in Robertson, Stephens, based in San Francisco.
Connolly is survived by his wife, Pamela Connolly; five children, Scooter Barry, Jon Barry, Brent Barry, Drew Barry and Shannon Ochoa; and eight grandchildren.
Bill and Pamela were married in 1987 in St. Helena.
Bill Connolly would often play basketball with Scooter and his brothers – Jon, Brent and Drew.
“I felt like (when) I was going off to school, that my mom and my brothers and sister were all in great hands,” said Scooter Barry. “Willy took it upon himself to bring in a different type of discipline and a different type of business mentality, and really kind of more of a forward thinking business operational mentality to the way that we were being raised.
“He talked about the importance of our education, which was always important to us. Willy was a good, calming force of that, coming in and promoting the sports, continuing to go to Brent, Drew and Jon’s games.
“He did a tremendous job of transforming into a full-on dad with a family. He went from being single to having five children. He could not only go out and shoot buckets with us, but he could throw the ball with Jon or Drew and he could engage on the sports side, which was pivotal to being part of our family.”
Michael Gastelum, who owns St. Helena Fitness, said Connolly was a coach, mentor and a second father for him.
“Bill taught me everything I know about baseball, and without him I would have never played Division I baseball at Saint Mary’s College,” said Gastelum. “Without his mentorship, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I cherished every moment we spent together.”
Napa Valley Register sports reporter Yousef Baig contributed to this report.