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Sports help Domenico beat bumps, set to spike life

July 03, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

For about 80 percent of his existence, James Domenico has relied on two constants to plot his course through life.

For most of his adult life, the U.S. Air Force has been his calling. The service is his career, his job and his livelihood.

But next to his wife and family, sports has been Domenico's true passion. The field of competition had defined him since he was 8 and it continues to play a major part of his life at age 35.

Through sports, the 1991 Martinsburg graduate got through childhood, schooling and most of college. Sports was instrumental in meeting his wife, Beth.

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They helped him cope during his deployment to Iraq in 2003 with his unit, the 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg, where he still works as a master sergeant.

And sports remains a big part of life as he is about to enter his ninth season as assistant coach of the Hagerstown Community College volleyball team, working with Beth, who is the head coach.

"It's all been part of a natural progression," Domenico said. "I've had evening practice my whole life. It is a whole lot easier taking out your frustration that way than by other means. You don't realize how important sports are until you wake up one day and don't have a practice to go to."

Growing up, Domenico admits to having every boy's dream.

He played football, basketball and ran track for Martinsburg High with his eyes firmly affixed on making it to the NFL. He attended Hampden-Sydney, West Virginia Tech and Shepherd University to chase that dream, but for various reasons, the trail to the NFL took a detour. He joined the military in 1994, and by the time he finished basic training in December 1995, the football dream was over.

It was time to take the benefits of sports and turn elsewhere.

"Playing sports helped me get thorough basic training," Domenico said. "It has given me the discipline, reasoning, quick thinking and patience that has helped me in the military. After college, I watched a lot of people who were in front of me and found out getting to the NFL wasn't as easy as it looks. I sat down and said 'James, you have to make a decision with your life.'"

When the football locker room door closed, another door opened in volleyball.

Domenico was introduced to the game in the Air Force. He got the passion to play. He met Beth through a small group of friends who played the together. Then came tournament play. Along the way, Beth went on to assist Marlys Palmer at HCC in 1997. James followed her and helped out.

But in 2003, the Domenicos were about to start their third season as HCC's coaches. It was then volleyball became a symbol to remember life as James knew it.

In March 2003, the 167th was called to serve.

"We knew we were going somewhere. Usually the trips are like three weeks in Germany," Domenico said. "They told us to have your bags packed and have desert gear. We left on a C-130 on March 5."

It was the start of a five-month stay on a remote island off the coast of Oman. There was no direct battle involved, yet Domenico worked constantly to prepare C-130s for missions.

"We were busy," he said. "That's when I realized how much I missed sports. Sports became an outlet for us. We got leagues started in basketball, volleyball, weightlifting and miniature golf just to pass the time. You start playing and you say 'I'm back home.' In competition, it helped you forget that you weren't."

Just talking about volleyball helped Domenico get by.

"I sat over there and talked volleyball with one of the other guys," he said. "I kept thinking that I need to get home because (HCC's) volleyball season was about to start. You might think that I was insensitive because I wasn't thinking about my family. But talking volleyball was easier. If I thought about my family, I would have cried."

When he returned, Domenico continued to play volleyball on weekends, but really grasped the idea of coaching with Beth. He has helped Beth build on HCC's rich tradition of recruiting local girls to keep the school on the national map.

"I love teaching and showing athletes things. I love to share life experiences," Dom-enico said. "I've done a lot at a young age. I can tell them to stay in school and earn a degree and not do it like I did 15 years later."

Both James and Beth want to be there for their two young daughters, but are pulled by the commitment to HCC. James wants his girls to be in sports, but he doesn't want to coach them.

"We are starting another generation of athletes with our kids," he said. "I want them to be athletes, but I don't want to force them, but sports will keep them busy and active. Sports have a habit of keeping you busy and out of trouble."

James Domenico admits he didn't get his NFL dream, but sports helped him realize new goals. The military and his deployment proved to him that he has something treasured as a U.S. citizen.

"When I was out in the desert, reality hit," Domenico said. "I realized that I was happy with life the way it is."

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