OBITUARY: Nicholas Thomas Zeoli, Wilton High School’s Beloved Former Athletic Director and Coach

Wilton High School's beloved first athletic director and football coach Nicholas "Nick" Zeoli, who passed away on April 20, 2022. (photos: Stephen Zeoli)

Husband, father, coach, educator and World War II veteran Nicholas “Nick” T. Zeoli, 98, of Hubbardton, VT, died on April 20 at Norwalk Hospital. He was Wilton High School‘s beloved first athletic director and football coach.

Zeoli was born July 1, 1923, in the Saugatuck section of Westport to parents Dominick Zeoli and Lillian Valiante Zeoli. He was the eldest of five children, with brothers John and Eugene, and sisters Helen and Jeanette.

Some of Zeoli’s fondest memories were of growing up in the Saugatuck neighborhood, playing football and baseball on the local sandlots and for Staples High School. He gave up a college scholarship to enlist in the Navy at the start of World War II, serving four years in the Pacific aboard the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Boston.

After the war, Zeoli resumed his education, getting his degree in physical education from Arnold College (which would be merged into the University of Bridgeport). He met Ruth Joanne Scott (known to all as Jody) while serving as a lifeguard at Compo Beach in Westport. The two were married in 1952. During this period he was beginning a long and distinguished career as a physical educator, coach and athletic director in Wilton. In his own written account of his life, Zeoli reported that “over 40,000 students passed through my 41-year tenure with the Wilton school system.”

He pursued and received his Master’s Degree from Columbia University where he took an anthropology class taught by Margaret Mead, a bit of name-dropping he was always tickled to report.

Zeoli was very proud of his Italian heritage. If you mentioned Italy to him any time after he retired in 1994, you would need to prepare for a long session in which he regaled you with stories of the several trips he and Jody made to Italy. His last trip to the old country was with his niece Deborah in the early 2000s.

Zeoli retired with Jody to a log home in the town of Hubbardton, VT, where he spent the last quarter-century of his life. During his long career, Zeoli received many honors, including national recognition as Athletic Director of the Year, and upon his retirement, Wilton High School rechristened the athletic facility the Nicholas T. Zeoli Fieldhouse. But he was most proud of the students’ lives he had impacted over his 41 professional years. Even up to the months before his passing former students would visit him in Hubbardton.

Zeoli is survived by Jody and his three children, sons Stephen and Christopher, and daughter Nikki, and his three grandchildren, in whom he took great joy, as well as by his lone living sibling, Jeanette.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Special Olympics, a cause to which Nick devoted much of his time and energy.