By Anne Geggis
Without Sal Vacirca, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School girls’ softball would have been without a coach in midseason last year, the Parkland Youth Softball Association would have had far fewer players and Cyarra Alvarado’s batting average probably would not have hit a new level.
Now, though, the community is left without what some describe an “infectious joy,” the father of six had on and off the softball field. Vacirca lost his year-long battle with a rare form of cancer, glioblastoma, on Tuesday, June 9. He was 55.
Fans remember Vacirca as someone who inspired people to get in the game.
“You couldn’t help but smile when you were around him,” recalled Brian Hierholzer, who started the youth softball association three years ago.
Already volunteering as a softball coach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Vacirca made sure the word got out about the new youth association. Vacirca set up clinics in which he and the varsity MSD players would teach the younger girls how to play softball and how to improve their game, Hierholzer said.
Hierholzer estimated the youth association attracted nearly twice the number of girls that were expected because of Varcirca’s efforts.
“He had the right attitude,” Hierholzer said. “He showed them it’s not about the winning and losing; it’s about making sure they have fun and know how to play the game right.”
Bessy Alvarado of Coral Springs said that she watched her daughter’s game get better than it ever was when Vacirca stepped in to become the team’s head coach when it needed one in the 2019 season.
“He had to step up … in the middle of the season, and my daughter had the highest batting average that she’s ever had, the highest on-base percentage, the highest everything,” Alvarado said.
His belief in his players lifted them up, Alvarado said.
“When a player believes that they have a coach who believes in them, they really want to give them their most,” Alvarado said.
Her daughter, Cyarra Alvarado, said she had been struggling to decide with where to go to college, and Vacirca was the first one she told when she finally settled on a softball scholarship at Queens College, City University of New York.
“He had a lot of belief in us. more than we believed in ourselves,” said Cyarra, who just finished her freshman year of college. “He would say, ‘Even if you don’t see it, I know you are the best players I’ve ever seen.’”
The team did not win their season, but Cyarra and another Douglas player made the Miami Herald’s All-Broward County Team.
Vacirca’s Twitter feed has lots of quotes about the importance of coaching, but soon after his first cancer surgery he spoke on his own about the pride a coach feels in his players: “I am invested in them as people because they trusted and believed in me to guide them … which I take as a great honor.”
He is survived by his wife, Amy, and six children, ranging in age from 14 to 30.
Vacirca loved family barbecues for the family time, National Football League games, and coaching softball, Amy Vacirca recalled. Before volunteering at MSD, he had also coached some softball travel teams. For work, he was a facilities manager at Palm Beach State College.
But it always came back to coaching.
“They would struggle sometimes, and he was all about teaching them to stay positive, work hard and work as a team,” she said.
The family started a GoFundMe account called “No One Fights Alone” one year ago. So far, about $17,000 has been raised.
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- Anne Geggis has been a newspaper reporter for 30 years, most recently at the Sun-Sentinel. She graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., with a double major in journalism and sociology.
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