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Newman coach credits faith in winning alcohol battle

Tom Bonfigli began talking, his story twisting and turning like a mile-long strand of spaghetti. A labyrinth emerged. The tears, the anguish, the exhilaration, the peace, it's all there along his path, leading him to where he is now. And it's not, as one might assume, to Sacramento, where he is two days away from his team playing for the state basketball championship. He is in a place much more vital.

"It's a blessing," said the Cardinal Newman basketball coach, "not to wake up in the morning and wonder what I did last night."

His mind is clear, as is his conscience. Bonfigli is home, at the school he loves, coaching and teaching. It sounds so simple and ordinary. Until he explains how he got here.

Cardinal Newman Basketball Practice

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"Some people find it overwhelming," Bonfigli said.

That's from their perspective. Imagine his. Imagine if Bonfigli hadn't remained clean and sober since March 11, 1996, if he hadn't stopped drinking after 24 years, if he weren't a recovering alcoholic.

"I wouldn't be coaching or teaching at Cardinal Newman," Bonfigli said. "My sponsor told me I'd be in an institution, a hospital or dead. He's probably right."

Those dark destinations were once impossible to imagine. He grew up in Santa Rosa and cleared tables at the legendary Lena's, a Santa Rosa bar and restaurant named for his grandmother.

A 1971 Newman graduate, a 1975 Santa Clara graduate in political science, Bonfigli was going to be a lawyer when an unsolicited call came. Would he be an assistant coach at Newman in football, basketball and track? Bonfigli loved it and the kids loved him. In 1980, he became the head basketball coach. After 14 years he had a 280-103 record. He had become a fixture.

"I was a functioning alcoholic," Bonfigli said. "I partied. I raised heck. I was obnoxious, judgmental, condescending. I knew I drank too much but I didn't see it as critical. I was doing my job."

A week before school was to begin in August 1994, then-Newman principal Tom Beecher called Bonfigli into his office. Bonfigli had a clause in his teaching contract unique to him that prohibited alcohol consumption. Beecher asked Bonfigli if he had a drink during the summer. Bonfigli said he had.


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