Despite the fact that he’s not a native of either Warren or Bristol, 80-year-old Tom Fullen has been treated like a hometown hero ever since he arrived in Bristol in 2006.
Despite the fact that he’s not a native of either Warren or Bristol, 80-year-old Tom Fullen has been treated like a hometown hero ever since he arrived in Bristol from his native Swissvale, Pa. (a suburb of Pittsburgh) in 2006.
Recently, Tom received a statewide award at the State House as a 2023 Cox Communications Outstanding Coaches recipient. It was an honor he admittedly never expected to get. He also received $1,000 to be given to the organization of his choice.
“Half the money went to Special Olympics Unified Basketball, and the other half was presented to the Mt. Hope High School Boosters Club,” he announced. “The award was totally unexpected.”
Mt. Hope High School Athletic Director Christy Belisle said Fullen has had a great, positive influence on the athletes he’s come in contact with over the years.
“Tom is one of the great competitors in the world who uses sports to teach foundations in life as much as basketball,” she noted. “He has worked with some of our most talented athletes who have gone on to play in college and our most vulnerable, and he pushed them all to be better. For Tom, this is a sort of lifetime achievement award for someone who loves the game and loves working with kids. As he slows his coaching career, this kind of acknowledgment that he's done real good work along the way is well deserved and vindication of a life dedicated to kids and a ball made of leather. The Huskies were lucky to have Tom choose Bristol-Warren as one of his stops along the way.”
Fullen’s impact on students at the high school has never gone unnoticed by those who have interacted with this truly humble man over the years. Just ask former Mt. Hope High Principal Dr. Deborah DiBiase.
“I am so happy that Tom was honored,” she said. “He is so deserving. Tom is the most caring and loving person you will ever meet and he always puts the kids first. You always see him at games supporting all the sports programs at Mt. Hope.”
“Coach Tom has touched almost every program at Mt. Hope and many at Kickemuit Middle School,” she added. “He is a gentle giant who has made champions throughout the district. To see him interact with the Unified Basketball team has been inspirational, to say the least. He cares deeply for all his athletes and has taught them to make good life choices and play with integrity. He embodies the spirit of Mt. Hope.”
Tom’s athletic odyssey actually began at home in Pennsylvania, coming from a basketball family, where his father, Ed Fullen, starred in the sport and later became a police officer and eventually the Chief of Police.
“He set the tone for me and my brothers (Jack and Jim),” said Fullen. “We all played on division winning teams.”
When he came to Mt. Hope, Tom helped then-coach Mike Topazio with the boys’ basketball team in 2007 and assisted Bill St. Vincent with the freshman boys’ basketball program for two years. In 2010, Tom got the freshman boys’ basketball job.
Tom also coached for awhile at Tiverton High School in 2012, but also coached the Kickemuit Middle School girls’ team for three years. Since 2015, he’s been the Mt. Hope freshman boys’ basketball coach.
In 2010, he was named an assistant coach of the first Unified basketball team at Mt. Hope High. The next year, he was named head coach of the team.
“I can’t tell you what those kids have meant to me all these past years,” he said with tears in his eyes. “It’s been the most enjoyable experience I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Tom Fullen, a 2022 inductee in the Bristol Athletic Hall of Fame, put the award in perspective of his long and storied career.
“This most recent award I’ve received from the Governor was more rewarding than being in the Hall of Fame,” he said.
“I want to thank Coaches Kerri Giarusso, Jeff Grifka, Bill St. Vincent, and Mike Topazio for everything they’ve done for me,” he said. “And a special thank you to Athletic Director Christy Belisle who gave me the opportunity to coach.”
When Tom Fullen isn’t coaching, you can find him driving around the Thomas Vendituoli Athletic Complex setting up Dietz Field for various sporting events. He’s the guy with the great big smile from ear-to-ear and billowing white hair.