'Grampster' John Cianciolo remembered: 'Greatest coach no one ever heard of'

By Bill Althaus
John Cianciolo, center, visits with his granddaughter, Missouri commit Grace Slaughter, right, and Grace’s parents, Bryan and Becky Slaughter, following a Grain Valley victory at Oak Grove in 2020. Cianciolo, a popular youth coach in Independence, passed away from brain cancer on Jan. 4.

A member of the Eastern Jackson County coaching fraternity called John Cianciolo “the greatest coach no one ever heard of.”

His four grandchildren simply called him “Grampster.”

And anyone who crossed paths with Cianciolo over the past 67 years simply called themselves lucky. He lost his battle with brain cancer on Jan. 4.

The moment Grace Slaughter scored her single-game school record 45th point against Raytown High School, she looked toward the heavens as if to say, ‘Grampster, this one’s for you.”

As she was congratulated after the game, the University of Missouri commit said, “I wish he could have been here, but I know he was looking down from the best seat in the house.”

Jakes Kates, the boys basketball coach William Chrisman High School, called it an honor to coach alongside Cianciolo when his son Tey (now a varsity member of the Bears) was on the same team as Keagan Hart (Cianciolo’s grandson who is now a varsity player on the Grain Valley team).

John Cianciolo, middle, and his wife Brenda, right, share a special moment with their grandchildren, from left, Olivia and Grace Slaughter and Keagan and Morgan Hart following Grace's game at Grain Valley High School. John, a longtime youth coach in Independence, passed away Jan. 4 after a 22-month battle with brain cancer.

“John was the greatest coach no one ever heard of because all he cared about were the kids and making them better individuals and players,” Kates said. “He and a friend of mine, Rob Garmon, coached a team of baseball players who wanted to play basketball. John asked me to help coach the team, and it was one of the great experiences of my life. I learned so much from John – life lessons you never forget.”

John Cianciolo was 'the perfect grandpa' to family

“Grampster” was 67 when he lost a 22-month battle with brain cancer. He was the type of grandfather most kids can only dream about – yet he was the real deal to Grace Slaughter and her sister Olivia (softball) and their cousins Keagan (football, basketball and baseball) and Morgan (softball) Hart.

His family said he loved his job as an electrician, his ’58 Corvettes, 8-track tapes, Mizzou basketball and the Lake of the Ozarks, but those passions pale in comparison to the love he had for his family.

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He dated Brenda Morgan for six weeks before they eloped Dec. 4, 1975. They were married 45 years before he passed away Jan. 4 with his family at his bedside.

Although family members had to help him into the stadium or gym and then find a place in the bleachers, John never missed an event – whether it was sports or family related.

“He held on for our anniversary and to watch his grandchildren play sports,” Brenda said. “How he loved watching his grandkids, just like he loved watching Becky and Jennifer.”

He coached his daughters Becky, a two-time final four point guard for Pete Hile’s Truman High School girls basketball teams, and Jennifer, a premier softball pitcher who played for the late Steve Broughton at Truman.

“John loved his girls,” Brenda said. “But he was strict – oh, was he strict.”

His son-in-law Bryan Slaughter, the husband of Becky and father of Grace and Olivia, grinned and nodded in agreement.

“I think I won him over because I was brave enough to ask Becky out and come to the house and meet him,” Bryan said. “I won him over – but it took a while.”

Brenda chuckled, and added, “So many boys told our girls, ‘Your dad’s not very nice.’ But he was just watching out for them. And he loved and was so proud of Bryan and Brandon (Hart, the Grain Valley activities director who married Jennifer).”

When asked about their grandfather, the answers were varied and loving.

“He was the perfect grandpa,” said Keagan, a member of The Examiner’s All-Area football team as a sophomore defensive back. “I bet he threw me a baseball or passed a football with me 10,000 times.”

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Added Morgan, “He made each one of us feel like we were his favorite. We all loved going on vacations and being around him and Grandma.”

Olivia said, “He loved being with all of us and he loved ice cream. If we went anywhere with Grandpa, we knew we’d get ice cream.”

Grace — a sophomore all-state guard who has already verbally committed to Grampster’s favorite school, the University of Missouri — said it’s special to look in the stands – home or away – and see her family.

“For years, every game I played, my entire family was there,” Grace said. “I wouldn’t be who I am today without my family. It is so amazing to come from a family with so much love. We really do love and care for each other.

“And it’s tough not seeing Grampster in the stands, but I know he’s watching and he has the best seats in the house.”

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Memorial scholarship for Grain Valley High School students

The Cianciolo, Slaughter and Hart families are creating the John Cianciolo Athlete of Character Memorial Scholarship for students at Grain Valley High School, because all four of his grandchildren will attend Grain Valley.

The family is trying to raise $10,000 to fund the scholarship and carry on Cianciolo’s legacy. Donations can be made out to: Truman Heartland Foundation and write ‘John Cianciolo Memorial Scholarship’ in the memo line of the check. The can be mailed to: Grain Valley School District, Attention: Education Foundation, PO Box 304, Grain Valley Missouri, 64029 (all donations are tax deductible and will receive a receipt for the donation).

“My dad really loved coaching youth and building character,” Becky Slaughter said. “One of his passions was coaching youth sports and building character in young kids. That is why we created the foundation to reward kids who show high character during athletics.”