2012 Dinner of Champions
Celebrating 51 years of excellence!
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
|2012 Sportsmen of Westport honorees||2012 Sportsmen of Westport scholarship recipients|
|Jeb Backus (Sportsmen Award), Rich Franzis (William A. Krause, Jr. Humanitarian Award), Mike Breen (Sportsmen Award), Joseph Nixon (PAL Award), Suzanne Allen Redpath (Sportsmen Award), Nicholas Garoffolo (Coaching Award), George Barrett (Sportsmen Award), Andrew Lobsenz (Sportsmen Award) & Janet Zamary (Citizenship Award).||Mikolaj Kulas, Michael Garrity, Maeve Flaherty, Peter Bonenfant & Thomas Jenkins|
Presenting the 2012 honorees... click name for bios coming soon
|Jeb Backus||George Barrett||Mike Breen||Rich Franzis||Nick Garoffolo|
|Andrew Lobsenz||Joe Nixon||Suzanne Allen Redpath||Janet Zamary|
|All bios written by George Albano, assistant sports editor and columnist at The Hour Newspaper in Norwalk, CT.|
Jeb Backus (Staples class of '81)
Growing up in Westport, Jeb Backus never met a baseball diamond he didn’t like; or didn’t excel on. He certainly played on plenty of them, rising through the ranks from the Westport Little League, Junior and Senior Babe Ruth leagues, the Westport Advertisers, and finally Staples High School before becoming an All-American in college.
One of this year’s five Sportsmen Award recipients, Backus truly defines the term “chip off the old block.” Tonight’s honor comes 23 years after his father, Ed Backus, received the same award from the Sportsmen of Westport in 1989.
Making the award even more special for the younger Backus is the fact that he was nominated for it by the late Junior Bieling in what turned out to be one of Bieling’s last tasks in his many years of service as a member of the Sportsmen before passing away in March.
Backus began his love affair with baseball in 1972 as a nine year-old in the Westport LL “Minors” where he played for Corsairs and one of his coaches was Carmen Arciola, a 2011 Sportsmen Award winner.
One year later, Backus moved up to the Major Division and played centerfield and pitched for the Jaguars for three years, making the Westport Little League all-stars each season.
The talented Backus would make all-star teams the next six years as well in Westport’s Babe Ruth program, where he played three years with VFW in Junior Babe Ruth and then three years of Senior Babe Ruth baseball with the American Legion. As a 16-year-old, he helped the Legion team win the 1979 town championship.
In the summer of 1981, in addition to his Senior Babe Ruth duties, Backus played centerfield for the Westport Advertisers coached by Red Izzo, his former Junior Babe Ruth coach with VFW.
Backus, a 1981 Staples graduate, also played centerfield and pitched for the Wreckers as a junior and senior, and hit one of the team’s three home runs his final season.
But it was on the collegiate level where Backus really shined. He played three seasons of varsity baseball at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla., and as a senior in 1987 was named to the NAIA All-District, All-Regional and All-American teams.
Backus was also named the MVP of the NAIA District 25 tournament after pitching a six-hit shutout in the championship game and batting .583 with two home runs and eight RBIs in five games. When Flagler College formed an Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004, Backus was part of the inaugural class inducted.
While in college, he also played for the Valdosta (Ga.) Red Sox, a high-level amateur team in the National Baseball Congress. Backus helped the Sox win the 1985 NBC Georgia state championship, NBC southeast regional title, and finish fifth at the NBC national tournament in Wichita, Kansas. He was named to the Georgia all-state and Southeast All-Region teams.
But baseball wasn’t the only sport Backus excelled in. He also played football at Staples, where as a senior in 1980 he set five school records, including most interceptions in a game (four) and season (eight), longest interception return for a touchdown (96 yards), longest fumble return for a TD (also 96 yards) and most interception returns for a touchdown. Some of those records still stand.
When his baseball days were over, Backus turned to softball and during the 1980’s helped Sonny’s of Westport win four ASA Class ‘A’ state championships and qualify for six national tournaments, finishing in the top-10 four times.
He played in five more national tournaments from 1990-94 with Midas Touch Jewelers of Fairfield, which won the Triple Crown Class ‘A’ national title in Colorado in 1993. Backus also helped the St. Ann’s softball team win a pair of Norwalk City League championships and hit .903 (28-for-31) in a 1998 Class B national qualifying tournament in New Hampshire.
If that wasn’t enough, Backus played for Fly Juice of Westport/Norwalk, which captured three ASA Over-35 state titles in 1998, ’99 and 2001.
Another highlight came in 1994 when Backus was invited to participate in the Michael Bolton Charity Softball Game and a home run hitting contest at Cubeta Stadium. In the final round, Backus belted nine homeruns in a row to outslug major leaguer Barry Bonds 19-18 in total homers and win the contest.
Backus is still involved with sports in his community, only now as an assistant coach in the Westport Little League and Westport PAL Football— the same programs he started playing in nearly 40 years ago. In 2008, the Westport fourth-grade Wreckers he helped coach won the Fairfield County Football League championship with a 10-0-1 record, while his Little League team, the Ravens, captured the “AA” town title with a 19-0 mark.
This year Backus will serve as head coach of the Westport Wreckers 12-U travel baseball team, and is still on the board of directors with both Westport Little League and Westport PAL. Professionally, he has worked at YMCAs in Wilton, Stratford and Norwalk, and is currently the Senior Program Director at the Lakewood-Trumbull YMCA. He is also the owner of ‘Stars of the Future Youth Baseball Instruction.’
Backus and his wife Karen and their two children reside in Westport.
- George Albano
George Barrett (Staples class of '73)
After all, it was no accident that Barrett was selected as a captain in all three sports, soccer, basketball and baseball, when he played on North Avenue in the early 1970s.
“From my junior high years through my time at Staples and into college sports, on virtually every team, I was selected by my teammates to be captain of the team,” Barrett, who now lives in Columbus, Ohio, wrote on his Sportsmen biography form. “Looking back, perhaps my teammates saw in me, not only someone who demanded a lot of himself, but also someone who brought out the best in them, inspired positive belief and a commitment to excellence, and perhaps most important, a person who put team over self.”
Some four decades later, that description of Barrett still holds true today.
“All of my best memories of my sports career are associated with team moments — accomplishments, challenges, disappointments and maybe most profound, the overcoming of adversity,” he added. “I think these are the things I bring to my daily life as a leader today.”
George Barrett certainly compiled a number of fond memories during his time at Staples. Two of them came in soccer as a junior in the fall of 1971 and as a senior in ’72. The Wreckers swept the FCIAC and state championships each year and Barrett was not only a captain on both teams, but was named the team MVP as a junior. He was also selected to the All-FCIAC first team that season, but missed most of his senior campaign with season-ending surgery.
The two state championships were the third and fourth of the five straight state titles Staples won from 1969-73.
Barrett was also a three-year varsity player on the Wreckers’ basketball team and as a senior was team captain, the starting point guard, and a New York Daily News All-Southern Connecticut Honorable Mention selection.
He was also named first-team All-FCIAC in baseball back to back years, selected as a shortstop his junior season and as a third baseman his senior year when he was also named all-state and a captain in his third sport.
Following his graduation in 1973, Barrett attended Brown University where he was a varsity defender and midfielder on the varsity soccer team and helped the Bears win the Ivy League championship and reach the NCAA quarterfinals. His collegiate career was cut short, however, due to an injury his junior year.
After his playing days, Barrett stayed close to sports through coaching, spending one year as an assistant varsity baseball coach at The Collegiate School in New York City. He then spent four seasons (1978-81) as the head soccer coach and assistant baseball coach at Horace Mann School, a college preparatory school also located in NYC. Under Barrett’s leadership, the Lions won a league championship in soccer.
More than a decade later, in the mid-1990s, Barrett showed he hadn’t lost his athleticism or competitive nature by playing tennis and being ranked in the USTA Middle States Section in the men’s 35-and-over age group.
In addition to his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown in 1977 and an MBA from New York University in 1988, Barrett also holds an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Long Island University’s Arnold & Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
During his career in the healthcare field, Barrett has served as president of U.S. Pharmaceuticals from 1994-97; president of NMC Laboratories; president of Teva USA from 1999 to 2004; president and CEO of North America for Teva Pharmaceutical from 2005-07; and during 2007 was corporate executive vice president of the company’s Global Pharmaceutical Markets.
He joined Cardinal Health, Inc., in 2008 and is currently chairman and chief executive officer of the company, which is ranked No. 19 on the Fortune 500 and dedicated to improving the cost-effectiveness of health care. He has also received the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor for his work in the healthcare field.
Tonight will be a reunion of sorts for Barrett, who will be joining several former teammates who were also honored by the Sportsmen of Westport, including Bob Uly, Dana Hollingsworth, Mike Calise, Mark Cizynski, Ed and Dennis Murphy, and Jim Deegan.
Barrett and his wife, the former Debbie Neimeth, have three children.
- George Albano
The Staples High School wrestling program has produced its share of outstanding, dominant champions in the four and a half decades it’s been around.
The name Michael Breen is somewhere near the top of that impressive list.
Breen, a 1983 SHS graduate and one of tonight’s Sportsmen Award winners, was without question one of the best wrestlers to ever wear the Staples singlet.
All he did was win three straight Class LL state titles and three straight State Open championships. And he did it at three different weights: 112 pounds as a sophomore, 119 as a junior, and 126 pounds his senior year.
There’s no telling how much more decorated his scholastic career would have been if Staples had a freshmen class like so many other high schools did when Breen was in ninth grade.
“My prediction is he would’ve been a four-time state champ,” said John Chacho, who was Breen’s coach at Staples as well as his Westport PAL coach and physical education teacher at Bedford Junior High School. “At that time, we had a junior high school system that went through ninth grade. When Mike was in ninth grade, I had nobody at 98 pounds and we petitioned the Board of Ed to let him come up and wrestle for Staples.
“He would have still gone to school at Bedford and just wrestled for us. But they wouldn’t allow it.”
Instead, Breen had to wait a year before embarking on a brilliant three-year career. When he finally arrived at Staples, he wasted no time making his presence known.
As a sophomore in 1981, he went 11-3 in the regular season and finished third at the FCIAC Championships. He saved his best for last, however, as he captured the Class LL 112-pound state title with a 13-1 superior decision over Joe Scollo of Southington in the finals, and then beat Scollo again by an 8-0 major decision the following week in the State Open final.
The three losses that year would be the only time Breen would taste defeat in high school as he would put together back to back unbeaten seasons his junior and senior years.
As a junior in 1982, he went a perfect 15-0 in the regular season and added 11 more wins in the postseason, including a 10-2 major decision in the FCIAC 119-pound finals, an 8-3 decision in the Class LL final, and an 11-1 major decision in the Open finals. He was also named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the Class LL meet.
Then as a senior in ’83, Breen went 14-0 at 126 pounds as he led the Wreckers to the Eastern Division crown, a third-place finish at the FCIAC Championships, and a fifth-place showing at the Class LL state meet.
And again he did his best wrestling in the postseason, starting with his second FCIAC title in a row following a 10-2 major decision in the finals. He won a third straight Class LL state title and second consecutive Most Outstanding Wrestler award with a 14-0 superior decision in the finals.
He capped off his memorable high school career the following weekend with his third straight State Open championship while earning High School All-American honors.
Breen accomplished all this in his career not only without the benefit of a fourth year, but with a limited schedule compared to today. Back when he was wrestling, teams barely scheduled more than 15-to-20 dual meets a season, while tri-meets and quad-meets were unheard of.
“They wouldn’t let us have multi meets back then,” Chacho pointed out.
But Breen was able to top the 100-victory plateau by wrestling three straight summers with the Connecticut National Team that competed in the Freestyle and Greco Roman Wrestling tournaments in Iowa, serving as team captain his senior year.
“He was the most sought-after wrestler in the state by college coaches,” Chacho noted.
Breen ended up choosing Western New England College in Springfield, but a reoccurring knee injury that would have required surgery convinced him to not wrestle in college.
“The wrestling coach at Western New England, Rob Skelton, told me nobody would have measured up to Mike if he was able to wrestle in college,” Chacho said.
But perhaps no coach knew Mike Breen better than Chacho himself.
”I started with him in second or third grade and I stayed with him the whole way,” the former PAL and Staples coach said. “I had him in the PAL program and then in junior high. Even though I was the coach at Staples, wrestling was part of my gym class curriculum and Mike was the junior high champ.”
Breen fondly remembers those days, too.
“Coach Chacho progressed with me the whole way,” he said. “He was my coach in the town program, then at Bedford Junior High, and when he went to Staples I followed right along. He’s been with me forever.
“I would have to attribute a lot of my success to Coach Chacho.”
He also has to give a little credit to his older brother Jamie Breen, who was a standout wrestler at Staples from 1975-77.
“I originally learned how to wrestle from my brother through self defense,” the younger Breen laughed. “He’s five years older and he won states twice. That was my incentive to win it three times.”
Breen now lives in Cumberland, Rhode Island, and has been an assistant coach with the Cumberland High School wrestling team since 2004, compiling a record of 91-20 and winning two state titles in that time.
Married to the former Susan Dyson, the father of two daughters, he has also been a youth lacrosse coach and later treasurer of the Cumberland HS girls lacrosse program.
Breen is currently the marketing director of the Anchor Auto Group in Rhode Island after previously working in marketing with Cox Communications (1999-2003) in Warwick, R.I., and with the Golf Channel (1997-99) in Boston.
- George Albano
But for one weekend of month and two weeks every summer, he serves his country as a member of the United States Army Reserve. Not to mention the one full year of active duty he spent in Iraq.
But tonight his only duty is to receive the William A. Krause Jr. Humanitarian Award from the Sportsmen of Westport.
Franzis should feel right at home among so many former athletes. A 1973 graduate of Shelton High School, Franzis was a standout offensive tackle for the Gaels and as a senior in the fall of 1972 he was both an All-Housatonic League and All-Housatonic Valley first-team selection and made the New Haven Register all-state second team.
One of his teammates while at Shelton was former Westport Police Chief Al Fiore, recipient of last year’s Westport PAL Award from the Sportsmen.
Franzis says many of the values he learned through playing football still help him today.
“The work ethic and team work that were ingrained in me playing football for Coach George Martin at Shelton High School unquestionably served as the foundation for any and all academic or personal success that I may have accomplished throughout my life,” Franzis wrote on his Sportsmen bio form. “That ‘never quit, never give up’ attitude has been indispensible to me, both in my civilian life and in my 30-year military career.
“The leadership and life lessons that I learned at Lafayette Field in Shelton were very much a transferrable skill throughout my life,” he added. “That experience had such a profound impact. In fact, during my year in Iraq, I personally flew a flag over my unit’s headquarters and mailed it to one of the team captains from my high school team who was named that year as the head coach for an inner-city high school program. I did this even though I hadn’t seen him in nearly 35 years.”
“In the conditions of Iraq during 2007-2008, I had a great deal of time to reflect and to take stock of those times in my life that were formative and invaluable, and without question my time spent playing high school football was one of the most valuable, foundational experiences of my life.”
That experience has come in handy during the 30 years Franzis has been in the Army Reserves. For the first quarter of a century, he was part of what was known as “Strategic Reserve,” or the one-weekend-a-month, two-weeks-a-summer format that those in the Reserve were accustomed to.
But since 9/11, the Army Reserve has transformed to an “Operational Reserve,” fully integrated in the current Global War on Terror. Franzis was mobilized on active duty for over 18 months as the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence for the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC) and was deployed to Iraq from June 2007 through June of 2008 as part of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
Franzis was one of six officers on the primary staff of Brigadier General Greg Couch, commander of the 316th ESC, which was composed of roughly 20,000 soldiers. The mission of the 316th ESC was resupply of every commodity necessary to execute the “Surge” in 2007 and 2008. At any one time, the 316th had 2,000 vehicles and up to 6,000 soldiers on what Franzis described as “arguably the most dangerous road network in the world at that time,” and that during its time in Iraq “the command lost 20 soldiers.”
Franzis’ responsibilities in Iraq were to oversee the intelligence sections of five subordinate brigades throughout all of the multi-national areas of Iraq, as well as be the commanding general’s subject matter expert on enemy threats directed against sustainment operations and logistics bases.
In 2009, the 316th ESC was awarded the Meritorious Unit Citation for distinguished service in the Iraqi Theater of Operations.
Franzis has served in command positions as a company commander, a captain, a battalion commander, and as both a Major and Lieutenant Colonel. He was promoted to Colonel in the United States Army Reserve in 2009 and currently commands Detachment 1, Central Command, Army Reserve Element (Intelligence), located in FT Devens, MA.
Detachment 1 specializes in human intelligence and counterintelligence, and directly supports the Joint Human Intelligence Section at United States Central Command headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. It was awarded the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Meritorious Unit Citation in 2009 for vetting over 15,000 Iraqi detainees for either release or continued confinement as the U.S. began to draw down combat operations in Iraq.
Franzis’ other military awards include the Bronze Star Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terror Service Medal. He also received two Meritorious Service Medals for command at the lieutenant colonel and colonel level, and two Army Commendation Medals for service as a battalion staff officer and company commander.
He is in his 14th year as Dean of Students and assistant principal at Staples, and prior to that was the assistant principal at Brookfield High School. He was also a science teacher at three schools in Shelton, Stratford and Trumbull, before becoming a Chemistry and Biology teacher and Science Department coordinator at Darien High School.
Franzis is the eighth recipient of the William A. Krause Jr. Humanitarian Award, named in honor of Billy Krause, the former Sportsmen president and for years one of the driving force behind the annual Dinner of Champions.
Rich and his wife, Maryanne, reside in Shelton. Rich has three children, Liz, Kate, and James.
- George Albano
Nick Garoffolo (Staples class of '77)
Nick Garoffolo continues a Staples High School wrestling tradition tonight when he receives the Coaching Award from the Sportsmen of Westport.
The 1977 Staples graduate, who wrestled for and later coached the Wreckers, is following in the footsteps of three other former SHS head wrestling coaches who received the same award from the Sportsmen: John Chacho in 1977, Saul Pollack in 2007 and Kevin Lippert in 2010.
Garoffolo wrestled for Pollack, coached with Chacho, and coached against Lippert. Tonight he joins all three in the same special Sportsmen fraternity.
Like his predecessors, this year’s Coaching Award recipient has built his own impressive resume as a head coach, first at Staples in his former hometown and for the past eight years at Fairfield Ludlowe High School in his new hometown.
Born in New York, Garoffolo’s association with wrestling began at Long Lots Junior High School in 1972-73. He also played baseball and football at Long Lots, but it was apparent even then which sport would be in his future.
Garoffolo went on to wrestle at Staples where as a junior he was a member of the Wreckers’ 1976 unbeaten FCIAC championship team that finished runner-up at the Class LL state tournament.
Then as a senior in ’77, he racked up 20 victories in the 185 lb.weight class and some in the heavyweight class to help Staples finish second in the FCIAC tournament and repeat as state runner-up. He capped off his scholastic career by winning the team’s Most Improved Wrestler Award.
Garoffolo then wrestled at the University of Lowell before transferring to the University of Bridgeport, where he helped start a wrestling club and was captain of the inaugural team. A year later, he won the 1983 New England freestyle wrestling championship in the 180.5-pound Open division, while 10 years later, at the age of 34, he placed second in the 1993 Connecticut Nutmeg Games in the 190-pound Open division.
It was also in 1983 that Garoffolo began his coaching career as an assistant under Chacho at Staples and together they guided the Wreckers to the 1985 FCIAC championship.
After three seasons as an assistant, Garoffolo took over as head coach in 1986 and over the next eight years led the Wreckers to seven East Division titles, six FCIAC tournament runner-up finishes, a Class L state championship in 1990, and back to back State Open runner-up finishes in 1990 and ’91.
He was honored as the FCIAC Coach of the Year 1990, and during his watch the Wreckers also finished second in Class L in 1991, third in 1992 and ’93, and sixth in New England in 1991. In eight seasons, he compiled a glossy record of 111-50.
Garoffolo stepped down as head coach after the 1993 season, but stayed involved with wrestling in town as a coach with the successful Westport PAL Wrestling program and later with the newly formed Fairfield PAL program in his hometown.
Then in 2004-05 when Fairfield High School split into two high schools, Garoffolo became the first head coach of the Fairfield Ludlowe wrestling team. Just three years later, he guided the Falcons to a runner-up finish in the 2008 FCIAC tournament, and in eight seasons has won another 93 matches, giving him 204 total victories in his career.
Garoffolo also played baseball growing up in Westport and was a four-time all-star in the Westport PAL Babe Ruth program. A first baseman and pitcher, he helped lead Boccanfuso Brothers to a pair of Senior Babe Ruth town championships, pitching and winning the deciding game one of those years.
He also pitched and played first base at Staples and later for the Westport Advertisers in the Senior City League. He eventually switched to softball and helped Burndy finish second in the 1983 Industrial League state tournament and sixth at nationals.
Garoffolo, a father of three, later coached youth baseball and recreation soccer in Westport and Fairfield where he and wife, Jean, currently reside.
- George Albano
Andrew Lobsenz (Staples class of '85)
Staples High School has won eight FCIAC championships in the sport of wrestling, which is more than any other school except for perennial power, Danbury.
Andrew Lobsenz, one of tonight’s five Sportsmen Award winners, was one of the key reasons behind the Wreckers’ last league title in 1985.
Lobsenz was a three-year varsity wrestler at Staples, competing at 138 pounds as a sophomore in 1983 for a team that won the East Division title and finished third in the FCIAC. One of his teammates and the senior co-captain on that squad was Mike Breen, who is also receiving a Sportsmen Award tonight.
As a junior in 1984, Lobsenz moved up to 155 pounds and finished runner-up in both the FCIAC and Class LL state tournaments while placing fourth in New England. That was just a prelude to a huge senior year which saw Lobsenz return at 155 pounds and help Staples go 12-1 during the FCIAC dual-meet season.
Lobsenz lost his opening match of the season against Trumbull’s Ross Mostrorocco. That would also be the Wreckers’ only FCIAC loss as the Eagles finished 13-0 to win the East Division. Lobsenz would win his next 21 matches and reach the FCIAC finals, where he met Mostrorocco in a rematch.
Trumbull had five wrestlers in the finals and Staples four, but that was the only weight class where the two teams met head to head. Going into the 155-pound final, Staples led Trumbull by one point, 157.5 to 156.5, and a Trumbull win of any kind would’ve clinched the crown for the Eagles.
But Lobsenz posted a third-round pin in 4:43 to avenge his only loss, capture the 155-pound FCIAC title, and give Staples a 163.5-156.5 lead. In fact, the two extra team points he earned with the pin turned out to be the difference in the final scoring as the Wreckers edged Trumbull 163.5 to 162.5 to win their eighth FCIAC championship.
Lobsenz, who would also earn first-team All-FCIAC honors, finished third at the Class LL state meet the following weekend.
His coach at Staples and before that with the Westport PAL wrestling program was John Chacho, who was honored by the Sportsmen of Westport in 1977 with the Coaching Award. That 1985 season was Chacho’s sixth and final year as Staples coach and he also stepped down after 14 years directing the PAL program.
The assistant coach during Lobsenz’ three years with the Wreckers was Nick Garoffolo, who is receiving the Sportsmen’s Coaching Award tonight. He replaced Chacho as head wrestling coach at Staples the following season.
The summer after his senior year, Lobsenz won the state freestyle championship. He also competed at 165 pounds for the Connecticut Junior National Team and finished 10th at the Freestyle Junior Nationals and 12th at the Greco Roman Junior Nationals.
The 1985 Staples grad went on to have a successful four-year collegiate career at Boston University, wrestling varsity a 167 pounds as a freshman. As a sophomore in 1986-87, Lobsenz was named a captain and moved up to 177 pounds, where he finished third in the Colonial Conference and helped BU win the conference team title.
He was the conference runner-up at 177 his junior year, while as a senior in 1988-89 he was named captain a third straight year and captured the Colonial Conference individual championship. He also took first at the Albany Open and was runner-up at the Coast Guard Academy Invitational.
In between his junior and senior years, Lobsenz wrestled at the University World Games in the USSR and finished fifth in the 180.5-pound weight class.
With his wrestling days behind him, Lobsenz became a competitive Category 3, or “Cat 3” cyclist, in his mid-30s. In 2004, he finished first at the North Atlantic Time Trial Championships, while placing third in 2003 and ’05, and fifth in 2006.
He also won the Bethel Spring Series championship in 2005, while finishing second in 2004 and third in ’06. Also in 2006, he won the Harriman Road Race.
A father of two, Lobsenz now lives in Fairfield with his wife, the former Sylvie Martinez, and he is an executive vice president with Dun and Bradstreet. He has also remained close to his favorite sport by coaching in the Fairfield PAL wrestling program since 2002. During that time he has coached 23 state place winners and 10 New England place winners, including six state medalists and four New England medalists in the recently concluded 2012 season.
“Andy has always had a passion and love for the sport,” Chacho, his former PAL and Staples coach, said. “He started young and kept going. He still has that passion.”
- George Albano
How does someone who grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and went to a high school that offered only one sport end up in the Westport PAL program?
Joe Nixon found a way and tonight he is the recipient of the Sportsmen of Westport PAL Award.
“I’ve been involved with the PAL for about 15 years,” he said. “My wife got me involved. She was a volunteer with the Sons of Italy when they had the Italian Festival and she saw a booth the PAL had and told me about it.”
Nixon’s journey to Westport, however, began in Peckville, Pa., where he was born in 1938 and graduated from tiny St. Patrick’s High School in Olyphant, Pa., in 1956.
“There were only 37 kids in my graduating class and basketball was the only sport we had,” he said. “I played a little in high school, but then I hurt my knee and I never played that much after that.”
Instead Nixon became the varsity basketball manager from 1953-56, and then attended Scranton University where he earned his degree in Economics and spent two years in the ROTC program.
Following his graduation in 1960, Nixon spent six months of active duty in Fort Knox, Ky., and Fort Jackson, S.C. When he was done, he heard about a small town in Connecticut called Westport and moved there in 1961. .
“I had an uncle who lived here and he told me there were more job opportunities and that I should move up here.”
Nixon took his advice and began a 40-year career as a sales representative with Liberty Mutual Insurance. He also arranged to serve the balance of his six-year obligation in the Connecticut National Guard.
“I was in the National Guard unit in Pennsylvania with the 109th Infantry and when I moved up here I transferred to the Connecticut National Guard in Norwalk,” he explained.
He also married his high school sweetheart in 1961 and he and Maureen had four children. After Maureen passed away in 1991, Nixon married Kathy Acquino in 1993 and together she and Joe have six children and eight grandchildren.
That’s how Nixon became aware of the Westport Little League and from 1969 to 1980 he served as a volunteer umpire.
“My kids were in Little League, but because I never played many sports growing up I didn’t think I could coach. So I volunteered to be an umpire,” he explained. “Most of the people who coach have some kind of sports background. I always felt I couldn’t coach, but I could help out in some other way.”
During the time Nixon umpired, he also volunteered to be the Westport LL equipment manager from 1969-75. With over a thousand kids in the program, Nixon stored all the equipment in his basement.
“I took care of the equipment for the whole town,” he said. “There was not much room for anything else in my basement.”
Over the years, Nixon became involved with a number of other volunteer-fueled organizations in Westport, including the Westport/Weston United Way, the Church of the Assumption, St. Luke’s Church, the Westport Rotary, the Westport Sons of Italy, and, of course, the Westport PAL.
“When I got involved I helped out with the fireworks by selling tickets. I still sell tickets,” he said. “I also help cook at our golf tournament, I help out with the Christmas party every year, and I’ve been helping out with our Halloween party.
“The Westport PAL does a tremendous job with kids.”
Nixon is also a regular at almost every Staples High School football game, home and away, and attends other sporting events at the school as well.
“High school sports are great.”
During his four decades with Liberty Mutual, Nixon had offices in Bridgeport and Trumbull. He was promoted to an executive sales rep in 1978, and in 1990 he was inducted into Liberty Mutual’s National Sales Hall of Fame. He retired in 2001.
In addition to all the miles he’s logged in Westport as a tireless volunteer, for the past 16 years Nixon has participated in the New York City 5 Borough Bike Tour, which covers 52 miles in NYC.
- George Albano
Suzanne Allen Redpath has covered some of the biggest and most important stories in the world during a 40-year award-winning career with CBS News. She credits her years at Staples High School and, in particular, her participation in sports for much of her success the last four decades.
“CBS let me see the world and cover some of the most important stories of my generation,” she said via email. “But in many ways, the passion I developed for television journalism began at Staples High School when I was chosen by The American Field Service (AFS) to be an exchange student to Portugal.”
For someone who had never left the east coast, never been on an ocean liner or airplane, Allen’s AFS experience changed her life.
“It allowed me to begin to figure out who I was, what I might become and how to be brave,” she added. “What also taught me to be brave, though, was competing in team sports at Staples — namely field hockey and track — under legendary coach Ginny Parker. If playing for Coach Parker didn’t make a person brave, absolutely nothing would.
“I’ll be forever grateful to her and everything she taught me about the importance of being a good competitor, a strong team player, working hard and never giving up.”
Tonight, Suzanne Allen, as she was known in high school, becomes the latest former Staples athlete who played for Parker to be honored by the Sportsmen of Westport. In fact, one of her former teammates, Mary Gail (Horelick) Gristina, received the same Sportsmen Award a year ago, while another, Kitty (Carlson) Larkworthy, was honored in 2008.
Like Carlson, Allen graduated from Staples in 1965, which was still seven years before Title IX, the federal law that assured gender equality in athletics, was adopted. But even though opportunities for girls in sports were rare in the mid ‘60s, it didn’t stop Allen from competing for the Wreckers.
In the fall, she started at left wing for the varsity field hockey team, while in the spring she ran the 100-yard dash and the anchor leg on the 440 relay team. She was also a class officer all three years at Staples. Her parents, the late John and ‘Buzz’ Allen, were both huge Staples sports fans who rarely missed a Wreckers football game.
Allen went on to attend Hollins College in Virginia where she majored in History and spent her junior year studying in Florence. She played field hockey at Hollins, continued to study dance, and even gave lacrosse a try.
She landed a job at CBS right out of college and before long joined the News Department, where she held a succession of jobs at the local station in New York. Allen eventually became a researcher for legendary news anchorman, Walter Cronkite, during Watergate and was the lone researcher in New York for the CBS Evening News assisting with coverage of the scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
As she did during her athletic days at Staples, Allen thrived under pressure in her new position. One example she cited was how Cronkite “would buzz me during commercials with a question and expect me to have the answer by the end of the commercial — roughly a two-minute period. Telling him I couldn’t answer the question was not an option.”
In the mid-1970s, Allen became a producer at the CBS Evening News, at the time the youngest producer on the staff. She produced a wide array of stories on politics, science, medicine, social issues and the arts. But not surprisingly, her favorite were sports stories.
Allen covered two America’s Cup challenges and was the lead CBS News producer at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. She was at the famous “Miracle on Ice” hockey game between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, which would be shown on tape delay later that evening during prime time.
When the U.S. team shocked the world by winning the game, Allen raced to a phone booth — mobile phones didn’t exist — and called Cronkite directly while the Evening News was in its last commercial.
“I screamed into the phone that the U.S. had won and gave him the score,” Allen recalled. “Cronkite barely had time to report the win before we went off the air, but he did and we were the only evening news broadcast to do so.”
Thanks to Allen, CBS even scooped ABC, which held the broadcast rights to the Olympics that year.
In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, CBS News began to send women on overseas assignments and into war zones and Allen eagerly stepped forward. One of the more memorable stories she covered was the Solidarity movement in Poland, which paved the way for the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and ultimately the Soviet Union. She served as the Warsaw bureau’s producer and acting bureau chief.
Allen was also sent to Argentina to cover the war between Argentina and Britain over control of the Falkland Islands. She eventually became the CBS Evening News Senior Producer for Foreign Coverage and oversaw broadcasts of historic events such as the democracy movement in China, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Persian Gulf War.
During her rapidly growing career, Suzanne Allen became Suzanne Allen Redpath and soon the mother of a small child, but she was still able to travel to different parts of the world on selected stories.
Since 1992, she has worked for the CBS News broadcast 48 Hours, first as a producer and now as the Senior Coordinating Producer and member of the senior staff. Her work includes coverage of Hurricane Katrina, last year’s Royal Wedding, and 9/11, which Redpath calls “the defining story of our time.”
She has won Emmy Awards for her news coverage and received the Alfred I. DuPont Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism from Columbia University.
She’s been married for 33 years to John Redpath, the former General Counsel of HBO and of Time Inc. They live in Manhattan and their daughter, Ann, works in finance in New York City.
As busy as she is, Suzanne still has time to follow sports. Because of Jeremy Lin, she recently became a Knicks fan.
- George Albano
Janet Zamary has been hanging around the Staples High School athletic complex for a quarter of a century.
The first 10 ½ years were spent as the first fulltime athletic trainer in school history from 1987-1998. The last 14 ½ years have been as a Physical Education teacher there.
But without question the last part of her journey has been the most rewarding experience at the Westport school. Since 2005, Zamary has been the Unified Sports coach at Staples, overseeing three sports a year — soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and track and field in the spring.
In that role, Zamary has touched and impacted the lives of countless students, and tonight the Sportsmen of Westport recognize that outstanding work by presenting her with its Citizenship Award.
But Zamary was hanging around gymnasiums and athletic fields long before she arrived at Staples. A native of Endicott, N.Y., she moved to Danbury in the fifth grade and later went to Danbury High School, where she was a three-sport athlete for the Hatters. Janet Bovaird, as she was known then, played four years of basketball, manning both the center and forward positions.
“When I was in junior high school, a teacher came up to me and said ‘Hey, we’re starting a basketball team and you’re tall. Do you want to play? ” she said. “That’s how I got started in basketball.”
Ironically, one of the players she competed against in the FCIAC, and also in summer league basketball, was Karen DeFelice of Staples, now Karen DeFelice During, the president of the Sportsmen of Westport.
“I graduated in 1981 and Karen in 1982, so we actually played against each other,” Zamary said.
She also competed in track and field all four years at Danbury with her best event being the discus, which she was an FCIAC qualifier in.
And despite having never picked up a field hockey stick until her junior year, Zamary made the Hatters’ varsity field hockey team and started at fullback her final two years. As a senior, she sustained a broken collar bone during a game against — you guessed it — Staples, the school she would end up at seven years later.
Zamary also threw the discus for the track team at Springfield College, but eventually gave up playing sports so she could work with athletes and teams instead to gain the 1,500 hours of athletic training study required for her national exam.
She graduated cum laude from Springfield in 1985, earning a Degree in Physical Education with a concentration in Athletic Training. Two years later, Zamary became the first fulltime Certified Athletic Trainer at Staples, and among the first hired in the FCIAC.
“Being the athletic trainer for 10 ½ years, there was never one day that I didn’t look forward to going to school to help and support the athletes,” Zamary wrote on her Sportsmen bio form. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with many of the best coaches in the state who go way above and beyond to support our kids. They put 200 percent into their work and they do it for all the right reasons.”
She continued working as the Wreckers’ athletic trainer until the older of her two daughters began kindergarten in 1998, at which point she started teaching physical education at Staples.
It was also around this time Zamary got her first taste of coaching. As her daughters were growing up, she coached both of them in the Newtown Parks and Recreation basketball program. Because they were in different age groups, Zamary ran back to back practices for their teams on Fridays and coached in two games every Saturday for five years, and an additional three years when only one daughter played.
When she stopped coaching basketball in 2008, Zamary became a volunteer EMT in the town of Newtown, which she continues to do and is usually on ambulance duty every Friday night.
In addition to making the transition from athletic trainer to physical education teacher, Zamary also taught Adapted Physical Education, which led to her becoming the Unified Sports coach at Staples in 2005.
“Liza Paglialunga was teaching it and when she moved from Staples to Greens Farms, I ended up taking over the adapted physical education class,” Zamary explained. “I just really appreciated teaching students who had disabilities.
“Then the CIAC started this Unified Sports program and it’s a great opportunity for those students to work with mainstream students and become partners with them,” she added. “The idea is for the mainstream students to help the special needs students and create a bond. It’s been great.”
Besides her regular workload of daily PE classes she teaches, Zamary oversees the Unified Sports Club at Staples and conducts practices every Friday afternoon — after her school day and before ambulance duty — and the Wreckers enter tournaments and other competitions.
“We’ve won the Michaels Cup three times,” Zamary proudly boasted. “And I have a slew of gold, silver and bronze medals on my wall that our kids have won.”
Zamary resides in Newtown with her husband Jack and their two daughters, Shannon and Stephanie.
“I think my mission in life at this
point in time is to help others understand the value of physical activity on a
consistent basis,” she wrote about her role as a PE and Adapted PE teacher.
“Keeping active and enthusiastic about participating to the best of your ability
is what it’s all about. It’s not the destination or the end product, but the
pursuit to get there. Sports and activity promote friendships and health. What
more do you need?”
- George Albano
Mikolaj Kulas | Maeve Flaherty | Thomas Jenkins | Michael Garrity | Peter Bonenfant