Saturday, February 19, 2011

West Hartford: A great sports town

“The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

My affiliation with the sports people of West Hartford is in its third month and the most satisfying aspect is the new friendships I’ve made as the old ones have been reinforced.

Three months is a short time yet I have had so many intriguing conversations with you both face to face and via email that I consider my footing strong and the future filled with promise.

In West Hartford, everybody has been wonderful beyond my highest expectations.

The coaches and administrators at the public high schools have responded quickly and productively to my requests to bring me up to date on a sports history that is richer than I could have possibly imagined. I still have so much to learn and my hunger to do so is avid so I welcome emails and/or personal discussions about sports here.

Betty Remigino-Knapp, the athletic director for Hall and Conard, has been such a great help, and in a time of great duress for her and her colleagues. Betty looks at the weekly weather forecasts like outnumbered pioneers ducking behind wagons during an Indian raid. If there are any more postponements, West Hartford may be the scene of the very first basketball/baseball doubleheader in April.

Yet Betty and her administrators at Conard (Kerry Roller) and Hall (Maryanne Seguro) still have found the time to fill my email inbox with a treasure trove of information that only nostalgia nuts and sports historians could love.

For example, Betty allowed me to borrow a rare copy of the program from the Conard-Hall Millenium Football Game held on Nov. 18, 2000 at Hall’s Robert S. Chalmers Stadium. The contest honored two of the most dedicated football coaches in state history – Bob McKee of Conard (1957-83) and Frank Robinson Jr. of Hall (1957-87).

I knew of the gentlemen through the unparalleled story-telling of my dearly departed friend and colleague Bo Kolinsky as part of the ritual we enjoyed in promoting the annual Gold Key Dinner run by our beloved Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance.

Among the many things I didn’t know, McKee, for whom Conard’s beautiful stadium is named, actually began his coaching career at Hall. Indeed, he was the city’s first male physical education teacher and guided Hall to the championship of the Central Connecticut Interscholastic League in 1951.

McKee was 168-61-15 at Conard and held a 13-11-3 advantage over Hall in the big series.

I also didn’t know that current Conard coach Rob Cersosimo, a legendary teacher/mentor in his own right, married McKee’s oldest daughter Debbie. Now there’s ascendancy to the throne that even Queen Victoria could have appreciated.

Coach Robinson, not to be confused with current coach Frank Robinson Jr. (his son) or the Baseball Hall of Famer who was my idol as a child (no relation), was 201-92-9. I never knew Cersosimo played for Robinson at Hall in the late 1960s. Can you imagine that somewhere there lies royal blue beneath all that crimson?

I glanced at the Conard roster in 2000 and was overcome by the names of quality assistants listed beneath Cersosimo’s name.

The list starts with former Avon coach Jeff Redman. Peter Pfeffer recently resigned as the ultra- successful coach at Glastonbury. Paul Philipon guided Bristol Eastern to some great seasons and Marco Pizzoferrato has guided the Manchester program on its steady rise. There you have Connecticut high school’s premier cradle of coaches.

I’ve learned why West Hartford’s high schools were named for two gentlemen named Hall and Conard.

William H. Hall, a man known for his love of children and kindness, was instrumental in planning the high school that opened in 1924 in the building that later housed Town Hall. Frederick U. Conard was chairman of the school board who died suddenly in 1947 as the plans for a second high school were being formulated. The school bearing his name opened 10 years later.

Before I close, I think I’ve come up with another nomination for nicest man in the universe. That would be Steve Blanchfield, whose love for West Hartford high school sports runs deep.

Steve can be found on the Hall sidelines at every football game as an assistant to Coach Robinson III and manning the scorer’s table during the winter. I didn’t realize until I read his stirring essay in that 2000 football book that he coaches tennis at Conard, too. Steve’s essay is in the “must read” category on local sports’ best-seller list.

What people like the Robinsons, Cersosimos, Remigino-Knapp and Blanchfield have bestowed upon the sports legacy of the city cannot be commuted in tangible terms.

Within the hearts, souls and minds of thousands of Hall/Conard athletes past and present are traces of their love, dedication and understanding that carry the message that scholastic sports help provide a foundation for a fruitful future.

Ken Lipshez is the sports editor of the West Hartford Press. You can reach him via email at or by telephone at 860-651-4700 with your comments, criticism or ideas.

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