Category Archives: Sports

Remembering Buck Iannacone

Alphonse “Buck” Iannacone — the 2012 Memorial Day parade grand marshal, a 61-year PAL volunteer, and a Bronze Star and Purple Heart winner for his military service during the Battle of the Bulge — died Friday. He was 88.

In his 6 decades with PAL, he did just about everything. He was a coach, an organizer, a board member, a field maintenance guy, a fundraiser, and a good friend to thousands of young athletes.

A former US Postal Service worker and local union president, he was also a member of the Saugatuck Volunteer Fire Department, Laurel Athletic Club and a dedicated volunteer with both Special Olympics and Star.

Buck Iannacone (left), the 2012 Memorial Day parade grand marshal this year, with his son and granddaughter. One of Buck's 4 great-grandchild had been born 10 days earlier.

Buck Iannacone (left), the 2012 Memorial Day parade grand marshal that year, with his son and granddaughter. One of Buck’s 4 great-grandchildren had been born 10 days earlier.

Buck received plenty of honors, including a National PAL Award in 2008. He was cited by the Sportsmen of Westport, Norwalk Old Timers and the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance. Three years before leading the Memorial Day parade, he served as grand marshal of Festival Italiano.

But of all the kudos Buck Iannacone got, one was extra special. In 2001 — dressed in caps and gowns, and marching across stage — he and 5 other World War II veterans from Norwalk received high school diplomas.

Like the others, Buck had left school to join the military. The shrapnel he took in the Battle of the Bulge put him in a British hospital for 8 months.

Buck Iannacone served his country well. And — for the last 61 years — he did the same for Westport.

(Services will be held on Wednesday, July 30, at 9:30 a.m. at Harding Funeral Home, 210 Post Road East, and 10 a.m. at Assumption Church, 98 Riverside Avenue. Internment, with full military honors, follows at Assumption Cemetery, Kings Highway North. Friends may visit the family on Tuesday, July 29, from 4-8 p.m. at the Harding Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Buck Iannacone’s name to the Westport PAL Scholarship Fund, c/o Sam Arciola, 50 Jesup Road, Westport, CT 06880.)

Buck Iannacone and Roberta Troy at the 2009 Italian Festival. He served as grand marshal that year.

Buck Iannacone and Roberta Troy at the 2009 Italian Festival. He served as grand marshal that year.

 

 

 

Steve Wheeler’s 40-Year-Old 4-Minute Mile

On August 1, Raleigh, North Carolina hosts the 1st-ever Sir Walter Miler. It sounds like a great event: parties, fun runs, and a mile race in which the goal is for someone to run a sub-4-minute mile.

It won’t be the 1st time that’s happened there. Forty years ago, former Staples star Steve Wheeler — who went on to a great career at Duke University — blazed to a 3:59.4 in a Raleigh meet. It was the 1st sub-4-minute mile by any Connecticut runner.

That was the exact time Roger Bannister had run 10 years earlier, when he broke the 4-minute barrier.

Steve Wheeler (Duke) sets the pace in a relay race. (Photo/Sir Walter Miler)

Steve Wheeler (Duke) sets the pace in a relay race. (Photo/Sir Walter Miler)

Wheeler remains one of Westport’s most legendary runners ever.

This month, the Sir Walter Miler website interviewed Wheeler about that great race 4 decades ago.

“I remember it well,” he said. “It was special going under 4 minutes, but my goal was to win, not reach a certain time. I was unaware I had broken 4 until after the race, although I knew it would be close.”

Wheeler — behind for much of the race — “kicked really hard with 250 to go on the back straight. I wasn’t challenged at the finish and probably had a little more in reserve if I had been – but not much!”

Wheeler is now the city manager of Hood River, Oregon — perhaps the most famous state for running in the US.

Asked for advice on breaking 4 minutes, Wheeler said: “Work on both speed and strength. Take care of yourself. Try to stay healthy and injury-free, because consistency of training means a lot.

“And move to Eugene, Oregon. It seems like under-4 happens there almost every week! Living in Oregon, I’ve seen some incredible track performances.”

As did racing fans in Raleigh 40 years ago, thanks to a tall track star from Westport.

(Hat tip to Peter Gambaccini)

Andrew’s Army Marches On — To Mini-Golf

Seven years ago, Andrew Accardi had a dream. The 13-year-old wanted to create a foundation to raise money for neuroblastoma.

Andrew had a very personal dog in that fight. He’d been living with the pediatric cancer — for which there is no known cure — for 8 years already.

Andrew Accardi, doing what he loved.

Andrew Accardi, doing what he loved.

He battled it for 7 more, before succumbing last October. Before he died, though, he and his many friends raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the cause. Much of it came from golf-related events. Andrew was a 4-year member of the Staples team.

Andrew is gone, but his friends — “Andrew’s Army” — still raise money. Andrew’s legacy lives on.

The 1st annual Andrew’s Army Miniature Golf Classic is set for this Sunday (July 27, 4-7 p., Norwalk Cove Marina). The admission price of $20 — payable there — includes a round of mini-golf, food, soft drinks, a raffle and more.

“And more” includes the “36 Challenge.” Two years ago, Andrew shot a fantastic 36 on the course. If you think you can match that, put your money on the line. Pledge to donate an amount of your choice for every stroke over 36. The lowest score by anyone undertaking the challenge can win 2 NY Ranger tickets for next season.

But wait! There’s more! Everyone participating in the “36 Challenge” will also receive a special raffle ticket for each hole-in-one. They’re part of the grand prize item, from Saugatuck Sweets: a basket of candy, plus a coupon for 1 free double-scoop ice cream every week for a year.

How great is Andrew’s Army? Well, this Miniature Golf Classic should vault their fundraising over the $1 million mark.

 

CT Challenge Is A Ride For Life

When Staples grad Susan Lloyd lost first her leg, and then her life, to bone cancer, her family could have wallowed in self-pity.

When Fairfield native Jeff Keith lost a leg to cancer at age 12, he could have limped along and watched life from the sidelines.

They did not.

And countless area cancer patients and their families have benefited as a result.

Susan Lloyd

Susan Lloyd

Since 1982, the Susan Fund has awarded hundreds of college scholarships to young people suffering with cancer. Since 2005, Jeff’s CT Challenge has helped cancer survivors live healthier, happier lives through fitness, nutrition, health and support programs. Fittingly, Jeff was one of the first Susan Fund recipients.

The 2 organizations work closely together. For example, the CT Challenge’s Center for Survivorship in Southport hosts the Susan Fund awards ceremony.

And on Saturday, July 26 there are 25, 50, 75 and 100-mile bike rides, all starting at the Fairfield County Hunt Club. A 2-day ride starts the day before in Lakeville, Connecticut, and ends at the Hunt Club.

Over 1,000 riders — all of whom raise money to participate — are expected for this year’s 10th annual event. Last summer, they raised a record $1.65 million.

CT Challenge - 1Part of the funds raised by the bike ride support the Susan Fund. The bulk goes to the CT Challenge Center for Survivorship. It’s the only standalone center of its kind in the country not affiliated with a hospital.

Other money goes to CT Challenge’s yoga program, camp and college scholarships for young cancer survivors, adventure outings for young adult survivors, support for women in lower socioeconomic areas, research projects, outreach services, a speaker series and more.

Last year, nearly 54,000 cancer survivors benefited from CT Challenge programs.

Among the riders this year is Jessica Ellison. A Staples grad and Susan Fund recipient, she’s majoring in molecular biology at Georgetown University. Jessica spent several years at Camp Rising Sun, inspiring youngsters with cancer. She’s now a counselor there, and will join the camp team at the CT Challenge.

Jessica Ellison

Jessica Ellison

Last year, Jessica and her parents rode with the Susan Fund team. This year, there are 2 Susan Fund teams entered in the ride.

Of course, you don’t have to be part of any team to participate. All you have to do is support a cyclist — or get on a bike yourself.

It’s a beautiful ride. Plus, the Lloyd family and Jeff Keith have already shown you the way.

(Click for more information on the CT Challenge bike rides.)

 

Todd Coleman: “Volunteering Makes You A Better Person”

One day in the mid-1980s, Stuart McCarthy — a former Staples star now coaching a Westport Soccer Association girls team — told Todd Coleman, “It’s time you gave something back to the program.” McCarthy named him coach of the WSA’s Under-17 girls squad.

Coleman was all of 19 years old.

He coached girls for 3 seasons. And McCarthy’s words have resonated ever since.

Todd Coleman

Todd Coleman

Coleman is in his 3rd decade of giving back. Now — as the new Westport Soccer Association co-president — he’s in a unique position. A former WSA player who has seen the program and sport evolve, he’s trying to balance the fun, play-with-your-buddies aspect he remembers with the realities of youth sports, 2014-style.

Coleman’s introduction to soccer came in 4th grade, at Hillspoint Elementary School. New to Westport, he had no idea what it meant when Rob Sweetnam asked at recess, “Want to kick?”

But he quickly learned. He played WSA recreation soccer, and made his 1st travel team at 13. Each year, his teammates’ bonds tightened.

Coleman went on to captain the Staples soccer and wrestling squads. He earned the Block “S” MVP award and Loeffler Scholarship, and won a state championship as a junior. At Bates College he was a 4-year starter and captain. He won another state title with Westport’s Under-23 Kixx team.

“Real life” followed. He worked in financial services in Europe and San Francisco. His brothers Scott (a soccer player) and Keith (a wrestler) were killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11. But soccer kept him connected. When his buddies formed a Westport Over-30 team to honor Scott, Coleman played whenever he could. That team too won a state title.

Todd Coleman (top row, 3rd from left) with the Westport Over-30 team, on a tour of England. To his left his Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal CEO, who played with Westport when he was assistant commissioner of MLS. To Coleman's right is Mark Noonan, a former Staples teammate who won a national championship at Duke. Other former WSA and Staples players were on the Over-30 team too.

Todd Coleman (top row, 3rd from left) with the Westport Over-30 team, on a tour of England. To his left is Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal CEO, who played with Westport when he was assistant commissioner of MLS. To Coleman’s right is Mark Noonan, a former Staples teammate who won a national championship at Duke. Other former WSA and Staples players include Dr. Jonathan Sollinger, Guy Claveloux, Brian Sullivan, Dan Donovan and Mike Brown.

Seven years ago — now back in Westport — Coleman volunteered at the WSA’s indoor tournament. (A portion of the profits go to the organization’s Coleman Brothers Foundation.) He liked what he saw. He got more involved. And he always remembered McCarthy’s words.

“Volunteering makes you a better person,” Coleman says. “Giving back helps you get a little bit outside yourself.”

The WSA has expanded greatly since Coleman’s playing days, when there was 1 travel team per age group, and parental involvement was limited to coaching and driving. There are now 1,500 players; 29 travel teams; a robust recreational program, and professional coaches.

But though the organization has grown, its core mission remains the same. “The WSA should be as inclusive as possible,” he says. “I want it to be fun for the kids. I want them to have the same love for soccer I had when I was young. When I was 10, I didn’t feel pressured to make travel or think about college.”

WSA logoParents are involved, he says, “almost more than the kids now.” But Coleman has nothing but praise for the WSA’s 165 volunteers. “They’re enthusiastic about soccer, and they’re focused on the benefits for everyone. There are board members whose kids did not make a travel team. No one complained.”

Youth soccer — all youth sports — are different today than when Coleman was first invited to “have a kick.” (It was a red playground ball, he laughs — not even a real soccer ball.) Travel teams begin at younger ages. Parents drive further distances. Children are “showcased” for colleges.

Coleman can’t change that. But he will do everything he can to make sure that the organization he now heads holds true to the same principle — “soccer is fun” — that powered it when he was young.

And that impelled him to give back to it, starting at the ripe old age of 19.

Cal Neff: When Giants Fall, The Earth Shakes

Cal Neff — a legendary Staples athlete from the 1960s — died last week. His friend Myles MacVane sent along a special tribute. They have been edited for length. A full version can be found on Facebook; search for “Myles Angus MacVane,” and scroll down.

A giant fell last week, and all who knew him well were shaken by his passing.

In 1964 I donated over 300 pounds of equipment and a pair of squat stands to Staples’ weight room. Football coach Paul Lane let me use the room whenever it was open.

I was fairly strong. But one evening I noticed a strongly built 15-year-old do 10 deep, full squats with over 300 pounds on his back. I was thunderstruck. That young man was Calvin Neff.

Within 2 years Cal and I became fast friends. Though his great strength was always present, I came to appreciate his many other qualities.

Cal Neff (Photo courtesy of Myles MacVane)

Cal Neff (Photo courtesy of Myles MacVane)

He was intelligent, well-educated, liked to read, played a strong game of chess, had a quick wit and a vivacious personality. He was open, unaffected, direct, and, almost childlike in his sincere enquiries. Above all, he was loyal to his friends.

Though he was just 5-9, he was a powerhouse. Once, a young man fled into a telephone booth to escape Cal’s wrath. Cal simply picked up the whole telephone booth and flung it 6 or 7 feet. Then he walked away.

Cal believed wholeheartedly in William Blake’s adage that “The road of excess leads to the Palace of Wisdom.” Cal was certainly on that road. Without ever joining the Armed Services, Cal was “special forces,” and a special force of personality is what he had in spades.

As he matured, he specialized in powerlifting. Cal bulked up to over 250 pounds, bench pressed 525, and earned a master’s rating in powerlifting. Yet his weight, and the methods he used to gain it, hurt him. In his late 30s or early 40s he could barely walk, and needed a cane to support himself.

In later years, he ran a marathon — in Vietnam. That’s the kind of drive and willpower that he exemplified.

Near the end of Cal’s time of excessive mass, his life took a totally unexpected and fortuitous turn toward the East. It turned out to be the keystone of his existence. He, who would have laid down his life for a friend, was saved from a life of working as a guard at Bridgeport’s North End jail, in Bridgeport, working the door at the Black Duck, and tooling around in an over-sized, over-powered, totally unnecessary, red pickup truck by a childhood friend who grew up a few houses away from Cal.

Cal Neff, Terry O'Grady and Gerry Manning. (Photo courtesy of Myles MacVane)

Cal Neff, Terry O’Grady and Gerry Manning. (Photo courtesy of Myles MacVane)

Gerry Manning opened a door for Cal to walk through, so that he might become the person he was always meant to be. Cal, as with everything he ever did, saw the opportunity, and barreled through that doorway.

Gerry was a few years older than Cal. An artist by nature, he eventually returned to Westport to enter the business that his father had built dealing semi-precious gemstones.

Cal Neff and his wife Surat. (Photo courtesy of Myles MacVane)

Cal Neff and his wife Surat. (Photo courtesy of Myles MacVane)

I guess that in Cal, his friend and childhood neighbor, Gerry found the perfect protégé to learn the overseas trade. Cal gave up the red pickup, the door at the Black Duck, and the concrete corridors of the North End Jail, and moved to Lantau Island, off the coast of Hong Kong. After several years of daily travel to Hong Kong by ferry, Cal’s business interests shifted to Sri Lanka, where he lived before settling down for good in Thailand. There he found a wife, with whom he had a son, Colter M. Neff, now 17. After a divorce, Cal found his last wife, a younger woman who practices Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing).

Cal Neff loved his son more intensely than he had ever loved anyone. Their bond was breakable only by the Grim Reaper. Cal’s life in Thailand was the adventure that most of us can only experience vicariously, as if in a dream, during a vacation. His training blossomed into a practice of Strong Man events.

At times, when the behemoth participants in those events would come to Thailand to train, compete, or vacation, Cal would train with them. He had his own commercial gym for a while. He was invited to Scandinavia to design a strong man event gym there.

Cal Neff and his son Colter. (Photo courtesy of Myles MacVane)

Cal Neff and his son Colter. (Photo courtesy of Myles MacVane)

He kept up his own practice of those events in Thailand, even staging competitions for up and coming Thais interested in the culture of strength. At his son’s school he taught the proper methods of strength and health, using his vast knowledge of those subjects to help the children find a wholesome path — one which, at times, he had strayed from in his own youth. In that field, I can think of no better a role model than Cal.

Cal Neff was a unique force of nature. In the end, the youthful excesses of the road that led to his own, personal palace of wisdom, marshaled an insidious attack upon the organs that supported that still muscular, still strong body, and finally cupped the bright light in Cal’s eyes. But we will always remember his childlike wonder, his strong personality, the man who would have given his own life unhesitatingly to protect a friend. And to the end of our days, we shall revere him not as a legend, but as our true friend, the one friend who loved life so much, that life created legends to wrap ‘round him.

US Ties Portugal — But Westport Soccer Wins

The Staples boys soccer team played host to 250 younger players today, in a sun-filled, joyful warmup to the US-Portugal World Cup match.

There were mini-games, an obstacle course, a speed gun, penalty kick contests, food, a raffle, and plenty of smiles. It was hard to know who had more fun, the kids or the Staples guys.

The only drag was the final result. Portugal scored with 10 seconds to go in injury time, to tie 2-2. But perhaps one of the kids who chanted “USA! USA!” in the auditorium will be on the field for the USA in a World Cup 20 years from now — and will remember this as the day that started it all.

Taking it steady on one part of the obstacle course. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Taking it steady on one part of the obstacle course. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Denzel Robinson (left) and Sam Kantor help on another part of the obstacle course. Denzel said he loved watching the little kids smile.

Denzel Robinson (left) and Sam Kantor help on another part of the obstacle course. Denzel said he loved watching the little kids smile. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Checking out a powerful kick, with the aid of a speed gun.

Checking out a powerful kick, with the aid of a speed gun. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Best buds, playing the game they love. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Best buds, playing the game they love — and lovin’ the US jerseys. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Staples tri-captain Andrew Puchala shows some future stars how it's done. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Staples captain Andrew Puchala shows future stars how it’s done. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Part of the crowd this afternoon. The Staples players sit proudly at top. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Part of the crowd this afternoon. The Staples players sit proudly at top. (Photo/Kim Lake)

It doesn't get better than eating pizza and wearing USA face paint. (Photo/Doug Fincher)

It doesn’t get better than eating pizza and wearing US face paint. (Photo/Doug Fincher)

 

A Very Special Little League “Challenge”

The 2nd season of Challenger Little League baseball is in the books. And it’s hard to tell who had more fun: the boys and girls with disabilities, or the “buddies” who helped them.

18 “Westport Winner” players faced Greenwich yesterday, at the season-ender on Meyer Field.

As always, each Winner had a buddy to help them at bat and in the field. This time the buddies included the regulars — players’ siblings, and commissioners’ and coaches’ kids — plus special guests: 8 of the 11 boys from last summer’s Little League World Series squad. Scott Stagg and Mike Connors are the highly regarded coaches.

There may be no joy in Mudville. But there sure is at Meyer Field, during Challenger Little League's final day of the season.

There may be no joy in Mudville. But there sure is at Meyer Field, during Challenger Little League’s final day of the season.

After the game, the players and their buddies shared pizzas. Then came trophies, and player-picture baseball cards for all.

Everyone is already looking forward to next year. Congrats to all involved in this Challenger program — which is really no challenge at all.

 

Hannah DeBalsi Does It Again!

Staples’ super sophomore Hannah DeBalsi “ran away” with yesterday’s New Balance Outdoor National high school 2-mile championship. She won it by a phenomenal 13 seconds, in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Hannah’s 10:09.08 is a personal best. And she did it by beating girls she had never outraced before.

Last year she placed 3rd — with a national freshman record of 10:16.

Here is a link to a video of Hannah’s race.

Hannah DeBalsi, in earlier action. (Photo/Bob Luckey)

Hannah DeBalsi, in earlier action. (Photo/Bob Luckey)

 

Staples Soccer Website And Fields Will Be “World Cup Central”

A good number of Westporters are heading to Brazil for the World Cup. Most of us, unfortunately, will stay home.

But the World Cup comes to Westport — all tournament long — via the StaplesSoccer.com website, and at a special June 22 event.

The “World Cup” link at the top of the website leads to contests, trivia, history, blogs from players and alums who are in Brazil — you name it, it’s there.

Brazil world cupThe 1st 2 contests — to guess the finish of all 8 1st-round groups, and pick the starting lineup for the 1st US game — are already underway. Prizes are ASF gift certificates; the deadline is this Wednesday, June 11. Contest details are here.

There are polls too, like “Who will win the World Cup?” and “What do you think about Landon Donovan being left off the US team?” The polls are here.

StaplesSoccer.com’s pages also include trivia and fun facts (updated daily).

The website is for all of Westport — and soccer fans everywhere. To add something to the World Cup pages — or submit stories and photos when you’re in Brazil — email StaplesWorldCup@gmail.com.

Meanwhile, on June 22, Staples boys soccer is sponsoring a “Westport World Cup” day. At 3:15 p.m., elementary and middle school players will enjoy mini-games, an obstacle course, speed gun and penalty kick contest and more, at the Staples athletic fields.

At 5 p.m. there are food trucks; at 6 p.m., the US-Portugal game will be shown on a big screen in the auditorium. At halftime, the raffle winner — for a unique, behind-the-scenes tour of ESPN with World Cup broadcaster Jeremy Schaap — will be chosen. Sign up now for one or all of the June 22 events.

You (probably) can’t be in Brazil. But the Staples boys soccer program brings  Brazil to you.

Staples boys soccer players enjoy helping the next generation of players. Last fall Sterling Price, Patrick Beusse, Charlie Leonard and Steven Sobel hung out with WSA players at Burr Farms Field.

Staples boys soccer players enjoy helping the next generation of players. Last fall Sterling Price, Patrick Beusse, Charlie Leonard and Steven Sobel hung out with WSA players at Burr Farms Field.