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The Lou Nistico Fieldhouse

Athletic fields around Westport bear the names of men and women who contributed greatly to the youth of this town:  Albie Loeffler.  Jinny Parker.  Doc Doubleday.

Without knowing it, every time we mention those sites, we honor an important part of Westport’s past.

So why have we forgotten the “Lou Nistico” part of Lou Nistico Athletic Complex?

The reflection of lights, and an exercise machine placed in front, don't detract from this portrait of Lou Nistico near the fieldhouse.

Staples’ enormous fieldhouse — where people of all ages run, pole vault, long jump, wrestle, play basketball, hit baseballs, kick soccer balls, toss lacrosse balls (sometimes all simultaneously), and swelter during graduation ceremonies each June — is named for a man as gargantuan as the indoor space itself.

Lou Nistico was a co-owner of the Arrow Restaurant.  It was a family place that defined Saugatuck — all of Westport, really — for generations.  But calling him a restaurateur is like saying da Vinci “liked to draw.”

Lou loved this town — particularly its young people.  He would do anything for them — and often did.  He gave them jobs.  He invited teams to drop by after games, and fed them for free.  He bought clothes  so athletes and musicians could look good at banquets and concerts.  He paid for college educations.

And he did it all quietly, unobtrusively — no mean feat for a man who tipped the scales at 400 pounds.  (He was weighed once at Gault — true story.)

Lou Nistico did many other things for Westport.  He was the kind of guy who — through force of personality and physical presence — cut through crap red tape, and got highway departments and police officers to do what was good for the town, back in the days when such things were possible (or at least not likely to be videotaped or blogged about).

Though Italian through and through, Lou would’ve been proud to be called a mensch.

When the Staples fieldhouse was built 30 years ago, it was named for Lou Nistico.  A larger-than-life portrait by Ralph Ruta was hung in the hallway, by the pool.  “Lou Nistico Athletic Complex” was written in large letters above the outside entrance.  Almost immediately, everyone forgot.

In 3 decades, I have never heard the fieldhouse called by its proper name.  Newspapers, Channel 12, Staples broadcasters — all refer to it simply as “the fieldhouse.”

It’s hard to overlook a man as big — or as big-hearted — as Lou Nistico.  But Westport has managed to do just that.

(Thanks to Red Izzo and Paul Lane for suggesting this post.  They note that the Wilton High School fieldhouse — named for longtime Westporter and former Wilton athletic director/coach Nick Zeoli — has suffered a similar fate.  But that’s a story for an “06897” blog.)

The sign at the entrance to the Lou Nistico Fieldhouse shows its age.

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