Tag Archives: Jeb Backus

Play Ball!

Normally, the news that 2 Westport Wreckers 13-and-Under teams — Blue and White — competed in a New Haven tournament would not be “06880”-worthy. This is a blog, not a sports section.*

But last weekend’s championship game is of interest for another reason: It was not played.

The fact that Westport fields 2 teams in the same age group has caused “issues” in the past. Parents in particular have sometimes been caught up in the competition between the 2 squads.

Yet when it became clear that both the White and Blue teams would be playing for the championship, the coaches saw a chance to put the entire program first.

Jeb Backus and Sal Latella announced that the final game would not be played. Both teams would be co-champs.

Westport's Blue and White 13-and-Under baseball team: New Haven tournament co-champs.

Westport’s Blue and White 13-and-Under baseball team: New Haven tournament co-champs.

In years to come they’ll have plenty of opportunities to play together, for more important prizes. They’re great athletes, and “06880” will follow their progress with interest.

Even if we don’t post the results of every game.

*No offense to every other baseball, softball, football, lacrosse, soccer, hockey (ice and field), gymnastics, tennis, golf, swim and other parent who contacts me about every other championship, meet, match, game and practice.

Sonny’s Gang Was All Here

I get plenty of requests for “06880” to cover reunions.

Every high school class thinks it’s special. In fact, only mine is.

But a non-high school reunion last weekend rates an “06880” shout-out. Held at the VFW, it brought together 4 decades of former players from Sonny’s.

That was the legendary Westport-based slow-pitch softball team that roamed the East Coast — and as far as Texas — piling up league and tournament wins.

The 1986 state championship team: Sonny's then...

The 1986 state championship team: Sonny’s then…

The team disbanded after founder/sponsor Sonny DeMattio died in 1993. But — 20 years later — Jeb Backus, a Sonny’s mainstay, brought the gang together again.

They talked about their 5 state championship. Their 1982 World Tournament 2nd-place finish. Their 111-22 record one memorable year.

There were plenty of familiar faces at the VFW. The entire Calise family came from Arizona. The DeMattio family was represented by Joey and Mike. Former Staples players included Al Ten, Joey Bottone and Pat Smith.

...and now.

…and now.

The mastermind behind it all was Backus, who started with Sonny’s as a 17-year-old.

He played with guys in their 20s and 30s. At the VFW, I’m sure he shared some amazing teenage memories from those years.

But even though this reunion story made it into “06880,” those stories won’t.

Cannon Candles

Westport native and 1981 Staples graduate Jeb Backus is the senior program director at a local YMCA.

Sandy Hook is next door.

As a coach and athlete in several Fairfield County sports organizations, Jeb knows many Newtown families.

Last night — numb with grief, and needing to do something — Jeb posted a simple request on Facebook’s Staples ’81 page, and a few others: Bring flowers and candles to the Compo cannons.

Jeb went down to the beach around 8:30 p.m. Candles already flickered there.

Amid the flowers, someone placed a tiny stuffed animal.

It’s a small gesture, for sure. But Jeb wants his friends in Newtown to know that all of us here are thinking of them.

The cannons this morning.

The cannons this morning.

Sportsmen (And Women) Of Westport

The Sportsmen of Westport annual dinner is always an interesting affair.

The event — now in its 51st year — honors an eclectic group of former athletes. Many competed as youngsters in Westport; some arrived here after their playing days were over, but got involved in town sports.

All have intriguing stories to tell.

Three wrestlers will be honored at this year’s dinner (Tuesday, May 22, 6 p.m., Continental Manor in Norwalk). Nick Garoffolo, Mike Breen and Andy Lobsenz were all stars during Staples’ grappling heyday; all continue to give back to their sport, long after their days on the mat are over.

Ex-Staples baseball and football standout Jeb Backus — later a softball star, now a youth coach — will be feted. So will Danbury High basketball, field hockey and track ace Janet Zamary, who went on to become Staples’ first athletic trainer, and now as a phys. ed. teacher heads up the school’s highly regarded Unified Sports program for students with disabilities. And longtime Little League volunteer Joe Nixon too.

Three other honorees have gone on to non-athletic careers.  But they may not be where they are today without the lessons they learned as kids, on the fields.

George Barrett

George Barrett was a superb soccer, basketball and baseball player at Staples. A back injury ended his soccer career at Brown University. He coached and taught at the Horace Mann School in New York, and got an MBA at NYU. Today he’s chairman and CEO of Cardinal Health, ranked #19 on the Fortune 500, and a major healthcare company. He serves on numerous civic and charitable boards, and has an honorary doctorate from LIU.

Suzanne Allen Redpath

Suzy Allen played field hockey and ran track for legendary Staples coach Jinny Parker. After Hollins College she joined CBS News, where she’s had an astonishing 40-year career. She was Walter Cronkite’s researcher during Watergate; covered earth-shaking events like the rise of Solidarity in Poland and the Falklands War, and then — as CBS Evening News senior producer for foreign coverage — directed and oversaw stories like the fall of communism, the emergence of democracy in China, and 9/11. Suzy — now Suzanne Allen Redpath — has won Emmy and DuPont Awards, and received an honorary doctorate from Hollins.

Rich Franzis

Rich Franzis is known to many Westporters as an assistant principal at Staples. Many do not know that he played football at Shelton High. A longtime U.S. Army reservist with the rank of colonel, he was deployed to Iraq where he oversaw the intelligence operations of 5 brigades. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his service.

George, Suzy, Rich and the other very worthy honorees may or may not discuss the role athletics has played in their lives, when they make their speeches May 22.

But — if they’re anything like the five decades of Sportsmen honorees before them — they’ll definitely tell tales of games, coaches, teammates and opponents in the social hour before the dinner, all during the meal, and long into the night.

They’ve accomplished plenty professionally, in the years since the last whistles blew.

But at this month’s banquet — and, really, their entire lives — they’re sportsmen. The capital letter — Sportsmen — is just one more feather in their caps.

(Tickets, at $50 each, are available at Settlers & Traders Real Estate, 215 Post Road West; Junior’s Hot Dog Stand, 265 Riverside Avenue, or by emailing karen_defelice@westport.k12.ct.us. For more information call 203-341-1365, or click here. )