Tag Archives: Paul Lane

Back In The News: Coaching Kudos For Paul Lane, Albie Loeffler

Paul Lane and Albie Loeffler retired decades ago.

But both men — longtime Staples High School coaches, physical education instructors and friends — are back in the news again.

Lane — one of Staples’ legendary football coaches — was honored at last week’s game against Norwalk.

Between 1962 and 1987, Lane led the Wreckers to 4 FCIAC Eastern Division championships, 2 FCIAC crowns, and 122 victories. His 11-0 1975 squad was the last single state champion — determined by sportswriters — before the current playoff system began.

In the 1967 FCIAC title game, Staples snapped Stamford Catholic’s 30-game win streak, 8-0. The Crusaders — ranked #1 in Connecticut – had outscored their opponents 333-66. The Wreckers stopped them twice on the goal line, in the last quarter.

Paul Lane (center) at last week’s Staples High School football game. He’s flanked by his sons Peter (left) and Skip. Both played for him.

Lane started coaching football in the Army in 1950. He then served as an assistant to Frank Dornfeld for 8 years, before taking over the top job.

At Staples, Lane also won state championships coaching indoor and outdoor track — and girls golf.

He grew up in Bethel, but his family has long ties to Westport. He’s been a Compo Beach resident nearly all his adult life. Former players — and of course his sons Skip and Peter, both of whom played for him — often drop by to chat with their former coach.

Last week on the football field, Lane was introduced with a video produced by Justin Nadal and Staples’ media lab. Then he shook hands with coaches and players, stood beside the team for the national anthem, and headed to the 50-yard line for the coin toss.

This week also saw the announcement that Loeffler — who, with Lane, co-owned a summer sports camp for Westport youngsters in the 1950s and ’60s — has been selected for the United Soccer Coaches Hall of Fame. He’ll be inducted at the organization’s annual convention in Chicago this January.

Loeffler joins 62 other major contributors to the game. The Hall of Fame already includes legends like former men’s national team and University of Virginia coach Bruce Arena, women’s national team and University of North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance, and University of Connecticut coach Joe Morrone (with whom Loeffler co-founded the Connecticut Junior Soccer Association).

Albie Loeffler

Loeffler — who died the day before his 94th birthday in 2009 — was a goalkeeper at the University of Connecticut. He began his coaching career in South Windsor (1942-52), where he won 2 state championships.

He came to Staples in 1952, teaching phys. ed. and coaching basketball, baseball and track. In 1957 he formed a club soccer team. The next year it earned varsity status.

His Staples record includes 12 FCIAC titles and 7 state championships — 5 of them in a row. His teams recorded 25 consecutive shutouts (including post-season tournament games), won or tied 43 straight matches, and lost just 2 home games between 1966 and 1974. When he retired in 1978, his 314 career wins was a national record.

Loeffler was a 2-time National Coach of the Year. More than 175 athletes went on to play college soccer; 11 became All-Americans.

Albie Loeffler (left), coaching a Staples High School soccer team in the early 1960s.

In 1998, the soccer field at Staples was named in his honor. Earlier this month, it was the site of the program’s 60th anniversary celebration.

Loeffler’s daughter and grandson will accept his posthumous award in Chicago.

I’ll be there too. Albie Loeffler was my mentor. I played for him. He got me involved in coaching — and in the United Soccer Coaches organization. He was an original member when it was formed (as the National Soccer Coaches Association of America) in 1941.

I am honored to have known Albie Loeffler. I’m glad I’ve continued my long friendship with Paul Lane.

And I’m proud that both men are back in the headlines, in the town where they influenced countless lives.

Friday Flashback #94

A couple of days ago, I posted a photo of the end of a well-known house.

Toni Cunningham’s Soundview Drive home — familiar to every Compo Beach goer, and the longtime unofficial headquarters of the Compo Beach Improvement Association — fell to the wrecking ball this week.

It was a poignant shot (click here to see).

But there’s much more to the house than my brief summary.

Alert “06880” resident Tom Leyden — a longtime beach neighborhood resident — quickly sent along this photo. It’s from 1920 — and it shows the Cunningham house standing almost alone on the road.

In the distance is the vast pavilion — with a 2nd floor. It was the site of big dances and other gatherings, until a hurricane roared through

But wait! There’s more!

Tom also sent this photo:

He explains:

I have a record of 90% of the beach property owners, going back to the original ownership by the Bradleys in 1909.

They mapped their property into lots, mostly 50 x 100. Sam Roodner (of Roodner Court fame in Norwalk) bought up many of the lots, and sold them off during the early 1920s

The Cunningham property was an exception, as Irving Bradley sold to Lockwood in 1911. I’m guessing the house was built around 1915.

According to property records, the Cunningham family bought the house in 1945.

Tom and his family live on lots 88/90.

Paul Lane — longtime Staples High School football coach, who grew up on Soundview, and lives next door to the now-former Cunningham house — has a framed copy of the plot map above.

It hangs on the wall of his home, just a few feet from what is now — once again — an empty lot.

Basketball Blues End Soon

It’s been a while since there was a hoops game at Compo.

But the reconstruction of the 2 basketball courts is nearly complete. This was the scene yesterday:

Basketball court - Compo

The courts have a long history. The first one — built in the late 1950s — was the brainchild of Albie Loeffler and Paul Lane. The Staples High School basketball head and assistant coach, respectively, saw the court as a way to keep their players active in the off-season — and a way to run a Fairfield County league for the Wreckers and their foes.

The court became a community effort. Gault and Kowalsky donated materials and labor.

The 2nd court was built later. It’s been a year-round favorite for generations of basketball players, of all ages.

And even more generations of Canada geese.

Improving Compo Beach, For Nearly 90 Years

In some ways, Compo Beach has changed little since the 1920s.

The sand is nicer. There’s a new jetty. But really, you can’t do too much to a beach.

In many ways, the neighborhood looks the same too. Homes line Soundview Drive, and fill the side streets. They’ve been winterized, modernized and raised to escape hurricanes and floods, but they’ve never lost that great beach vibe.

And after nearly 100 years, a Lane is once again in charge of the Compo Beach Improvement Association.

Back in the day, Joe Lane lived on Soundview. The CBIA was formed in 1928, and he was president. The organization took care of the beach, put floats in the water, and provided lifeguards. It also threw great parties.

In the 1950s, rafts off Compo Beach were a great attraction.

In the 1950s, rafts off Compo Beach were a great attraction. But look at those rocks!

Toni Cunningham succeeded Joe, and served for decades as CBIA president. She’s nearing 100 now, and still lives on Soundview. (Her daughter, Gail Cunningham Coen, and Gail’s husband Terry were longtime active CBIA members. Last year, they sold their Soundview home a few doors from Toni, and moved south.)

Three years ago, the torch was passed from Toni to Skip Lane. He’s Joe’s grandson. His father, Paul Lane, is the now retired, much-admired former Staples football coach who (of course) still lives in his own Soundview Drive home.

These days, the CBIA’s main job is taking care of the plantings along Soundview, monitoring issues like traffic and signs.

Skip Lane

Skip Lane

But Skip hopes to broaden the group’s impact. He’s getting more neighbors involved — including those on Minuteman and Bluewater Hill Roads, and around the corner on Hillspoint — and is looking at new projects, like how to add sand to the beach, and remove rocks.

“The beach is fantastic,” Skip says. “But it needs a little TLC.”

Skip now lives on Roosevelt Avenue, off Compo Beach Road.

“Even when I was growing up, I thought the beach could be better,” he says. “Little things like the parking lot bugged me. As much as everyone loves it, it can be polished.”

He is happy to see an influx of young families into the area. “There’s a group of them with little kids. They have parties at the end of Fairfield Avenue nearly every night,” he notes. “That’s the way it used to be. And the way it should be.”

Meanwhile, the Compo Beach Improvement Association is planning a party of its own. With summer renters gone — and some former residents coming back just for this event — the CBIA holds its annual barbecue this Sunday, at the Ned Dimes Marina.

There will be food and drinks. And plenty of back-in-the-day stories from Paul Lane and Toni Cunningham, who knew the beach then and still love it now.

A large wooden bathhouse once stood at Compo Beach. Today this is the site of the playground. The 2-story pavilion (right) is now only 1.

A large wooden bathhouse once stood at Compo; walkways led to the beach. Today this is the site of the playground. The 2-story pavilion (right) is now only 1.

Bartaco: Beach Vibe On Wilton Road

Bartaco is a couple of miles from Compo, as the seagull flies.

But it’s got a cool beach vibe.

And — if yesterday’s soft opening is any indication — it will fill a huge void downtown.

Bartaco - logoBartaco will become the go-to place for intriguing tacos (spicy chorizo, felafel, curry shrimp, wild boar, sesame ribeye…), over 25 types of tequila, and a relaxing patio overlooking the river.

Right next to Save the Children on Wilton Road, it’s a shot across the bow that Saugatuck is not the only cool place in town to eat and drink.

The creative menu fills a culinary need. And the casual interior fills a need for a comfortable hangout.

Like all of Sasa Mahr-Batuz’s restaurants — he owns 3 other Bartacos and 8 Barcelonas, from Boston to Atlanta — his own stunning photos fill the walls. But the former Staples student also put out a call for local images.

Nearly 100 were submitted. The most compelling shots were scanned, enlarged on parchment, then put into custom-built frames. (The yellow pine stools are hand-made too.)

Owner Sasa Mahr-Batuz stands in front of one of his own photos: a dramatic beach scene.

Owner Sasa Mahr-Batuz stands in front of one of his own photos: a dramatic beach scene.

Photo donors include a Who’s Who of Westport: the Playhouse. Longshore Sailing School. Coach Paul Lane.

It rained for yesterday’s opening. It was hardly beach weather.

But inside Bartaco — Westport’s newest restaurant, 2 miles from Compo — life was chill.

Ben Root and a large staff prepped in the open kitchen for large crowds.

Ben Root and a large staff prep in the open kitchen.

Wreck ‘Em, Minutemen!

Skip Lane has a suggestion:

Change the Staples mascot to the Minutemen.

What’s a Wrecker, anyhow?

The Minuteman is much more significant, right?  And what a cool helmet decal.

And, Skip adds:

The Minute Men were all about “defending this house.”  Isn’t that the most popular sports cliché today?

The name Wreckers, he notes, arose decades ago, when the Staples football team beat Norwalk High, and “wrecked” their undefeated season.

“Hardly what you base your ideals on,” he sniffs.

Skip is no random jaboney.  His father Paul — who, Skip says, agrees with him — was Staples’ longtime head football coach.

Skip played for him — and went on to an NFL career, with the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins.

Though, come to think about it, “Redskins” is not exactly the greatest team name either.

Wrecker/Minuteman fans:  “06880” is all about democracy.  Cast your (non-binding) vote below.

Remembering Joe Murray

In 1967, Stamford Catholic was the Connecticut high school football power.  Winner of more than 30 straight games, averaging over 30 points every Saturday, they were the prohibitive favorites in the FCIAC championship contest.

No one gave Staples a chance.

Head coach Paul Lane may not even have believed the Wreckers could win.  But he prepared the team well — tactically, physically and mentally — and they were ready.

Joe Murray played a key role too.  A captain, linebacker and offensive guard, his intense spirit, positive attitude and great sense of humor helped convince his teammates they could pull off an upset for the ages.

They did.  On that memorable November day at Stamford’s Boyle Stadium, Staples won 8-0.

“He didn’t have a lot of size,” Lane recalls.  He was about 5-7, 160 pounds — small even for that era.

“But he was a great tackler, a real student of the game,” Lane says.  “He was a real leader.”

“He led by example,” former teammate Tommy Nistico — now the owner of the Red Barn restaurant — adds.  “A wonderful guy.”

“Joe was one tough kid!” marvels another ex-teammate, Nick Albertson — a longtime teacher and coach at Deerfield Academy.

Joe didn’t get a lot of glory.  But without him — and teammates Nistico, Albertson, Bobby Lynam, Buddy Lynch and Brad Steen — there would have been few Steve Booth and Dave Lindsay heroics that year.  Especially that day.

After college Joe moved south.  He became a very successful businessman — he was CEO of several small companies — and a loving father.

He called his former teammates regularly, to check up and make sure his guys were okay.  It’s what a good captain does — long after he stops playing.

He never spoke about any of his own health issues, like diabetes.  He preferred talking about his wife Jean, their children, and hunting and fishing.

Joe Murray died a few days ago in Columbia, South Carolina, from complications during gall bladder surgery.  His ashes will be commingled with those of his beloved dog Blue, and spread across the Gulf of Mexico.

His teammates already miss him dearly.  “He was a special person,” said longtime friend and former Wrecker Bobby Lynam.

“I know his passing has left a hole in your heart as it has in mine.  But as long as we remember him he lives on.”

Don’t worry.  No one can forget that special 1967 championship team — or its heart and soul, Joe Murray.