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 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.
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information call 203-341-1365, or click here. )