Tag Archives: Sportsmen of Westport

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. )

Sportsman Steve Doig

He’s won a Pulitzer Prize.  And a Bronze Star.

So you might think Steve Doig’s latest award — he’s a Sportsmen of Westport honoree — might be small potatoes.

You’d be wrong.

Stephen Doig

Steve — who captained the 1965 Staples football team, served as a combat reporter in Vietnam, pioneered the field of computer-assisted investigative reporting, and now holds the Knight Chair at Arizona State’s Cronkite School of Journalism — credits his 4 years in Westport for much of his success.

He is honored, he says, to receive the same Sportsmen award given previously to teammates (and heroes) like John Bolger, Win Headley, Matt MacVane and Bill During.  And he’ll repeat those sentiments in his acceptance speech on May24, at Continental Manor.

For a man who has achieved so much, Doig’s early years were checkered.  His very promising senior football season ended when he tore a quad in practice.  He also ran track, and played basketball against a guy named Calvin Murphy.  (On the football field, he faced a Rippowam High freshman named Bobby Valentine.)

He was recruited by Dartmouth football coach Bob Blackman, but a couple of days into pre-season practice he reinjured his thigh.  His athletic career was over.

Doig calls his 1st 2 years in Hanover “unsuccessful.”  He was “a quiet, reasonably good student” at Staples.  Then, he says, “I made up for all that in college.  I really lived the ‘Animal House’ life.”

He dropped out twice.  The 2nd time, he got a letter from Uncle Sam.

Steve Doig, Staples High School Class of 1966.

While he stood naked for his physical, a sergeant asked what he’d majored in.  English was most recent.  The Army sent him to the Defense Information School to learn journalism.

“It beat carrying a rifle,” Doig says — but he went to Vietnam anyway, as a reporter.  That’s where he earned his Bronze Star.

Back stateside, he was sent to the Defense School as an instructor.  He found he enjoyed teaching as much as writing.

Returning to Dartmouth — “grown up” — he got A’s.  And got married.

In Florida — first for the Daytona Beach News-Journal, then the Miami Herald — Doig honed his investigative skills.  Political corruption, land fraud, crime — the Sunshine State was a hotbed of bad stuff to write well about.

In the early ’80s, Doig played around with an Atari 800 computer.  He realized he could use it to analyze state budgets and roll call votes.  He taught himself to crunch data — and helped develop the nascent field of computer-aided investigative reporting.

In 1993 he and a few Herald colleagues shared a Pulitzer for Public Service, for their coverage of Hurricane Andrew.  Doig’s contribution was analyzing damage patterns.

He joined the Arizona State faculty in 1996.  It was a good move — right before the newspaper business frayed.  He still does investigative work — recently, he analyzed data for a CaliforniaWatch expose of apparent Medicade fraud — but he also loves developing the next generation of journalists.

And he’s good at it.  He spent last fall as a Fulbright Distinguished Chair, teaching precision journalism and investigative reporting in Portugal.

So what does Doig’s 30-plus-year career in newspapers have to do with sports, and the Sportsmen of Westport Award?

“The lessons I learned in athletics — teamwork, preparation, working hard for a goal — absolutely contributed to whatever success I’ve had,” he says.

Steve Doig carries the football.

“Staples was an extraordinarily rich environment.  It was a competitive school — 14 Merit semifinalists my senior year.  Just being reasonably bright and athletic was not enough to stand out.  You had to work very, very hard.”

In basic training, Doig realized what advantages he’d had.  “I had to help guys in my platoon write letters home,” he says.  “That helped me understand how the world worked.”

Though he spent only 4 years in Westport, they were formative ones.  Doig calls it “my hometown.”  Thanks to Facebook and social media, he has reunited with — and grown even closer to — many members of the Class of 1966.

He looks forward to returning for the Sportsmen ceremony.

The award, he acknowledges, “means nothing outside of Westport.”

But, he adds, “in terms of friendships, my heroes, and what the town meant to me,” it is as meaningful as any Pulitzer Prize or Bronze Star.

(Also honored at the 50th annual Sportsmen of Westport “Dinner of Champions” at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 24:  Carmen Arciola, Mark Brockwell, Mary Gail Horelick-Gristina, Nell Mullen, Nikki Zeoli-Porzio, Chief of Police Al Fiore, Staples baseball coach Jack McFarland, and Westport EMS’ Jay Paretzky. 

Tickets are $50; they’re available at Settlers & Traders Real Estate, 215 Post Road West; Junior’s Hot Dog Stand, 265 Riverside Avenue, or by emailing Karen DeFelice: kmdef@optonline.net.  For more information, click here. )