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George Albano Column: “Connolly to be Honored by Fairfield County Hall of Fame”

George Albano Column: “Connolly to be honored by Fairfield County Hall of Fame”

By George Albano
Hour Staff Writer

June 17, 2014

2014 HOFEven 75 years after starring in one of the most memorable sporting events in Norwalk history, the name Mickey Connolly is still golden.

And not just in Norwalk, but throughout Fairfield County and beyond.

That point was affirmed Tuesday morning when it was announced that the former Norwalk High School football great had been selected for induction into the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame.

Harry “Mickey” Connolly, who passed away in 2006, was one of seven new Hall of Famers announced by the Fairfield County Sports Commission at Tuesday’s press conference held at UConn Stamford. He was selected in the James O’Rourke Amateur Wing along with former Bridgeport Central basketball standout Nadine Domond.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Craig Breslow, who played at Trumbull High School and Yale University, and Fairfield’s Julie Chu, a four-time Olympic medalist with the U.S. women’s hockey team, were selected in the Jackie Robinson Professional Wing.
Rounding out the class of 2014 were Marty Roos, Chico Chucarian and the late John “Sharkey” Laureno, all selected for induction in the J. Walter Kennedy Community Service Wing.

They will be officially inducted on Oct. 20 when the FCSC holds its 10th annual ‘Sports Night’ at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich.

Mickey Connolly footballConnolly was one of the greatest high school football players to ever come out of the city of Norwalk. A starting halfback all three years, he led the team in scoring as a junior and senior and was captain both years. The 5-10, 165-pound sparkplug was a triple-threat in those days as he ran, passed and kicked.

Those talents were never more evident than on Jan. 1, 1939 when Connolly led Norwalk High to a New Year’s Day bowl victory over a team of Jacksonville, Fla., high school all-stars in the Sunshine State.

Connolly had led the Green and White to a 7-1-2 record that season, one of the best marks in school history. But as it turned out, their season wasn’t over yet.

Before the Norwalkers could pack their equipment away, the Jacksonville Kiwanis Club offered an invitation to a team from Connecticut to travel to Florida and play a team of select Jacksonville high school all-stars in the annual Kiwanis Club Classic on New Year’s Day.

It was decided Norwalk, which was ranked 12th in the state, would play No. 3 Stamford High School for the right to go to Florida. Before a crowd 10,000 at brand new Boyle Stadium, Norwalk, a heavy underdog, upset the home team 20-14 as Connolly scored three touchdowns and two extra points to account for all of his team’s scoring.

Against Jacksonville, a team made up of elite players from several high schools, Norwalk again was a heavy underdog, but Connolly again led them to victory. Trailing 7-0 at halftime, he scored Norwalk’s first touchdown on a one-yard run in the third quarter and kicked the extra point to tie it.

Then later in the period, he connected with running mate Billy Connery on a 55-yard scoring play. Connolly’s PAT made it 14-7 and the NHS defense made the lead stand, stopping Jacksonville on the one-foot line as time ran out.

To this day, it remains one of the biggest sporting events in city annals as evidenced by the nearly one thousand fans who made the trip by train or car, and the more than 5,000 local supporters who greeted the team’s chartered train back to Norwalk as the players were escorted through blocked-off streets to a decorated City Hall.

Norwalk finished 9-1-2 and Connolly finished with a school record 121 points that season while passing for another six TDs. He rushed for over 900 yards, passed for 500 more, played excellent defense and capped off his career by being named a High School All-American.

Football wasn’t the only sport Connolly excelled in at Norwalk High as he also starred in basketball, baseball, hockey and track. But he received a full scholarship to play football at Boston College, and as a sophomore he helped No. 5 BC go 10-0 in the regular season and get invited to the Sugar Bowl where the Eagles faced No. 4 Tennessee, also 10-0.

On Jan. 1, 1941, exactly two years after Norwalk’s historic win in Jacksonville, Connolly played a key role in Boston College’s 19-13 victory.

Like Norwalk, BC trailed 7-0 at halftime, but Connolly, as he did 24 months earlier, scored his team’s first touchdown in the third quarter to help tie the game 7-7. Later, his 12-yard TD run sparked the Eagles to one of the biggest victories in school history.

Connolly was also a member of the BC backfield in the 1943 Orange Bowl, which the Eagles lost 37-21 to Alabama.. He went on to play one season of professional football with the Brooklyn Dodgers of the All-America Football Conference before a knee injury cut his pro career short.

But he stay involved in football as a coach. In fact, he started the football program as Notre Dame High School in West Haven, and after one season moved up to the collegiate ranks.

He coached at Aquinas Institute in Rochester, N.Y, for three years before going to the Big Ten as an assistant coach at Indiana University for three seasons. He then became the head football coach at Xavier University in 1955 and in his first season was named the National Catholic College Football Coach of the Year.

After four seasons and a 24-15 record there, Connolly returned to East to join the coaching staff at the College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts as an assistant. In 1966, he was named the first athletic director at Southeastern Massachusetts University, a brand new university, where Connolly was the only fulltime employee in the athletic department.

Connolly served as AD there for more than 20 years and during his watch the athletic program grew to 19 intercollegiate sports. The school merged with UMass in 1991 and many of the fields and facilities Connolly saw come to fruition under his watch are still used today by the Division I Minutemen.

He was inducted into the Boston College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1985 and was honored by Fairfield County Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame.

He’s never been forgotten by his hometown, either. In 1968, he was selected as the outstanding athlete to have played at Norwalk High School. Three years later, in 1971, he was named “The Greatest Player” in The Hour’s 100th year anniversary all-time football team.

Connolly also received a special award from the Norwalk Old Timers Athletic Association in 1979, while in 1985 he returned as one of the honorees selected by local organization.

Connolly will be enshrined in the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame with an impressive group. Breslow, who pitched Trumbull to the 1998 Class LL state title, is in his ninth Major League season and was a key member of Red Sox bullpen last year in their drive to the World Series championship.

Chu, a Fairfield native who attended high school at Rosemary Choate Hall in Wallingford, has won three Olympic silver medals and a bronze during her 14-year hockey career with the U.S. National women’s team. A four-time world champion, she was selected the best female collegiate hockey player in 2007 while playing for Harvard.

Earlier this year Chu was named by her fellow Team USA members to lead the team as flag bearer during closing ceremonies of the 2014 Games in Socchi, one of the highest honors a U.S. athlete can receive.

Domond was a four-time all-state selection at Bridgeport Central, scoring over 2,300 points, which is still sixth best all-time in Connecticut. As a senior in 1993-94, Domond led the Hilltoppers to a 27-0 record, was a Parade All-American and one of five players named to the USA Today All-USA team.She went on to play at the University of Iowa, where she led the team in assists and steals as a junior and senior, and was a second-round WNBA draft pick of the New York Liberty. She was elected to the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.

Laureno, who passed away in 1987, was best known as a longtime baseball, basketball and football official for over 40 years as well as a successful youth coach in Stamford. He was one of the founders of the Stamford Babe Ruth League and led his team to seven World Series appearances, winning the first three Babe Ruth national titles from 1952-54. The popular Stamford sportsman was also one of the founders of the Shoreline League, regarded as the premier softball league in Fairfield County. He was elected to the Connecticut ASA softball Hall of Fame in 2003.

Efrain “Chico” Chacurian is a name synonymous with soccer throughout the state as a longtime collegiate coach, an amateur team coach and a youth soccer leader as well as a standout player. He was an assistant coach with Division II national men’s power Southern Connecticut for 10 years, and coached both men’s and women’s soccer at Yale and the University of Bridgeport.He also managed the nationally known Vasco da Gama amateur team in Bridgeport from 1974-80. Before coaching, Chacurian was a legendary player in Argentina, eventually migrating to the United States and making the U.S. National Team in 1953-54. He was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1992. The 90-year-old Chacurian still plays once a week.

Roos is the all-time winningest coach in Connecticut high school hockey history, retiring in 2012 with 536 victories in his 40-year career. He started the Fairfield Prep program in 1971 and won 265 games and four state titles in 19 seasons. He then spent 21 years at Notre Dame of Fairfield, winning two more state crowns in 1999 and 2006. The CIAC state hockey tournament is named for Roos.

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