BERLIN - Jim Newman stood in his Navy Service Dress Blues at the top of the 3-point key in the Berlin High School gymnasium and listened to the cheers.
Redcoats senior Ryan Hyde had just finished reading through Newman’s biography - Senior Chief Petty Officer, Cold War veteran, 42 years of service in the United States Navy, both active and reserve.
“I thought it was special,” recalled Newman, a 1957 graduate of Berlin High. “I was very honored. All the people were cheering, I didn’t expect it. Berlin is a very patriotic town.”
Newman was the first of a number of military veterans from the New Britain-Berlin area honored prior to the national anthem of each home game for the Berlin boys basketball team, an idea that came from head coach Mike Veneziano, himself the son of a veteran.
“The first thing I did was when we had our first team meeting to start the season was ask the players if this is something we wanted to do,” Veneziano said. “And it was a resounding yes. I always try to talk to my kids about more than basketball. Just talk to them about life, being respectful, things like that. It’s been kind of neat because a lot of these guys joined the military right around some of [the players’] ages and they’re giving us a chance to play a game. So that was the main focus; to teach them about respect for the military and what they do for our country.”
Along with Newman, the other veterans that have been honored or are still to be honored are Tim Tralli (U.S. Army), Shawn Solek (U.S. Army), Jeffery Chant (U.S. Navy), Charles Colaresi (U.S. Marines), Harris Nims (U.S. Navy), Scott Gish (U.S. Marines), Ed Hornkohl (U.S. Navy), Steve Pastuzak (U.S. Marines), Bob Zipadelli (U.S. Army) and Veneziano’s father, Mike Sr. (U.S. Marines).
Veneziano Sr.’s military biography was read by his grandson Anthony, a senior on the team.
“It was special,” Veneziano said. “My mother was there as well. My father came from a tough background financially growing up and he had to join the service. But my father made sure I went to college and I just want the kids to know how fortunate they are and I think they do.”
The next veteran will be honored before the team’s home game Saturday against Farmington, with others set to be recognized in the remaining home games against Simsbury (Feb. 6), Maloney (Feb. 19) and Middletown (Feb. 19).
That final home game will also be senior night.
Tyler Cop, who was tragically killed in 2015, will be honored with his fellow senior classmates. Berlin will recognize two veterans that night, Cop’s father Richard (U.S. Marines) and grandfather Bruce Trevethan (U.S. Air Force).
For the veterans, what Veneziano and the Berlin basketball team are doing is something they not only appreciate, but would like to see more schools throughout the area do.
“I consider these people, these veterans, special people,” Newman said. “There’s only one percent of the population that join the service. I’m so glad they’re being recognized and they should be recognized for their bravery for what they do for the country. It takes a lot of sacrifice. A lot of guys don’t like to be in the spotlight. But I hope other coaches take his lead and his initiative.”
While the regular season is drawing to a close, the idea to honor someone before games is something the head coach would like to continue in future seasons as well.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Veneziano said. “Every veteran has received a standing ovation. Not every veteran fought in a war, but they served the country and have allowed us to do what we do on a daily basis. But I’ve been throwing it around in my head for what to do in the future, whether it’s military or law enforcement or teachers. We’re a small community and it’s nice to recognize people that enable us to do what we do.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org