SOUTHINGTON - In almost any venue or just simply written down, it would be an impressive list of names. The list of accomplishments running long, from all-conference, to All-State, to state championships.
So it was only fitting Sunday afternoon, those nine names and two baseball teams - each a Redcoats great in their own right - were officially etched among some of Berlin High School’s athletics best when they received induction into the Berlin Athletic Hall of Fame, becoming members of the Class of 2018.
Some of the inductees told stories of former teammates and coaches, while others reflected on their time in the Redcoat uniform or how something that seemed so simple at the time turned into such a big difference later in life. It was also a time to remember former Berlin wrestling coach Jim Day who passed away in February.
Larry Kellum was the first to be inducted. A 1947 graduate, Kellum excelled in every sport he played, becoming a four-year athlete in football, basketball and baseball. He even went to play at Central Connecticut State College (now CCSU) before being drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Kellum later became an educator himself to shape the lives of the younger generations.
Unfortunately, Kellum passed away in 2002 and was inducted by his sister Shirley Margnelli and her son, who shared Kellum was always about family, education and sports.
“He would be really honored and truly pleased to be inducted into the Berlin Athletic Hall of Fame,” Margnelli said. “He loved sports all his life and always followed his nephews’ careers in sports, but education was always his goal.”
Dr. David W. McCain was another who was inducted posthumously. A standout on the baseball diamond and football field before he graduated in 1950, McCain helped Berlin win league championships in football in 1947 and ’48 and one in baseball his senior season. After continuing his career at what is now CCSU, McCain received professional invitations from the St. Louis Cardinals as a pitcher and the Los Angeles Rams as an offensive lineman before a shoulder injury turned him to teaching.
“He was someone who anyone who strive to be,” said his grandson David, who accepted the induction on his grandfather’s behalf. “He was a star athlete, an incredible person, compassionate, loving and giving people an equal opportunity. It’s kind of unreal because I’ve hear stories or seen pictures in scrapbooks about ‘Big Dave tosses no hitter’ or leading his baseball and football teams to wins and this makes all those stories a reality.”
Sherwood "Woody" Anderson went on to set records as a member of the Redcoats cross country team before graduating in 1965. He then went on to have a distinguished journalism career at the Hartford Courant, earning more than 40 state, New England and national awards during his career. In 1989, Anderson was nominated for a Pulitzer Award for coauthoring a series on steroid use by high school athletes.
“I’m really honored by [the selection],” Anderson said. “There’s such a wealth of talent from this school and I was like, ‘my name came up?’”
Sarah Szczepanik Sayko graduated in 1993, but not before leaving Berlin as a three-sport star, who went on to win awards and all-conference honors in volleyball, gymnastics and track. In track, she set a school record in the 300-meter hurdles in 19993, won the Class M state title and was the first Berlin athlete to compete in the CIAC heptathlon.
Her induction speech was about giving thanks to all those who supported her throughout the years from coaches to parents and her husband Joshua, a Berlin graduate himself. But her final message was saved for her daughter Isla.
“Dream big and girls rule,” Szczepanik Sayko said.
Paul Coccomo comes from an athletic family and growing up he wanted to carry on that tradition with the Redcoats. Whether it was on the baseball or football field, he knew how to come through in big situations before graduating in 1995. Coccomo was a three-time all-conference pick, an All-State selection and two-time defensive player on the year in football. In baseball, Coccomo was all-conference and an All-State honorable mention. He ended his high school career with a three-year batting average of .364 and the team won the state championship his senior season.
“Growing up the youngest of three boys playing sports in Berlin, I always looked up to my brothers, Tom and Michael,” Coccomo said. “I always wanted to compete with them and be as good as they were. We grew up in a competitive household and they taught I had the fight to win.”
As a four-year member of the baseball team, Cory Carlson dominated opposing hitter from the mound, finishing his career with an 18-1 record before graduating in 1995. Along with being all-conference and All-State, Carlson helped guide the Redcoats to the 1995 Class M state championship. He was also a standout on the soccer field and basketball court.
Carlson’s taken the lessons he learned at Berlin and applied them to today where he is in his 15th season as the head coach as the Northwest Catholic baseball team. During his time with the Lions, have appeared in 14 consecutive state tournaments, have five conference championships and two state titles, in 2010 and 2015.
“To be in here with my uncle and my brother and my friends like Pauly [Coccomo] and Nancy [DeBlasio], it’s a great honor,” Carlson said. “And to be in here with the ’89 and ’90 [baseball] teams, those guys pretty much started Berlin baseball. I may live in Southington and wear black and green and [Berlin head baseball coach] Leo [Veleas], I’ma try to beat [you] on Wednesday, but I will always be a Redcoat and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
DeBlasio accomplished just about everything an athlete can during their high school career. A 1998 graduate, DeBlasio was a four-sport standout, excelling in volleyball, soccer, basketball and softball. In all four, she was a member of the Northwest Conference All-Academic team, was all-conference in three after only playing soccer her sophomore year and was a two-time, All-State selection in softball, becoming the first Redcoat to be named All-State as a freshman. DeBlasio also helped guide the volleyball team repeat as Northwest Conference champions her junior and senior seasons.
Even with such a long list of accolades, DeBlasio said she is never one to seek out the spotlight and getting the call to let her know she was going to be part of this class was a privilege.
“It’s just a humbling experience and an honor,” DeBlasio said. “It’s something I will cherish for the rest of my life and take great pride in. It’s a privilege to be here. Being an athlete from Berlin, it means something. It’s a town I love to represent.”
Christopher Green was another record setter in cross country and indoor and outdoor track before graduating in 2004. An All-State selection, State Open and New England place winner and All-American, he then went on to run at Harvard. Green left Berlin holding nine school records from the 600-, 800-, 1,000-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter dashes/runs as well as the steeplechase.
“I’m honored by this recognition,” Green said. “But I was really interested in how good I could be and got some great help along the way. I had some great teammates and members of the community and former teammates. Running, I think, is always about finding your best self.”
Barbara Breslin was a pioneer and trailblazer in Connecticut wrestling, becoming the first female assistant coach in state history.
She became involved in wrestling when her brother, Paul, became involved in the sport. Breslin was a volunteer team manager from 1982-87 after graduating in 1981 and became an assistant wrestling coach from 1988-2011, working with Day. Breslin was also one of the co-founders of the Berlin Youth Wrestling program in 1988. In 1995, she was selected as the Connecticut Coaches Association Person of the Year.
“I enjoyed every moment of my wrestling life and this honor is truly the icing on the cake,” Breslin said. “I have had the pleasure of getting to know many, many wonderful young men and women over the years, but I’ve also gotten to coach my own niece and nephews.”
The 1989 and 1990 baseball teams were also inducted. These Redcoats teams were back-to-back state champions, suffering just one loss in the ’89 season and went a perfect 22-0 a year later. Both were led by Berlin Athletic Hall of Famer Leo Veleas.
“Berlin is a very special place to play baseball,” said Peter Veleas, a member of both teams who spoke for the group. “I believe that a lot of the traditions, other than the ’84 team, these two teams are what started that tradition. The 1989 team was the first Berlin baseball team to win a state title since 1958 and they followed it up with an undefeated season the following year.”
The Class of 2018 will be looked upon as a great one in future years and one which will provide stories to be told for years to come.