NEW BRITAIN - For more than a decade, the New Britain Sports Hall of Fame has tried to give back to the community it represents by commemorating its history and keeping alive the legendary tales which make the community’s athletic history so rich.
This year, foremost among the Hall’s eight inductees were people who gave back to the city they love by helping future generations get the chance to create their own places in the fabric of its sports lore.
JoAnne Dimauro Staves didn’t get to participate in a lot of sports when she was at New Britain High because of a lack of opportunities for girls in the 1960s, but she became a star at Central Connecticut State upon reaching college, captaining the basketball and volleyball teams while also playing field hockey. A fantastic bowler as well. Staves was especially known for her tennis skills, which led her to regional awards. Her best work might have been as a teacher and coach at St. Paul Catholic High School in Bristol.
A member of the CCSU Athletic Hall of Fame as well, Staves has remained close to her friends from New Britain, where she got her start in sports.
“I guess it’s another verification that you can come home again,” Staves, who now lives in Old Lyme, said. “We still have a lot of connections here. We know a lot of people here, so we come up. It’s important to stay connected. It was fun, it was growing up and spending time with friends and family, and a lot of those people are here, which makes it nice.”
Though he knew he wanted to lead young wrestlers, Sebby Amato didn’t expect to get a coaching job with the Trinity wrestling program, which he ended up turning into a power which regularly produced All-Americans. His resume as a state champion with Pulaski High would have been enough to get him into the New Britain Sports Hall of Fame by itself, but Amato ended up spending some two decades helping shape a new generation of wrestlers.
No matter where his career took him, however, he never forgot his roots.
“To be inducted into your own city’s Hall of Fame is incredible. Who would have known when I was at the boys club or a 100-pounder at Pulaski I’d end up here? It’s amazing. I’m proud to go in as a wrestler because we had a great tradition at Pulaski, but I always wanted to coach,” Amato said. “My career was never straight, it was always up and down. Wrestling is funny because it builds character, but it shows character. I can’t tell you how much wrestling has helped me because it helps you learn to pick yourself up.”
Bryan Anderson feels strongly about helping kids gain character through sports, which is why, after starring in three sports for New Britain High, he helped coach some of the school’s best football teams in the early 2000s. He continues to work with the school’s Powder Puff program while volunteering at the YMCA. As someone who works for the city now, Anderson gives back to the place he loves every day. He grew up idolizing his brothers and the legends who came before him, and said he was humbled to have his name among those greats. What he has done for more recent student-athletes in New Britain, however, makes him most proud.
“It really helped my life having so many great friends who wanted to help out,” Anderson said. “I’m humbled to get this award. I can see how things have changed since I was in high school. Things are harder for these kids. It’s a tough battle, but I’ve been honored to be able to help out.”
Ron Pringle came from Weatogue, but there are very few more associated with New Britain these days than the former CCSU head softball coach, who also worked with basketball legend Bill Detrick before helping Beryl Piper lead the New Britain High girls’ basketball program to three state titles.
“This is very unexpected,” Pringle said of his enshrinement. “I’ve been here about 50 years. It feels like home. I used to listen to an old radio my dad had given me, and I’d get the old polka bands from New Britain. Then I’d read about the great basketball teams New Britain had, and then Teacher’s College (now CCSU) basketball would come on the radio. I ended up here.”
Pringle is still a fixture at CCSU athletic events and gives his time and support to the school and city to this day, adding to his legacy of giving. Regardless of where he started, Pringle is truly a New Britain man.
Paul Ryiz might no longer be in New Britain, but he has stayed connected to the sport he loves by serving as the Head Professional at Brownson Country Club in Shelton. The former NBHS football star went on to win numerous titles on the links and `played in PGA and Senior PGA tours, but he is most proud of being the ninth golfer in the New Britain Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s great to be recognized by the place you grew up in,” Ryiz said. “I think of my father, who was the director of Parks and Recreation here, and growing up at Stanley. From Little League baseball to football, there are a lot of great memories. … I played everything I could when I was a kid. Now I get to teach and help grow the game, which is as great game.”
For Scott Hamel, mentors such as track coach Irv Black were instrumental in his development and taught him lessons he tries to use today as he helps coach his sons in youth sports in neighboring (and rival) Berlin. Hamel’s heart never left, however, which was proven when his son Jack helped lead the Redcoats over the Hurricanes on the football field.
“Unfortunately, they beat us twice. Once was on (Jack’s) interception,” Hamel said. “Them beating New Britain killed me, but I was proud of him. I’m a New Britain guy, and I will be until my last breath. You’re proud, but Berlin beating New Britain is the last thing you want to see.”
This year’s only posthumous inductee, Stanley Sytulek, coached at St. Francis Middle School for years while also being an important part of the city’s Little League program for longer than most ever would be.
“He coached Little League when my brother was there,” Sytulek’s son Scott, also a Hall of Famer, said. “Then he coached the six years in between until I came up, which not many people do. Usually you just coach when your kid plays.”
One of Sytulek’s pupils was Joe Lombardo, a member of the Sports Hall of Fame committee who runs the event in the mold of Phil Huber, the “godfather” of the Hall of Fame, as Lombardo calls him.
“That’s my mentor. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here today,” Lombardo, also a baseball coach at Hartford Public, said of Sytulek. “Stan’s looking down on us right now. It makes me feel really, really good that he’s in.”
Also inducted was Wesley Morehead Jr., a star in track and basketball at Pulaski who went on to play in college and in the famed Rucker Park league against the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, and Julius Erving.
“I think I’m the only guy here who can say he battled three first-ballot Hall of Famers,” Morehead Jr., who played at New Mexico State and shined as a rebounder and defender, said. “Every time I saw (CCSU basketball coach Bill) Detrick, he told me I was the one who got away.”
On this night, however, Morehead Jr. was back home. After all, athletes leave New Britain, but as nights like Sunday proved, the city never leaves them.