The Connecticut High School Coaches Association has its new executive director.
Joe Canzanella, the former New Haven public schools athletic director, will take over the role the organization announced on Monday. He replaces long-time director and Connecticut coach John Fontana, who passed away on Oct. 21, 2019.
“I’m excited because I have the opportunity to be part of an association that has a long history of high school athletics in the state of Connecticut,” Canzanella said in a statement. “It’s been in existence since 1951. There have been tremendous people that have led this organization. I’m very fortunate to have Jiggs Cecchini (CHSCA treasurer) as my mentor and a great executive board. The role of the organization will be as a leader along with the CIAC and the Connecticut Athletic Director’s Association in high school athletics, and it hasn’t been more evident than now with the times were having. This is unprecedented. The adversity with covid-19 has changed the landscape of not only education but the student athletes and their participation.”
Fontana was executive director for more than 30 years and was involved with the organization since the 1970s. He was Southington High’s longtime baseball coach with 669 victories and two state championships. Fontana was also a member of the Connecticut and National High School Halls of Fame.
As Director of Athletics of New Haven Schools beginning in 1999 before stepping down in 2015, Canzanella oversaw 50 elementary, middle and high schools, all physical education teachers and middle and high school coaches, including Hillhouse, Career and Wilbur Cross High Schools. Canzanella is a national faculty member of the NIAAA and holds the professional title of Certified Master Athletics Administrator. He also coached football at Hillhouse and Cross over a 10-year period as well as coaching boys soccer, girls basketball, baseball, softball and was a director of the New Haven Unified Sports for six years.
In addition to coaching, Canzanella has officiated boys and girls basketball for more than 30 years, more than 20 in the CIAC tournament and 11 CIAC state championships. He served as an assigning supervisor and high school softball official for 30 years, 25 as a CIAC state tournament official and 10 in state championships.
“Our priorities are many,” Canzanella said. “No. 1 is to increase recognition throughout all the educational bodies of the CHSCA. Recognition of our brand and our name is very important to us. We’re hoping to be part of every decision that affects our high school student athletes.”
He also said it’s important to represent the membership of the group, which is close to 4,000, “in a positive light and to promote to the public that our coaches are very important to student-athletes and their academic, athletic and social success.”
“Kids depend on coaches, very close to being a second parent,” Canzanella said. “From the inner cities to rural Connecticut, coaches are the lifeline between kids and schools.”
But questions still remain about schools reopening in the fall and whether or not there will be a sports season that goes along with it. The CIAC began its second phase of returning to sports last week and its executive director, Glenn Lungarini, has said the plan it for football to return Aug. 17 with other sports following 10 days later.
“Everybody’s planning on a full go right now,” Canzanella said. “The situation is fluid. Decisions and policies will be developed as the data is analyzed. Later on this month or early next month, there will be some idea where we’re going.”