NEW BRITAIN — The New Britain Sports Hall of Fame welcomed eight new members during a dinner held in the Generale Ameglio Ballroom Sunday.
The non-profit organization’s 2018 honorees included five New Britain High School alumni, two St. Thomas Aquinas High School alumni and one church basketball legend.
Longtime city educator George Springer Sr. was posthumously inducted in for his dedication to students, having founded the soccer program at New Britain High School, where he also served as a baseball and volleyball coach. His son, George Springer Jr., accepted the award in honor of his father, who passed away in 2006.
“My father was an amazing man,” Springer said. “He was a great father, teacher, community activist and [Sunday] is being honored for being a great coach. Coaching is about teaching the value of hard work, discipline, honesty, self development and respect for others. I can’t think of any other person that not only preached those virtues but lived them, besides my dad.”
Sunday’s oldest inductee was 96-year-old Alton Brooks, who celebrated over 22 championship seasons — three of them undefeated — coaching the YMCA’s church basketball league.
“I was able to teach the young boys basic basketball skills and also about basic ways of life,” Brooks said.
He added that he was “elated and humbled” by the induction.
Brooks, a member of the A.M.E. Spottswood Zion Church, is perhaps best known for his dedication to civil rights as one of New Britain’s longtime leaders.
Also a basketball legend is inductee Dave Sytulek, who graduated as a two-time state champion as part of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Class of 1984. He went on to become a physical education teacher and is currently the athletic director at South Windsor High School.
“I had coaches that were great mentors to me,” Sytulek said. “Now I’m able to mentor coaches under me to make sure they give athletes a positive experience.”
He credited the St. Thomas Aquinas community’s support of athletes with helping foster his own passion for athleticism.
Fellow school alum Josh Farrell was the 10th of 11 children in his family to attend, but the only to become two-time MVP of the Class M state tournament, as a sophomore in 1981 and a senior in 1983. He was joined at Sunday’s banquet dinner by his family.
Inductee Ernie Pettinelli had the opportunity to catch up with one of his former NBHS teachers at the banquet.
Pettinelli played both offense and defense on the school’s varsity football team. He was awarded the Peter Perakos Award for outstanding performance by a lineman his senior year.
“I love the history of sports in New Britain,” he pointed out. “It’s a tradition.”
Pettinelli, who also played baseball and ran track, has continued coaching in the community over the years.
Another multi-sport champion is Nick Hudyma, who competed in baseball, soccer and basketball. His youth career began in Little League and culminated with an induction into the Academic All-State Team. Since graduating from New Britain High in 2000, Hudyma still holds the record for best batting average in a season. Today, he is a member of the Men’s Club at Stanley Golf Course, where he has won back-to-back Club Championships the last two years.
“This is one of the biggest honors of my life,” Hudyma said Sunday.
There was no “best” sport for John Gray, who was an All-State high jumper in track and field his entire time at New Britain. He also earned all-conference honors for basketball and football, going on to play semi-professional football in Hartford in the late 1970s.
“It kept me out of trouble,” Gray said of his sports career. “I went from one sport to the next without taking any time off. I loved it.”
Today he coaches his grandchildren’s sports teams.
“This is amazing for me, to be honored in the city I was born and raised in,” Gray added.
“Amazing” was also the word fellow inductee Kevin Urso used to describe the honor of joining the hall of fame.
Urso was an All-CDC defensive and offensive lineman both his junior and senior years at New Britain High School. After graduating in 1981, he went on to play at Milford Prep and was offered a four-year football scholarship to the University of Connecticut by then-head coach Walt Nadzak.
He also spent some time coaching at New Britain and in the city’s PAL League.
Now in its 23rd year, the New Britain Sports Hall of Fame grows by seven or eight members each year. A committee accepts nominations and votes in honorees.
“It’s very democratic,” Chairman Joe Lombardo said. “The people on the committee are the people in the know. We’re really excited about the diverse group chosen this year. New Britain is a melting pot of athletes. No matter what neighborhood you grew up, sports are the one thing that brings you back.”
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org