PLANTSVILLE – For a quarter century, the Jim Calhoun Award has been the top honor presented at the Franciscan Sports Banquet, the major fund-raising event benefiting the Franciscan Life Center and Franciscan Home Care and Hospice Care. But this year, instead of the now-retired UConn men’s basketball head coach’s presenting the award, he was on the receiving end of an evening of tribute for all he has done on and off the basketball court.
More than 570 people attended the June 4 event at the Aqua Turf Club, where awards were also given to Jack McDonald, athletic director of Quinnipiac University in Hamden, and John Mirabello, head boys’ basketball coach at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford.
Special guests included Mother General Shaun Vergauwen of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist; Pat Calhoun, Coach Calhoun’s wife of 47 years and a former St. Clare Award recipient; Joe D’Ambrosio, host of WTIC’s “Sports Talk”; Arnold D’Angelo, Mary Rondini and Richard D’Angelo, grown children of the late sportscaster Arnold Dean; John Lahey, Quinnipiac’s president; Tom Moore, head coach of men’s basketball at Quinnipiac; Jake Voskuhl, retired NBA player and former UConn basketball player; and Steve Pikiell, head coach of men’s basketball at Stony Brook University.
The event was emceed, as in past years, by the father-son team Al and Tony Terzi, both now at FoxCT as news anchor and news reporter, respectively.
At this 28th annual banquet, Mother Shaun thanked Coach Calhoun for his involvement for the past 25 years. “Through the years, we have known how you relate on a one-to-one [basis] and how you make so many connections and interconnections,” she said, adding that Coach Calhoun has helped put the Franciscans in touch with many sports celebrities to make the event a success year after year.
As a surprise to Coach Calhoun, Mother Shaun introduced four of his young grandchildren, who came to the microphone with loving words for their grandfather. In his remarks, Coach Calhoun said he would forever be replaying in his head his grandchildren’s tribute.
Coach Calhoun said that he didn’t always want to be a coach – he wanted to play for the NBA and almost got to play for the Boston Celtics. He was cut in favor of a player from Ohio State – “a guy named Havlicek, I think it was. What happened to him?” he quipped.
Hall-of-Famer John Havlicek, of course, led the Celtics to eight national championships during his 16 years with the team, scoring a team record 26,395 points in his 1,270 games.
“My coaching life is rather simple,” Coach Calhoun said. “I’m a man of single purpose. I want to make everybody feel that they can be the best that they can be. Because you know what? Whatever you think you are, you’re probably right.”
He said a person with a microphone has an obligation to use it to help others. “I’d like to use the microphone to just reach out and say thanks. Thanks to the Franciscan Life Center, which has been absolutely incredible to me and very important in my life. And most important, thanks to all you folks for coming out tonight. I’m trying to find the words to say very simply, for the 26 years that I’ve been here, thanks.”
Coach McDonald received the St. Francis Award for his 18 years as athletic director at Quinnipiac. Mr. Lahey, Quinnipiac president, said Coach McDonald oversaw the transition of the school from Division II to Division I. “And since that time, his teams have won 28 conference championships and appeared in 17 postseason NCAA playoffs, capping off this year, his finest year as athletic director,” Mr. Lahey said.
Coach McDonald said, “I’m so grateful to the Franciscan Life Center for this award and also for all they do for families, youth and senior citizens. You’re a wonderful group.”
Coach Mirabello became the first recipient of the Dean of Sports Award, named in honor of longtime sportscaster Arnold Dean, who died in December 2012.
“I will not try to fill your father’s shoes,” Coach Mirabello told the late Mr. Dean’s children. “That’s an impossible task. I will try to earn this award for the rest of my life and in my coaching career.”
Margaret Williamson, principal and chief administrator at Northwest Catholic, said in a statement, “We are very pleased that John is being recognized for the wonderful person that he is. In his years at Northwest Catholic, John has positively affected the lives of hundreds of students in the classroom, in sports and by being the faith-filled person that he is. John’s demeanor may be quiet but his influence is loud.”
Frances Towne, of Cheshire, said she attends every year with family and friends. “I love the Franciscans because they do so much for everybody,” she said. “We know many people that have gotten a lot of help from them, and so we like to help them when we can.”
Mike Mele, of North Haven, said he has attended for five years. “This is a very good cause, and in my opinion it’s run so well and the people they honor I happen to highly respect,” he said.
Superior Court Judge Charles D. Gill of Litchfield said, “The Franciscans, male and female, seem to be the most down-to-earth, loving human beings. They care for people young and old. These people are such goodhearted, loving human beings. The world could use a lot more of them.”
“What the Franciscans do is extraordinary work,” said Kevin Budds of West Hartford. “They have brought so much to our community and help to so many people.”