PLANTSVILLE – Jim Calhoun, retired head coach of UConn men’s basketball, remembers the first time he was a part of the Franciscan Sports Banquet. “I came in when [former heavyweight boxing champion] Floyd Patterson was here in 1988,” he told The Catholic Transcript moments before the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist’s 30th annual fund-raiser kicked off at the Aqua Turf Club on June 2.
“That was the night when the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist talked about love and spirit, and I went home and told my wife, ‘They gave me cookies.’ It was one of the greatest gifts I ever got.”
The Meriden-based community of Franciscan Sisters has continued their tradition this year of giving baskets of cookies and bread to guests at the head table – guests who this year included Bill Raftery, national sports broadcaster; Carolyn Vanacore, professor emerita at Southern Connecticut State University; Scott Gray, former announcer and commentator for WTIC; and Ray Reid, head men’s soccer coach at UConn.
Mr. Raftery was this year’s recipient of the St. Francis Award, presented to him by Donald “Dee” Rowe, special advisor for athletics at UConn. Mr. Rowe kept the crowd of 600 in stitches with his playful gibes at Mr. Raftery, including, “He has two honorary degrees. I’m still doing an investigation into how that happened.” Then he caused audience members to weep a few silent tears when he said, “He’s never been bigger than the game. He never thought he invented the game. He’s never been captured by himself.”
After Mr. Rowe’s 10-minute introduction, Mr. Raftery accepted the award and joked, “That introduction by Dee Rowe lasted longer than his coaching career.”
Mrs. Vanacore received the St. Clare Award, presented to her by her daughter, Lynn Vanacore Bloom, who praised her mother for promoting women’s athletics at SCSU. “It is true that my mother has been known as ahead of her time,” she said. “It is also true that my mother remains devoted to her family.” She compared her mother to Saint Clare, after whom the award is named. “Saint Clare defied traditional expectations,” Mrs. Bloom said. “My mother’s mission ... has been defined by the same extraordinary strength of will, generosity and faith. Carolyn Vanacore has moved through life undaunted by the obstacles.”
The Dean of Sports Award went to Mr. Gray, presented by WTIC “Sports Talk” host Joe D’Ambrosio, who called him “a most deserving recipient.” Mr. Gray thanked the sisters for the honor and for their hospitality. “I’m still not sure that I’m worthy of it,” he said. He recalled that the late Arnold Dean, after whom the award is named, gave him advice years ago when he was offered a position at WTIC: “If in two years you decide it wasn’t for you, it will never hurt you to have two years at WTIC-TV on your resume,” Mr. Dean had advised.
Jim Calhoun awarded the Jim Calhoun Community Service Award to Mr. Reid, praising him for his passion for the game of soccer. Mr. Reid praised the other honorees, his family and his former coaches.
His father, Ray Reid Sr., was present with other family members and told the Transcript, “To him, there is nothing but soccer. He eats and sleeps and drinks it. Of course I’m proud of what he has accomplished in soccer but I am prouder of him and what he’s accomplished with the boys. They all look up to him.”
Longtime Connecticut broadcaster Al Terzi has taken part in the banquet for more than 20 years. He once again joined his son, Fox CT news reporter Tony Terzi, in co-emceeing the event. The elder Mr. Terzi told the Transcript that he loves to participate in this event for the Franciscan Sisters because “they’re beautiful people who touch so many lives every day, and I just feel like I am in a special place when I’m in their company.… I’ll never stop doing this.”
Jay Festa of Cheshire is founder and president of CPM Group Insurance Services and has known Franciscan Sister Suzanne Gross for many years. “I’m so devoted to the sisters. They work so hard,” he said.