New Britain City Journal

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The Sports Journal

NBHS Hoops Keep Old-Time Fans Coming Back

Loyalty may have lost its way over recent generations, but it surfaced long enough to bring a warm, toasty feeling to the boys basketball game between New Britain and Conard last Friday night.

It came in several forms.

Two senior citizens have been loyal Hurricane fans through the thickness of the many stirring victories and the sorrow of last season’s shortcomings.

Joe Falconeri, 91, resides in Newington. George Windish swings by on game nights and picks him up.

“I come every chance I get. He’s the driver,” Falconeri said. “We go to Newington and over here.”

Nobody wears New York Yankees gear prouder than Falconeri and few have better reason.

Circa 1933, 13-year-old Joe and his 18-year-old brother were permitted by their parents to ride the train to Yankee Stadium (my, how things have changed!). A kindly policeman outside the stadium directed them to an usher, who was told by a strapping young man to take the boys to “my seats.” The man was Lou Gehrig.

Trips to the Bronx may no longer be feasible financially or logistically but Falconeri, who will be inducted into the New Britain Sports Hall of Fame April 26, finds pleasure in watching the rebirth of the ’Canes under coach Todd Stigliano.

“This goes to show you the level of tradition there is in this school and how important it is for our guys to connect with that,” Stigliano said. “I try to talk about it all the time and [previous NBHS coach Stan Glowiak] did, too. You try to get the kids to realize this is bigger than the 18 people that come to practice.”

Falconeri was a pretty successful basketball coach in his day after a broken ankle ended his playing career. He speaks proudly of a 204-6 record and 10 championships coaching St. John’s in the CYO league. He knows the game and appreciates the strides Stigliano and the boys have made.

“They’re improving,” Falconeri said. “Compared to last year they’ve improved 60 percent.

“Defense! Number 24 (burly, court-wise sophomore center Craven Johnson). He’s ready for college. I hope he’s smart enough to get good marks because some college will pick him up right away.”

Falconeri enjoy his pregame chats with the players, who gathered around the two men during the junior varsity game.

“I tell them to get off your – you know – and get going,” he said.

A big grin enveloped his face when talked turned to the New Britain Sports Hall induction.

“I tried three times 20 years ago but got turned down. I gave up. Then I got the letter and I was so happy,” Falconeri said.

Any attempt to get him talking about current local sports events wound up with memories from the distant past. He spoke of Chick Shea, the legendary NBHS coach for whom the gymnasium was named.

“Coach Shea was the best,” Falconeri said. “He coached football, basketball and baseball for New Britain High.”

And any discussion about baseball in New Britain isn’t complete without a Steve Dalkowski yarn. Most New Britain sports fans don’t have to be reminded that Dalkowski is credited with having thrown the fastest fastball in the history of the game.

“We were up at Walnut Hill Park and Dalkowski was warming up,” said Windish, whose son graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas and was an active sportsman in Newington before moving on to Clinton.

“The other team Weaver was standing there. He threw the ball, it got by the catcher and it stuck into the backstop.”

Falconeri explained how Weaver’s first batter was reluctant to dig in.

He spoke glowingly of Stanley Arena, a New Britain sports stronghold of yesteryear.

“Stanley Arena was very active,” he said. “On Monday they had professional boxing, on Tuesday they had [roller polo, hockey played on roller skates). On Wednesday they had industrial league basketball. On Friday they had professional wrestling. On Saturday they had industrial league again. One dollar for a season ticket.

“Then Sunday, the Harlem Globetrotters came down a couple of times.”

More recently, the pair was enthralled by the exploits of Windish’s grand-daughter Lindsay, one of the finest softball pitchers the area has produced who attended Newington High in the late 1990s.

“She’s one of the best pitchers I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen a lot,” said Falconeri, who umpired fast-pitch softball for 50 years and is in the state softball hall of fame.

In another gesture of loyalty, a bouquet of flowers was presented by an NBHS cheerleader on behalf of assistant coach Darwin Shaw to his girlfriend Renee Hamilton-Jones on the occasion of her birthday.

Shaw is nearing 400 wins coaching the NBHS junior varsity and has won all 14 games this season. He has a glowing report about the immediate future for the program.

“This is possibly the best sophomore group in the 27 years I’ve coached,” he said. “We’ve never beaten teams like Northwest Catholic before. The [varsity] will be loaded the next two years.”

Shaw is responsible for helping scores of the city’s student-athletes through their tempestuous teens and toward healthy and productive lives. Perhaps his most famous constituent is Tebucky Jones. Shaw also coaches the girls track team and still finds the time to create and market his delicious sweet potato pies.

For any woman to put up with that type of schedule, loyalty has to be a major factor. How nice that the gym was packed for the announcement, appropriately provided by incomparable PA man Paul Majeski.