The Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance continued its tradition of honoring the very best in Connecticut sports on April 17 with the 64th Gold Key Dinner.
Ledyard football coach Bill Mignault, former Cromwell boys' basketball and cross country coach Jake Salafia and former University of Bridgeport men's basketball coach Bruce Webster received Gold Keys.
The Gold Key is presented to those who have made noteworthy contributions to athletics in Connecticut. It is regarded as the most prestigious sports' award in the state and is often referred to as Connecticut's Hall of Fame.
Since 1940 the Alliance has presented 202 Gold Keys to the very best administrators, athletes and coaches, at the amateur, high school, college and professional ranks. The honor roll includes members of the baseball, basketball, football, and hockey halls of fame, Olympic Gold medalists, past commissioners of both Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association and President George H.W. Bush.
Mignault, the most successful high school football coach in Connecticut history, began his coaching career at Waterford High School in 1958, and established the program at Ledyard, where he's been since 1966. Mignault has amassed 295 wins, including state championships in 1986, 1991 and 1993. Mignault's teams have been to the state playoffs for three straight seasons and eight times overall.
Mignault set the state record for coaching victories on Oct. 20, 2001 when Ledyard defeated Sports Sciences Academy of Hartford, 47-6. The win was Mignault's 266th, enabling him to surpass former Trumbull coach and past Gold Key recipient Gerry McDougall.
In that game, Mignault's grandson, B.K., threw a touchdown pass to Mignault's other grandson, Patrick.
B.K. Mignault, who threw nearly 50 touchdown passes in his career and later played at Sacred Heart University, said of his grandfather, "I'll brag and say I played for the most successful coach in Connecticut football history. And then I'll go one better. I'll tell people he's my grandfather."
Both of Bill Mignault's sons, Brian and Bill Jr., have been on the Ledyard coaching staff. Brian Mignault, the principal at Ellis Tech of Danielson, remains on the coaching staff.
Mignault, 73, was born in Killingly and played football at the University of Connecticut. He has placed numerous players in college programs across the country, including current Purdue linebacker Luis Vasquez.
"I couldn't have done this without good players and assistant coaches," Mignault said. "The focus should be on the kids."
Mignault plans to return to Ledyard for his 39th season, where he'll likely win his 300th game next season.
Joseph "Jake" Salafia recalls accepting the Cromwell coaching job on an "interim basis" in 1962, pointing out the head coach had received a leave of absence. "The principal and I agreed it would be just one year but the guy never came back."
The Middletown-born Salafia went on to spend a quarter-century at the helm of Cromwell High basketball. He won seven CIAC Class S championships including a record five in a row (1967-through-'71) en route to a 445-119 career record.
"A Gold Key is a tremendous honor, a humbling experience," says Salafia, 76 and still a resident of Cromwell.
Salafia, who had served two seasons as JV basketball coach, was 8-10 his first season. It was the only losing campaign Cromwell had under Salafia who averaged 17.4 wins a season. His teams went to Class S finals 11 times, also winning the championship in 1979 and 1980.
He also put seven Class S cross country championships in the Cromwell trophy case. He coached the Cromwell harriers from 1958 through 1986.
"I was very fortunate," says Salafia, who coached 15 All-Staters. "I had outstanding athletes. Once a program starts winning, it starts getting numbers. That enables a coach to find more and more talent."
According to Salafia, "the greatest benefits of coaching do not stop when you stop." Many of his players "remain very good friends."
Salafia played basketball, football and track at Middletown's Woodrow Wilson High, the latter two under legendary coach Dan Chubbuck. "Playing for Chubbuck was a great experience and I brought some of that to my own career," he says.
After military service, he enrolled at Central Connecticut State University where he played some football for Hank Majlinger. He also has a graduate degree from Springfield College.
Al Lewis, who went on to Providence College, was Salafia's first basketball All-Stater in 1968. The list also included four-time All Stater Al Weston who went on to play at the University of Connecticut. Salafia had three All-Staters in 1969 (Tim Maher and Pete Denz joining Weston) and four in 1970 Ed and Dave Dlugolenski and Keith Byrd joining Weston). The Dlugolenski twins went on to West Point. Salafia's sons Joe, an All State selection in 1982, and Steve both played for him.
Webster turned Bridgeport into a Division II national powerhouse in his 34 years of coaching, winning 549 games and leading the Purple Knights to 15 postseason appearances from 1966-99.
His teams played for the NCAA Division II national title in back-to-back seasons, 1991 and 92. He also led the Purple Knights to five Elite Eight appearances (1976, 1979, 1990, 1991, 1992) and three appearances in the NCAA Division II Final Four (1979, 1991, 1992).
Webster was the National Association of Basketball Coaches Division II National Coach of the Year in 1992, as well as the NABC District I Coach of the Year in 1976, 1979, and 1992. His 549 wins entered this season 68th all-time among all division men's basketball coaches. He ranks 17th in Division II history. Only Jim Calhoun (Northeaster/Connecticut) has more wins in New England.
Webster averaged 18 victories per season, had 10 seasons with 20 or more wins and coached 11 All-Americans. The list of All-Americans during Webster's tenure includes Manute Bol, who went on to a career in the NBA after being drafted by the Washington Bullets.
On Feb. 28, 2004, Bridgeport honored Webster by dedicating the court at Harvey Hubbell gym in his honor. Dave Bike, longtime Sacred Heart coach and a past Gold Key recipient was one of many speakers, stating, " "We knew we made it when we played UB," he said."He could have easily brushed me off. But he helped me. He mentored me -- he had a heart."
Webster, a member of the New England Basketball Hall of Fame, took the Bridgeport job in 1965, a year after the Purple Knights won just two games. A Long Island native, Webster was a three-sport standout at Rutgers, and took the Bridgeport job after serving as a graduate assistant at Rutgers. He was 9-15 in his first season, 16-9 his second and 19-8 his third.
Tickets for the Gold Key Dinner, which begins at 4:30 p.m. at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington, are $60. Please make checks payable to CSWA, P.O. Box 70, Unionville, Ct., 06085. For more information please contact Sean Barker at 203-789-5651 or email@example.com.