The Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance will continue its tradition of honoring the very best in Connecticut sports on April 23 at its 65th Gold Key Dinner at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.
This year's Gold Key recipients are: East Lyme softball coach and women's sports pioneer Judy Deeb; Hartford Whalers standout Ron Francis; Harding-Bridgeport, University of Pittsburgh and NBA standout Charles Smith; and the state's career leader in wins for girls basketball coaches, Masuk-Monroe's Dave Strong.
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 205 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 medallists, past commissioners of both Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association and President George H.W. Bush.
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 by visiting www.ctsportswriters.org
Deeb, of Niantic, has been one of the most influential figures in state history for the growth of girls' and women's athletics.
Deeb will enter her 35th season as the softball coach at East Lyme High School, where she's amassed more than 450 wins, four Eastern Connecticut Conference championships and the 1994 Class L state championship.
Deeb, a physical education teacher at Lillie B. Haynes Elementary school in Niantic, sits in four different Halls of Fame. She belongs to the Connecticut High School Coaches' Association Hall of Fame (1995), the New Agenda Northeast Women's Hall of Fame (1993), the Connecticut Field Hockey Hall of Fame (2004) and the Connecticut Women's Basketball Hall of Fame (2005).
A Danbury native, Deeb began officiating basketball as a student at Southern Connecticut State and refereed games for more than 30 years, including 10 high school state championships.
Deeb was a founding member of the Greater New Haven Board of Basketball Officials and continued with that organization until 1978. She was a member of the CBCBO for more than 20 years and served as an executive board member and state chairperson. She is currently an observer of collegiate officials at the Division I level.
Deeb has also officiated numerous state field hockey championship games.
Many of Deeb's softball players have enjoyed college careers. In addition to coaching at East Lyme, Deeb is a member of the state softball coaches committee.
Francis was the face of the Whalers, playing 10 seasons for Hartford from 1981-82 through 1990-91 before being trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Francis led the Whalers to five straight playoff appearances, from 1985-86 through 1989-90.
He played in 747 games for the Whalers, scoring 272 goals and adding 571 assists for 843 points. He ended his career with 549 goals, 1,249 assists for 1,798 points in 1,731 games. Only Wayne Gretzky recorded more assists in NHL history.
Francis had 50 or more points in 22 straight seasons, including 100 with the Penguins in 1992-93, 101 with the Whalers in 1989-90 and 119 with the Penguins in 1995-96. His 22-season streak matches the record of fellow Gold Key recipient Gordie Howe.
Francis also played for the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs. He won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy three times (1994-95, 1997-98 and 2001-02). The Lady Byng is presented to the player who exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability. He was also presented the 2001-02 King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution to his community.
Francis was the fourth pick of the 1981 NHL Draft by the Whalers. A four-time team MVP, he was elected captain of the Whalers in 1984.
He was a key part of bringing the Pittsburgh Penguins their first two Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992.
Smith, a Bridgeport native now living in New Jersey, led Harding High School to back-to-back Class L state titles in 1983 and 84. He remains the career scoring leader at the University of Pittsburgh with 2,045 points from 1984-88. A two-time All-America selection, Smith averaged 16.8 points and 8.1 rebounds during his career at Pittsburgh, leading the Panthers to two regular-season Big East titles. Smith's number was retired in 1988. He was the Big East Rookie of the Year in 1985 and the Player of the Year in 1988. He was also a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team.
The 6-foot-10 Smith was the third pick of the 1988 NBA Draft, selected by the Philadelphia 76ers, but traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, where he spent the first four seasons of his nine season professional career. He averaged 14.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in nine seasons with the Clippers, New York Knick and San Antonio Spurs, retiring in 1997. He had 789 career blocks.
He averaged 21.1 points in 1988-89 and 20.0 in 1989-90 with the Clippers.
In 1989 Smith founded the Charles D. Smith Jr. Foundation and Educational Center in Bridgeport. The non-profit organization is "dedicated to enhancing the academic, social, and cultural skills of disadvantaged youths, many living in poverty conditions" and has received 26 awards from across the United States for its outstanding contributions.
A highly respected businessman, keynote speaker and founder of the New York-based New Media Technology, Smith was recognized in 2003 by NJ Biz Magazine as one of its Top 40 under 40 Entrepreneurs in the state of New Jersey.
Strong, of Watertown, is the career leader in wins for girls basketball coaches with a record of 619-111 through the 2004-05 season. He has led Masuk to the state tournament each of his 29 seasons, winning Class L state titles in 1990, 91 and 95. Strong has also led the Panthers to four other state title games and to the semifinals 11 times. His teams have won 19 conference titles.
Strong has also served as athletic director at Masuk since 1995. Since beginning his math teaching career at Masuk in 1969, Strong has served as a head or assistant coach for the following teams: girls and boys soccer, girls and boys tennis, golf, cross country, girls basketball, boys basketball and chess.
He started the girls basketball program in 1976 and the girls soccer program in 1986.
A three-sport athlete at Woodbury High School, Strong has led Masuk to two undefeated seasons and seven undefeated regular seasons. From 1994-97 Masuk won 50 straight games, and from 1993-97 the Panthers won 93 straight regular-season games. He was the winner of the 1995 Doc McInerny coach of the year award, presented by the CSWA.
A member of the Connecticut Women's Basketball Hall of Fame (2004), Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame (2000) and New England Basketball Hall of Fame (2002), Strong was named national coach of the year in 2002. An avid coin collector and baseball historian, Strong is on the selection committee for the New England Basketball Hall of Fame and has served on the board of several committees, including the CHSCA, CIAC and South-West Conference.
His teams have been presented the Sportsmanship Award by the Board #9 Certified Basketball Officials eight times. Fourteen of his players scored 1,000 points, 51 have played college basketball, and 28 have gone into coaching