The Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance is pleased to announce that five individuals, whose legendary careers left an indelible mark on the state sports scene, will receive the prestigious Gold Key award in 2013.
Mike Gminski, a three-time All-State basketball player from Masuk High School who went on to play 14 seasons in the NBA, John Blomstrann, the longtime boys soccer coach at E.O. Smith who’s won more games than any coach in state history, Nancy Stevens, who recently completed her 23rd season as UConn field hockey coach and has won over 500 games in her 34 years of coaching overall, Laddie Lawrence, who has recorded an astonishing 1,659 victories in his 43 years coaching cross country and track at Staples High School, and Gary Liberatore, the former University of New Haven basketball star who still holds the New England record for most points scored in any division, will be honored at the 72nd Gold Key Dinner on Sunday, April 28 at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.
The Gold Key is regarded as one of the highest sports awards in the state, and since 1940 the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance has recognized individuals from the Nutmeg State who have achieved excellence on the youth, high school, college and professional levels. Past recipients of the Gold Key include Connie Mack (1940), Willie Pep (1961), Walt Dropo (1975), George H.W. Bush (1991), Gordie Howe (1992), Geno Auriemma (2001) and Jim Calhoun (2003).
The Class of 2013 recipients will continue that proud and rich tradition.
Gminski was one of the more dominant high school basketball players in the state during the mid-1970s, scoring over 1,600 points despite graduating from Masuk a year early. As a freshman at the Monroe school, he gave a glimpse of things to come when he was brought up to the varsity for the last seven games and scored 68 points, including 17 in his debut.
As a sophomore in 1974-75, the 6-foot-9 Gminski led the state in scoring with 30 points a game as he carried the Panthers to the Western Connecticut Conference championship and a 19-1 record, their only loss coming in the Class L state quarterfinals to Xavier by two points. He capped off his first full season by being named All-WCC and first-team All-State.
Gminski grew to 6-11 by his junior year and was even more dominant on the hardwood as he led the state in scoring again with a 40.7 average. He scored over 40 points 14 times, including career highs of 56 and 53 points. In addition to his 40-plus point games, he scored 39 points twice and 38 once. He also won a second consecutive WCC scoring crown with a 41.3 average in 18 league contests as the unbeaten Panthers captured a third straight WCC title and stretched their league winning streak to 50.
Masuk finished 22-2 overall in that 1975-76 season, reaching the state quarterfinals again while Gminski repeated as All-WCC and first-team all-state. Had he played his senior year, he may have threatened the New England scoring record of 2,691 points held by 2002 Gold Key winner Walter Luckett. But instead he graduated early and headed to Duke University where as a freshman he was named the ACC Rookie of the Year. As a sophomore, he helped lead the Blue Devils to the 1978 NCAA championship game, where they lost to Kentucky 94-88.
Gminski would lead the team in scoring his junior and senior years, was first team All-ACC three years, the ACC Player of the Year in 1979, and a UPI First Team All-American in 1979 and a second-team pick in 1980. He graduated as the Duke career leader in points (2,323), rebounds (1,242), and blocked shot (345). He was a first-round draft pick of the New Jersey Nets in 1980 and played 14 seasons in the NBA with New Jersey, Philadelphia, Charlotte and Milwaukee before retiring after the 1994 season.
Blomstrann has won more games than any Connecticut high school soccer coach in history with a record of 481-101-34 through this fall, his 33rd season at E.O. Smith. Included in that run are five Class LL state championships in 1985, ’87. ’91, ’94 and ’98. His teams have been to the state finals seven times overall, finishing runner-up in 1980 — his first season as head coach — and again in 1993.
In addition, Blomstrann has guided the Panthers to a remarkable 21 league championships — three in the ECC, 11 in the NCCC, and seven in the CCC. The highlight of his coaching career came in 2011 when he was named the National Coach of the Year by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association. He qualified for the award after being named the NHSACA Region One Coach of the Year for a third time (also in 1997 and 2005).
Blomstrann was recognized by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association as its coach of the year in boys soccer in 1999, while in 2007 he was inducted into the Connecticut Soccer Hall of Fame. He was also selected as the CJSA Coach of the Year in 1985, the same year he received the Eastern Board of Officials Sportsmanship Award.
Prior to coaching, Blomstrann played soccer at the University of Connecticut from 1972-75 for another Gold Key recipient, Joe Morrone, who described his former player as “a brilliant student of the game.” In fact, he received the Paul Lund Memorial Award in 1975 as UConn’s most improved soccer player.
Following his graduation, Blomstrann attended the University of Michigan to pursue his doctorate in science. He continued playing club soccer, officiating games and coaching in youth leagues, and later returned to his alma mater to coach UConn’s sub-varsity in 1978 and ’79. When E.O. Smith was looking for a science teacher and soccer coach in 1980, Blomstrann had found his home for the next three decades.
Stevens, who just completed her 23rd season at UConn and 34th overall, is recognized as one of the top collegiate field hockey coaches in the nation. After leading the Huskies to a 19-3 season this past fall, culminating with a 12th Big East Conference championship and quarterfinal appearance in the NCAA tournament, Stevens had an overall record 554-171-24 for a .764 winning percentage in 34 seasons. Her UConn record stands at 373-121-8 (.755).
She ranks second among active Division I coaches in overall wins and first in games coached with 749. In addition, Stevens has guided UConn to the NCAA tournament in 16 of the last 17 seasons — including the last 11 in a row — and has reached the national quarterfinals 12 times while advancing to the Final Four on five occasions.
In 2009, Stevens became the second coach all-time to win 500 games when the Huskies knocked off No. 5 Syracuse 2-1 in the Big East championship game. UConn has qualified for the Big East Tournament in 22 of her 23 seasons, advancing to the championship game 19 times and winning a league-record 12 titles, including three in a row from 1998-2000 and four straight from 2004-07. She’s also led the Huskies to the regular-season crown in 13 of the last 16 years.
Stevens has taken two Division I programs to a No. 1 national ranking with Connecticut in 1999 and Northwestern in 1985. She coached at Northwestern for nine years (1981-89) prior to coming to Storrs and compiled a 152-35-12 record, including three NCAA Final Four appearances. She began her career at Franklin and Marshall where she was 28-14-4 in her two seasons (1979 & ’80) there. She has coached 29 First-Team All-Americans, 20 at UConn and nine at Northwestern.
A seven-time Big East Coach of the Year and the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1988, Stevens was part of the U.S. Field Hockey National Coaching staff from 1982-90. She also served as head coach of the U.S. Olympic Festival North Team five times, winning a gold medal in 1986 and silver in ’85. As a player, Stevens was a member of the U.S. National Team from 1974-79. She was inducted into the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007 and into the Connecticut Field Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.
JOHN ‘LADDIE’ LAWRENCE
Lawrence has been a fixture at Staples for nearly a half-century, ever since he was a sophomore in 1962 and ran cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. In fact, he and a couple of friends helped start the cross country program. Lawrence not only excelled in all three sports, but served as a senior captain in each.
After winning the State Open indoor title in the 600 and the 400 Open crown in the spring of 1964, Lawrence went to Southern Arkansas on a full track scholarship.
It was at SAU where Lawrence began his legendary coaching career, becoming head coach of the men’s cross country team in the fall of ’68 when he needed one more semester to finish his studies. Following his graduation in January of 1969, Lawrence returned to Westport and assisted his former coach, Paul Lane, in outdoor track that spring. The following year he took over as coach of the indoor program, and in 1972 he became head coach of the cross country team. After eight years as Lane’s assistant, he took over the outdoor program in 1977.
Add it all up and Lawrence has been the cross country coach for 41 years, head coach in indoor track for 43, and he’s been the head coach for all three sports simultaneously for the last 36 years. During that time, he’s built Staples into one of the premier programs in the state in all three sports. In the 2011-12 school year, the Wreckers swept the FCIAC championship in all three sports, added the Class LL state title in both indoor and outdoor track, and captured the State Open crown in indoor track while finishing Open runner-up in outdoor.
Last spring’s 11-0 track and field team was Lawrence’s 29th undefeated season overall, his 67th FCIAC division title, and his 29th FCIAC championship. The Class LL state championship marked the 35th time one of his teams has won either a state class or State Open crown, while the Open runner-up finish was the Wreckers’ 26th in either a Class or Open meet. That means on 61 occasions his teams have finished either first or second at a Class or Open meet. Not to mention one New England championship and one New England runner-up.
Through this past fall, Lawrence’s overall record is 1,659-378-1, an .814 winning percentage. He has been named Coach of the Year in all three sports by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA) and was the National Coach of the Year in boys cross country in 1990. He was inducted into the FCIAC Hall of Fame in 2002 and the CHSCA Hall of Fame in 2004.
Liberatore first made a name for himself on Connecticut basketball courts at New Canaan High School, where he played only two full years of varsity but still finished with 980 career points. As a senior, he led the state in scoring with 24 points a game, none bigger than the last two. With one second left in the 1962 Class B state championship game at Yale’s Payne Whitney Gym, Liberatore calmly sank both ends of a one-and-one to give New Canaan a thrilling 49-48 win over unbeaten Plainville, which was riding a 28-game winning streak.
He received a full scholarship to New Haven College (now University of New Haven) where he continued his torrid scoring from 1963-66. Because New Haven was an NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) school, he could play varsity as a freshman instead of waiting until his sophomore year as he would have under NCAA regulations then. All Liberatore did his first year was lead New England in scoring with a 26.0 average.
His numbers increased to 32 points a game as a sophomore and 34 a game as a junior. Then as a senior in 1965-66, the 5-foot-10 Liberatore led the nation (among NAIA schools) with a 31.0 average, finishing with 1,009 points and was named the New England Collegiate Player of the Year. He scored a career-high 55 points against New York Tech, and had 42 points against Sacred Heart the night he became the first college player in New England history to score over 3,000 points.
Liberatore averaged 31.7 points in his career and his 3,176 career points is still a New England record in the major and small college divisions. He continues to rank among the top 20 scorers all-time in any division and still holds 14 records at UNH where his No. 45 is retired. He capped off his career by receiving the Bob Cousy Award as the best basketball player in New England under six-feet tall, and was selected to the NAIA All-American team.
Ticket to the 2013 Gold Key Dinner, which begins at 4 p.m., can be purchased by contacting either CSWA President George Albano of The (Norwalk) Hour at (203) 434-2320 or Vice President and Dinner Chairman Bob Ehalt of The New Haven Register at Ehalt.Bob@sbcglobal.net.