The Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance has announced the six 2017 John Wentworth Good Sports Award winners.
Tom D’Aquila of Middletown, Rich Leonardo of Hamden, Ed Morse of Derby, Tom Owens of Enfield, Chase Skrubis of Granby and Curtis Urbina of Newtown will be honored at the 76th Gold Key Dinner on Sunday, April 30, at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.
The award is given in memory of John Wentworth, the late sports editor of the New Britain Herald, and honors individuals who have dedicated their time to helping their communities through sports.
Super Bowl champion defensive end Dwight Freeney of the Atlanta Falcons, five-time Olympic archer Butch Johnson, Farmington High boys soccer coach Steve Waters and former Cheshire High swim coach Ed Aston will receive Gold Keys at the dinner.
Tickets to the 2017 Gold Key Dinner, which begins at 4 p.m., are $75 and can be purchased by contacting dinner chairman Tim Jensen of Patch Media Corp. at email@example.com or 860-394-5091; or CSWA President Matthew Conyers of The Hartford Courant at 860-874-4166, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tickets can also be obtained by mailing a check to the Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance, P.O. Box 70, Unionville, CT, 06085. Dinner proceeds benefit the Alliance’s Bohdan Kolinsky Memorial Sports Journalism Scholarship.
A look at the six Good Sports Award recipients:
Tom D’Aquila, Middletown
Tom D'Aquila's life is marked by his dedication to youth sports in Middletown.
D’Aquila was a math teacher at Old Lyme High School, where he started in 1968. He began his coaching career as a track coach in 1969 and as volleyball coach in the late 1970s. But D’Aquila has made his biggest impact in Middletown as a volunteer.
He was a volunteer assistant for Middletown High baseball coach John Geary for 17 years, including 1991 when the team won the Class L championship. He played a key role in starting the freshman baseball program at Middletown during that time. He has also been a volunteer assistant for the MHS softball team for the last eight years and organized, and ran clinics for young softball players. He volunteered as an assistant with the Middletown volleyball team for several years and assisted with the wrestling team for a time.
In addition to the high school volunteerism, he was a Little league coach for eight years, an intermediate baseball league coach for nine years, including coaching two state championship intermediate league All-Star teams and assisted the 15-and-under American Legion Baseball team in 2015 and the 19-and-under fall team in 2016.
D’Aquila has served on the Ahern-Whalen Intermediate League Board of Directors for 12 years and as league treasurer for eight years. He served on the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame for 10 years and served on the MHS Booster Club for over 20 years and helped establish the Fred Balsamo Scholarship Award, which is given annually at Middletown. D’Aquila has also served on the city's Park and Recreation Commission for 10 years, negotiated the return of CIAC baseball tournament to Middletown's Palmer Field and assisted in various capacities at the CIAC tournament games. He has served as business manager for Middletown Post 75 baseball and played a key role in organizing the 2010 Northeast Regional Legion Baseball tournament in Middletown.
Rich Leonardo, Hamden
Richard Leonardo has been a coach and administrator in the Hamden Fathers Basketball Association for 42 years. He began coaching at the boys’ 11-12-year-old level when he was 15 and has since continued to guide boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 17.
In 1977, he was named vice president of the newly-formed girls program, becoming the youngest board member in the organization’s history. He served as the HFBA’s recording secretary for 20 years. For the last 15 seasons, he has directed the boys’ 13-14 league and been the league’s travel director. He coached a girls 6th-8th-grade team for 18 years, one of the most successful programs of its kind in the New Haven area.
Leonardo was a mayoral appointment to the Hamden Parks and Recreation Commission in 2004. He has helped create policy that has benefited town residents of all ages.
Ed Morse, Derby
Ed Morse is a longtime Ansonia booster and historian for the high school football team. After playing under former coach Boots Jarvis and helping Ansonia win seven games in 1958, Morse has occupied a different role for the program the last few decades. He has served as the school’s de facto director of sports information, where he has helped keep track of some of the state’s biggest athletic standouts on the football field.
As the team booster and historian, Morse, a retired human resources and plant manager, has tracked and recorded information about the football team, including the statistics of former running backs Alex Thomas and Arkeel Newsome.
Morse, who now lives in Derby, has served as the president, vice president and the chief executive officer of the Ansonia Gridiron Club. He was just the third president of the organization. With the club, he has helped run fundraisers, oversee the publication of the yearly program and deal with the daily operations of the organization.
In a 2011 New Haven Register article, Morse talked about his dedication to Ansonia and the football team.
“I love the program and I love the kids,” Morse said. “I just enjoy the success that these kids had and I want to be part of it to keep the tradition going.”
Tom Owens, Enfield
Tom Owens has spent nearly four decades as a dedicated volunteer for youth sports in Enfield.
Owens began as a coach in the Thompsonville Little League, and served youths at all levels during his tenure: instructional, minor, major and senior league. He was coach of the postseason All-Star team eight times in major and senior leagues.
Owens was elected to the Little League board of directors and eventually became president, a post he held for 10 years.
In the late 1980s, he founded and sponsored a Babe Ruth League team from Enfield, which competed in the western Massachusetts Babe Ruth/Connie Mack League and captured the state championship in 1989. He continues to play an active role in youth baseball, assisting his son Thomas with the Enfield American Legion senior division team.
Owens also founded an adult/youth bowling league, which has been in operation for more than 35 years. He was director of basketball operations at the Enfield Youth Center for nine years.
Chase Skrubis, Granby
Since forming the non-profit charity "Klubs for Kids" in the basement of his family’s home with his father Steven, Granby Memorial High School senior Chase Skrubis has donated refurbished clubs to 90 children, helped pay for the lessons of several golfers and started a scholarship at Granby High for kids interested in business.
Skrubis and his father started the charity in 2010 to allow kids that wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to learn the game. But after his father died suddenly in 2014 from a heart attack at 54, Chase has carried on the charity in his father’s memory with help from his mother, Lisa.
When Chase was 10, he started "Klubs for Kids" as a way to give back. With the help of his father, he helped turn the family basement into a repair shop with a shaft puller, blow torches, a bench clamp, mats, aprons and a regripping station. Soon enough, he was busy getting new golfers into the game, giving them a set of clubs, golf balls, tees and sometimes, a golf glove. Skrubis got the clubs through donations.
In 2015, Skrubis received $13,250 from the Travelers Championship when he was honored as co-chair for his charitable work. After talking with his mother, he decided to start a scholarship with the money, giving $1,000 to an outgoing Granby Memorial High senior interested in business.
Curtis Urbina, Newtown
Curtis Urbina weighed about 75 pounds soaking wet when he first walked into DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx. But the school’s wrestling coach took Urbina under his wing, and by the time Urbina had graduated in 1975, he had gone from a kid who took his lumps in the lightest weight class to a team captain.
Urbina is now giving back to the sport as the elementary school head coach in the Newtown Youth Wrestling Association.
Since taking over the reins at the NYWA nine years ago, he has helped the elementary school program grow from 12 wrestlers to about 65. The program serves as a pipeline to what has become a powerhouse at Newtown High. Newtown won its first State Open title in 2015, a direct result of the work being done in the elementary school program, which included two-time national champion Anthony Falbo.
Urbina helped guide the NYWA through its darkest hours in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. One of program’s most promising young stars, first-grader Jack Pinto, was one the 20 students and six educators who were killed. The Sandy Hook school was the program’s home gym, too.
Urbina’s philosophy has never changed: Have fun, work hard and be the best you can be. More important than the wins and losses are the young lives being positively influenced.
Chase Skrubis photo courtesy of Klubs for Kids via Facebook;Curtis Urbina photo courtesy of The Patch