A pair of outstanding college basketball players, a milestone-achieving prep school coach, a longtime NFL coach and the founder of the world’s largest sports network have been selected to receive the prestigious Gold Key Award by the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance.
Former NBA players Chris Smith and John Bagley, St. Thomas More boys basketball coach Jere Quinn, Super Bowl champion assistant coach Chris Palmer and ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen will comprise the Class of 2019, which will be honored at the 78th annual Gold Key Dinner on Sunday, April 28, 2019 at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.
The Gold Key Dinner was inaugurated in 1940, with baseball legend Connie Mack and golf superstar Bobby Jones among the initial recipients. The roster of honorees since then reads like a Who’s Who of Connecticut sports – Joe Cronin, Julius Boros, Willie Pep, Andy Robustelli, Lindy Remigino, Floyd Little, Joan Joyce, Carmen Cozza, Otto Graham, Calvin Murphy, Joe Morrone, Gordie Howe, Bill Rodgers, Tony DiCicco, Geno Auriemma, Rebecca Lobo, Brian Leetch, Kristine Lilly, Marlon Starling and Dwight Freeney are just a few of the past Gold Key winners. A complete list is available at www.ctsportswriters.com.
Tickets to the Gold Key Dinner are $75 apiece, and may be reserved by contacting CSWA President Tim Jensen of Patch Media Corp. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860-394-5091, or Vice President Rich Gregory of the Danbury News-Times at email@example.com or 203-705-8625.
Proceeds from the event benefit the Bo Kolinsky Journalism Scholarship, named after a longtime Hartford Courant sportswriter and past CSWA president who died unexpectedly in 2003.
Here is a brief look at the honorees from the Class of 2019:
Bagley, 58, graduated from Warren Harding High School in Bridgeport in 1979. From 1976 to 1979, the Presidents won two Class L championships and placed second twice. He played three years at Boston College, earning Big East Player of the Year honors in 1981, first-team All-Big East in 1981 and 1982 and third team All-American in 1982. He was the 12th overall selection in the first round of the 1982 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, embarking on an 11-year professional career with Cleveland (1982-87), the New Jersey Nets (1987-89), Boston Celtics (1989-93) and Atlanta Hawks (1993-94). His best overall season was 1985-86, averaging 11.7 points and 9.4 assists per game with the Cavaliers, and his top scoring average was 12.0 points per game in 1987-88 with the Nets. Bagley was inducted into the Boston College Varsity Club Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995, and his jersey number 54 was retired by the college in 2017. He coached college and semi-pro basketball in Illinois until returning to Bridgeport to coach at his alma mater, Harding, in 2017.
Palmer, 69, spent 22 years as an assistant coach in the NFL, plus two seasons as head coach of the “expansion” Cleveland Browns in 1999 and 2000, after the original franchise moved to Baltimore. His career highlight was as quarterbacks coach for the New York Giants, with whom he earned a Super Bowl ring in 2008 as the Giants upset the New England Patriots, 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII. His protégé, Eli Manning, earned Super Bowl MVP honors in that victory. The 1968 graduate of Immaculate High School in Danbury played quarterback at Southern Connecticut State College, earning a spot in the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Palmer began his coaching career as an assistant at UConn in 1972, working at Lehigh and Colgate Universities before head coaching stints at the University of New Haven and Boston University. He also coached in the Canadian Football League and with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL, where he coached former Heisman Trophy winners Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie. In addition to the Giants, his pro assistant coaching career included jobs with the Houston Oilers, New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills. He is currently athletic director at the University of New Haven.
Quinn, 63, graduated from Central Connecticut State College in 1977, serving as basketball captain his final two years. He still holds the school record with 227 assists in 1975-76. He was hired as boys basketball coach at St. Thomas More School in Oakdale, and has never finished below .500 in 40 seasons. Over 250 of his players have earned college scholarships, and more than 50 have played professionally, including five in the NBA. On Jan. 24, 2018, he collected career win No. 1,000 at Worcester Academy. His teams have won the 2011 National Prep School championship and five New England championships, as well as 16 other New England finals and two other national finals. He and his 1991-92 team are members of the New England Basketball Hall of Fame, and he was inducted into the CCSU Hall of Fame in 2018. He was nominated to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.
Rasmussen, 86, had been communications director and a broadcaster for the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association for four years when he and most of the front office staff were fired following the 1977-78 season. Contemplating his future with his son, Scott, the then-Enfield resident came up with a novel concept: an all-sports network in the burgeoning cable television industry. On July 14, 1978, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) was incorporated, and the network launched on Sept. 7, 1979, going on to become the global leader in sports programming. Sports Illustrated recognized Rasmussen’s significance in the sporting landscape in 1994, placing him 29th on a list of “Forty For the Ages,” a ranking of the “40 individuals who have most significantly altered or elevated the world of sports in the last four decades.” Rasmussen ranked higher than legends such as Pele (30), Bobby Orr (31), Sugar Ray Leonard (32), Nolan Ryan (34), Peggy Fleming (35) and Julius Erving (40).
Smith, 48, graduated in 1988 from Kolbe Cathedral in Bridgeport, where the Cougars won the Class M championship in 1985 and placed second in 1987. He stayed in state to attend UConn, where he remains the all-time men’s basketball scoring leader with 2,145 points, averaging 16.9 points per game. As a sophomore in 1989-90, he was the Big East Tournament MVP, leading the Huskies to the Elite 8, and he was a first-team All-Big East selection in 1992. He was a member of the U.S. national team that won a silver medal at the 1990 Goodwill Games and bronze at the FIBA World Championships the same year. He was drafted in the second round by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1992, and played with them for three seasons, averaging 5.1 points and 2.8 assists per contest. He played six more years professionally in the CBA and Europe before retiring in 2000, and he was named to the UConn Basketball All-Century Team.
Since 1939, members of the Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance have been chronicling and sharing the exploits of Connecticut athletes with the citizens of the Nutmeg State. The Alliance began as a group of newspaper sportswriters but over the last 79 years, the Alliance has evolved to include sportswriters, television and radio broadcasters, photographers and online journalists.
Our mission is to perpetuate the craft of sports journalism through our financial aid/scholarship program for high school seniors who intend to pursue a career in sports journalism while honoring those who have enriched the sports landscape in Connecticut. Proceeds from the Gold Key dinner help fund our scholarship program.
Photo credits: Bagley photo courtesy of Boston College Athletics; Palmer photo courtesy of University of New Haven; Quinn photo courtesy St. Thomas More; Rasmussen photo courtesy ESPNfounder.com; Smith photo courtesy UConn Athletics
Contact: Tim Jensen, firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-394-5091