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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Derby High School's Athletic Hall of Fame Banquet Scores Big

The Class of 2015
DERBYIt started with a dream.  The desire to succeed burned deep within.  Years of hard work and commitment helped make it a  reality.  With over 125 years of sports history, Derby High School inexplicably had been without an athletic hall of fame - until now.  
 
Much like those honored at the inaugural DHS Athletic Hall of Fame induction, committee members labored tirelessly for almost two years nominating, researching and - finally - electing the first class.  After much debate and discussion, the committee, led by President Mike Cannici, selected the following for enshrinement in the class of 2015:        
 
George Budzinak, a multi-sport standout, earned All-State honors in football twice and still holds school records for interceptions and points scored (season and career for both).  In addition to his gridiron exploits, George excelled in basketball, baseball and track, often participating in both spring sports on the same day (he reportedly ran the 100-yard dash in his baseball uniform, then returned to the diamond to finish the game).
 
Coach Lou DeFilippo was considered one of the premier football coaches in Connecticut high school history.  His Red Raider squads won 9 Housatonic League banners and were 2-time Register State Champs.  Five of DeFilippo's teams finished unbeaten, and his 116-30-8  overall record is still among the best ever at DHS.  In 1997, the football field at Ryan Sports Complex was dedicated in DeFilippo's name.            

One of DeFilippo's standout performers on the field, Vince Greco, was commonly referred to as one of the best lineman in the state.  As a matter of fact, Greco was voted the #1 all-time center in Connecticut by the Register.  As anchor of the Derby line for three years, Greco earned All-State honors twice, and the Red Raiders went undefeated each year he started.  He was also a four-year starter in baseball, and led the basketball team to two tournament wins during his All-Valley senior campaign.  Vince embarked on a successful college career at Wake Forest, where he excelled for the Demon Deacons.        
 
Walt "Buster" Jadach is the only member of the induction class still active in his chosen field - or should I say arena?  Jadach has amassed an unthinkable 600+ wins in 36 years as Derby's wrestling coach, inspiring countless champions along the way. As his incredible numbers continue to grow, what's more impressive is his connection to his wrestling family.  Many who are now in their thirties and forties still come back every chance they get to pay homage to the mentor who helped forge them into the men they are today.  Though several won titles on the mat, the lasting relationships they have maintained with Buster and his family is the greatest testament to his impact on Derby sports.       
One of Buster's top performers over the years was Mike Marcucio, a three-time Register All-Area wrestler and two-time MVP.  Marcucio averaged 36 wins a year during his storied career at DHS.  His dominant junior season (44-0) was capped off with a New England Championship.  His overall win streak surpassed the 60-match mark, extending well into his senior year. Marcucio went on to a standout career at Trinity, earning All-New England accolades three times.       
 
Bob Orchano, still the only State MVP in Derby's illustrious football history, established several new records during his career.  He rushed for 218 yards to set the single-game mark, and his 1,191 yards for a season in 1981 set the new standard for DHS running backs - even though he only played in 9 games that year. Among his many highlights were a 5-TD domination of Valley rival Seymour and his Silver Turkey-winning performance against Shelton.  All told, "Orch" scored 20 TD's that year, including at least one in each game he played.   
 
The DHS Athletic Hall of Fame Committee
Before Orchano could break any records, someone had to set them.  John Pagliaro, while leading Derby to back-to-back undefeated marks in 1972 and '73, set the bar high for future generations of Red Raiders.  In leading the Big Red Machine to the #1 ranking in '73, Pagliaro took his rightful place atop the rushing list in terms of yardage and scoring in school history.  His exceptional collegiate career with the Yale Bulldogs was capped off by two Ivy League Player of the Year awards and All-American honors in 1977, prompting Derby to retire his #44 game jersey.  As if that weren't enough, his exploits on the track as a sprinter yielded a record time of 9.9 seconds in the 100-yard dash - one Derby standard that has not been broken all these years later.       
 
The mid-1960's saw a resurgence in the football program at Derby High School, and veteran quarterback Tony Passander was a big reason why.  Under new coach Ron Carbone, the Red Raiders embarked on a prolonged run of excellence.  Passander, a three-year starter, is still the only Derby signal-caller to earn All-State honors (1965).  During his induction speech, he joked that the only reason classmate George Budzinak made All-State that year was because of him, but later conceded that it was really the other way around.  Clearly the two had a positive impact on each other - and on the long-term success of the Derby program.  After graduation, Passander headed to the Citadel, a suitable choice for a seasoned field general.  His illustrious career continued to the professional ranks, where he won a Grey Cup with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes.  
 
Diane Potkay is among the youngest in the inaugural induction class, but also among the most accomplished.  Her career at DHS was actually preceded by a dominant performance in the nutmeg games BEFORE her freshman year.  Competing against older and more experienced competition, Diane earned gold in both the discus and shot put.  Her high school career saw more of the same - much more.  She won the State Open all four years in the shot put, and each of the three years she competed in discus, and was New England Champ in each event once.  Diane enjoyed success at Yale, where she continued her winning ways.
 
Rounding out the Class of 2015 is Leo F. Ryan, for whom the sports complex at Derby is named.  Ryan coached football, basketball and baseball for over 20 years, setting a standard for excellence in all three.  The football team won several Housatonic Leauge titles and were State Champs on two occasions.  The 1937-38 basketball team, known as "The Moxie Gang," earned its nickname for its spirited play and never-say-die attitude.  The Moxie Gang made it all the way to the semi-finals that year, before losing to eventual State and New England Champs, Manchester.  An article written about Ryan after his retirement referred to him as a "developer of champions."  Anyone who looks closely at his accomplishments would have to agree.         
 
Committee members also presented a service award to Bill Pucci, who covered Derby sports several years as beat writer and editor of The Evening Sentinel, The Valley Drummer and The Valley Times.  Through Pucci's efforts over the past 40+ years, the Albarella Awards Committee, which holds Derby's annual football banquet, has not only survived, but continued to thrive.  Future service awards will be given  Pucci's name.        
 
In addition to Cannici, Hall of Fame Committee members include: Ray Silvernale, Jenn Moffatt, Steve Owen, Dan Shea, Brent Cavallaro, Bob Ahearn, Walt Biesalecki, Cory Bartone, and Jack Walsh, who also served as the evening's master of ceremonies.  The committee wishes to thank all who helped out in various ways, especially Sarah Jadach for working so hard behind the scenes, and the staff at Molto Bene for being wonderful hosts.  It was truly a night to remember.  

"This is a town, with a rich tradition," said Cannici. "History can never be erased, these legendary inductees deserve to be recognized for everything they did as athletes. We as a committee could not be prouder then we were this past Saturday evening, a new tradition has begun. The Derby Athletic Hall of Fame is here to stay. Nothing is given in this town, everything we get we earn."
 
(This is a press release from DHS Athletic Hall of Fame Committee President Mike Cannici and Committee Member Ray Silvernale, who wrote the biographies for each inductee)

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