By Hayley Tafuro
The Fairfield County Sports Commission has named its 2014 Sports Persons of the Year, marking a special 10-year milestone for not only the award, but also the existence of the re-launched organization.
What started out at first as an economic-centered entity, according to Executive Director Tom Chiappetta, then independently launched as a 501c3 educational organization in 2005. Some of their highlighted work has included involvement with the Park City SportsFest for NCAA women’s basketball tournament games held in Bridgeport, the NCAA hockey tournament in Bridgeport and the MAAC basketball tournament in Fairfield.
However, one of their ideas that has turned into a longstanding tradition was the idea of a Hall of Fame dinner, which from there has grown into honoring the Hall of Famers, other special awards and, of course, the Sports Persons of the Year.
“Each town has a local representative and a little committee that pretty much does all of the selections,” said Chiappetta, who described these committees as “the eyes and ears” of the town. “We try to keep it to just the course of the year and what events have transpired.”
Each year has featured a wide variety of sports-involved recipients, from Little League teams to senior Olympic athletes and even a 90-year-old Greenwich umpire in light of his retirement. On this year’s list, winners range from the Bridgeport Central boys basketball team to Weston’s Michael Carter of the Weston Stadium Lights Committee and the Weston Sports Commission.
“Whether it’s coaches, teams, athletes, people in the community, recreation people, every year it’s got a good variety,” Chiappetta said. “Also there are lots of different sports from archery, Olympic athletes, sailors, rowers, not just the ball and stick sports.”
Over the past decade, this range has been apparent, and all will gather for this year’s 10th anniversary awards dinner at the Hyatt Regency in Greenwich.
“We’re inviting all of our Hall of Famers back, and how many will come, I’m not sure,” Chiappetta said. “In having 10 years, we’ve now recognized 150 people in these communities. We think that’s significant and what’s really important about what we do, being the resource to the community. When we have the gathering of these various people every year, we certainly try to invite back everyone.”
Chiappetta noted one attendee in particular, Larry Miller of Stamford, who has come to just about every dinner since his winning the first year of the commission’s Sports Person of the Year award in 2005.
“We didn’t know how it would work when it started but the dinner has worked very well. It’s the one night where we can all get together to recognize everyone,” Chiappetta said.
Another first-year winner who will also make a special stride in organization history, also making this 10-year anniversary one to remember, will be Boston Red Sox pitcher and former 2005 Trumbull Sports Person of the Year Craig Breslow’s induction into the Hall of Fame, the first Sports Person of the Year to have earned both honors.
“He’s kind of a perfect example from these 10 years of someone who was a sports person who’s in our Hall of Fame and the first one in terms of doing that,” Chiappetta said.
In fact, Chiappetta has had former recipients call him up after dinners, particularly sharp in his mind a runner from Fairfield Prep, who expressed the desire to one day be inducted into that Hall of Fame too.
“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Chiappetta said. “We recognize all of our accomplished athletes and coaches who are going on to bigger and better, but the sports persons are really the real component about our communities.”
As for the addition of Newtown to the list of communities recognized for this honor, Chiappetta explained how the commission and the Newtown Youth Academy Sport and Fitness Center are working together, especially to support the town after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Maura Fletcher, the recently retired girls lacrosse coach at Newtown High School, will be the town’s first Sports Person recipient.
“At our dinner last year, we announced that we were going to forge some sort of working relationship with them,” Chiappetta said. “We’re looking forward to it. They’re one of our neighbors, they’re part of what we do and we need to be there for them.”
As for the future of the organization and this award after 10 years, the commission is looking to see how they can reconfigure some things in terms of adding more communities to the list and collaborating with other commissions in the area, according to Chiappetta.
For now, the award continues to celebrate all of these people who have contributed so much to not only their sport, but also their respective communities that they are a part of.
“Everybody looks at the Hall of Fame as the most important part,” Chiappetta said. “However, for us it’s actually the sports persons, because it honors the people in the community each year and new generations of people who will be the next leaders of the sports community. They’re all on the same platform and all on the same stage. They’re all being recognized equally in a lot of ways and I think that’s the most important part.”