Four prominent state athletic figures have been selected by receive the prestigious Gold Key from the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance in April.
Former professional hockey player Craig Janney, former Killingly High and Providence College basketball star Tracy Lis, former Derby High and Yale University running back John Pagliaro and longtime FCIAC official and coach John Kuczo will be honored at the 74th Gold Key dinner on Sunday, April 26, at the Aqua Turf In Southington at 4 p.m.
Regarded as one of the highest sports awards in the state, the Gold Key has been awarded by the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance since 1940, recognized individuals from the state who have achieved excellence on the youth, high school, collegiate and professional levels.
Past recipients of the Gold Key include Connie Mack (1940), Willie Pep (1961), Walt Dropo (1975), President George H.W. Bush (1991), Gordie Howe (1992), Geno Auriemma (2001), Jim Calhoun (2003), Kristine Lilly (2012) and Amby Burfoot (2014).
Tickets to the dinner are $75 each and can be purchased by contacting either CSWA President Matthew Conyers of The Hartford Courant at 860-874-4166 or firstname.lastname@example.org or vice president Tim Jensen of The Enfield Source at email@example.com. Tickets can also be obtained by mailing a check to Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance, P.O. Box 70, Unionville, CT, 06085.
After leading Enfield High to a perfect season and a CIAC Division I title in 1983, Craig Janney went on to a successful professional hockey career in the National Hockey League. Janney recorded 751 points in 880 NHL games over 12 seasons, competing for six different teams including the Boston Bruins (five seasons) and St. Louis Blues (three seasons).
In his official rookie season, 1988-89, Janney placed fifth in the Calder Trophy voting, won by his former Boston College teammate and fellow Connecticut product, Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers. The following year, Janney, playing with Boston, scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 of a playoff series against the Hartford Whalers, but the Bruins fell to Edmonton in five games in the Stanley Cup finals.
On Feb. 7, 1992, Janney was traded to the St. Louis Blues for another playmaking center, Adam Oates. Janney enjoyed his biggest statistical season in 1992-93, registering 82 assists and 106 points.
Janney spent his final five seasons bouncing between the San Jose Sharks, Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders. He retired following the 1998-99 campaign with career totals of 751 points in 760 regular season games, and 110 points in 120 playoff contests.
In high school, Enfield had a record 43-game winning streak during Janney’s tenure. He was named All-State three times, amassing 125 goals and 137 assists. He played his senior season at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, where he racked up 33 goals and 35 assists in 17 games.
Killingly’s Tracy Lis has held the state’s career scoring record in boys and girls basketball for a quarter century. A four-year starting shooting guard, Lis scored 3,681 points in high school and broke Walter Luckett’s all-time scoring mark.
She went on to become a star in college. A decade ago, Lis was among the 15 players selected to the Big East Conference’s Silver Anniversary team. She played for Providence College from 1988 to 1992 and remains the program’s career scoring leader with 2,534 points and ranks third all-time in Big East career scoring. Her No. 22 jersey was retired by the Friars last spring. Lis was a two-time All-Big East First-Team selection as a junior and a senior and also earned Big East Championship All-Tournament accolades three times.
In 1990, Lis helped guide the Friars to their first Big East Conference Tournament championship and advance to the NCAA tournament round of 16. In 1991, Lis helped propel Providence to its highest national ranking (15th) in the Associated Press Women’s Basketball Top 25 Poll. In February, 1991, Lis became the first women’s basketball player from the Big East Conference to earn Sports Illustrated Player of the Week honors.
As a senior in 1992, Lis received the Big East Special Achievement Award for her contributions to the conference during her career and also was named ECAC Player of the Year. Lis played 12 games for the New England Blizzard in the first year of the American Basketball League in 1997.
John Pagliaro never had trouble navigating a football field. He made it easy for fans to follow him, as well.
Pagliaro was a high school football star at Derby, leading the Red Raiders to back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1972 and 1973. He rushed for 1,047 yards on 137 carries and scored 26 touchdowns as a senior to help Derby earn the No. 1 ranking in the New Haven Register sportswriters’ Top 10 poll. In his final high school game, he rushed for five touchdowns against Shelton. Pagliaro also played defense for a unit that recorded eight shutouts and surrendered just 25 points in his senior year.
Pagliaro stood just 5-foot-10 and weighed 190 pounds, but his high-kicking style of running made him nearly impossible to tackle below the waist.
At Yale, he became the first running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in successive seasons in 1976 and 1977. Twice, he was named the recipient of the Asa Bushnell Cup (1976, 1977), presented to the Ivy League’s most valuable player.
He would graduate Yale as the career leader in rushing touchdowns (34), a mark that stood for 30 years, and second to Dick Jauron on the career rushing yardage list (2,476 yards).
In his final game at Yale in 1977, Pagliaro rushed for 172 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs over Harvard. The win secured Yale’s first outright Ivy League title since 1967.
Pagliaro was coached by two Gold Key recipients. In high school at Derby, Pagliaro played for Lou DeFilippo and at Yale, he played for Carm Cozza. Pagliaro lives in Maryland and works as a media executive. His son John played defensive back at Yale, graduating after the 2010 season.
For more than three and a half decades, John Kuczo has been the driving force behind one of the most successful high school athletic conferences in state history.
The longtime commissioner of the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference (FCIAC) is one of only two individuals associated with the league all 54 years of its existence. Ralph King, a 2008 Gold Key winner and now assistant commissioner, is the other.
Kuczo’s association with the FCIAC began as a 23-year-old coach in 1961 at Rippowam High in Stamford, the same year a group of Fairfield County athletic directors, coaches and principals—including his father, legendary Stamford High School coach Paul Kuczo, a 1958 Gold Key winner—formed the first major conference in the state.
It was during his coaching career that John Kuczo became an administrator in the FCIAC as secretary-treasurer in 1968. He held that title for 10 years before taking over as commissioner in the fall of 1978.
Currently in his 47th year as a league administrator, Kuczo’s tireless work ethic and organizational skills paved the way for the FCIAC to grow to 19 member schools while more than quadrupling its general financial fund under his leadership.
The conference has also continued to experience great success in interscholastic athletics. Through the 2014 fall sports season, FCIAC schools had produced 928 state championship teams, more than any other conference in the state.
As a coach at Rippowam High School in Stamford, Kuczo established the Warriors as an FCIAC and state power in three sports in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track and field.
A former distance runner in college, Kuczo’s cross country teams won three straight conference championships from 1963-65. His indoor track teams won six FCIAC championships and finished second in the state once.
His outdoor track and field teams compiled a dual-meet record of 202-33 and won seven division titles, six league crowns, one state championship and had four more state runner-up finishes in his 10 years as coach. In 1966, he was selected as the state’s track coach of the year.
Before he retired from coaching in 1972, Kuczo’s teams won 15 FCIAC titles, four state championships and five state runner-up trophies in the three sports he coached.
Kuczo was inducted into the Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA) Hall of Fame in 1993 and in 2006, he received the CHSCA’s Thomas R. Monahan Honor Award, the CHSCA’s highest award to professional educators. Kuczo was inducted into the National High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011.