Five prominent state athletic figures will be presented with the prestigious Gold Key award at the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance’s 75th annual Gold Key dinner on Sunday, April 24.
Former Hartford Whalers owner Howard Baldwin, two-time welterweight world champion boxer Marlon Starling, 1960 U.S. hockey gold medalist Bob McVey, Trinity College squash coach Paul Assaiante and long-time Greenwich High boys swimming and water polo coach Terry Lowe will be honored at the Aqua Turf restaurant in Southington beginning at 4 p.m.
The Gold Key is regarded as one of the highest sports awards in the state. Since 1940, the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance has recognized individuals from the state who have achieved excellence on the amateur, high school, collegiate and professional levels. Past recipients of the Gold Key include baseball legend Connie Mack (1940), boxer Willie Pep (1961), Walt Dropo (1975), former President George H.W. Bush (1991), hockey Hall of Famer Gordie Howe (1992), Hall of Fame coaches Geno Auriemma (2001) and Jim Calhoun (2003), women’s soccer legend Kristine Lilly (2012).
Howard Baldwin (Hartford Whalers)
In 1974, former Hartford Whalers owner Howard Baldwin moved the Boston-based New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association (WHA) to Hartford and changed the sports scene in the state forever.
At 28, Baldwin became one of the youngest executives in professional sports when he became a founder and partner in the WHA. Three years later, he brought professional hockey to Connecticut and moved the Whalers to Hartford’s then-new Civic Center Coliseum. He also later served as the president of the WHA.
In Hartford, the Baldwin-led Whalers reached the WHA finals in 1978 and finished first in their division three times. The Whalers never missed the WHA playoffs in Hartford.
In 1979, Baldwin helped the WHA merge with the NHL. And for a decade, he served as the managing general partner of the Whalers before the team was sold to local ownership in 1988.
Baldwin returned to the Connecticut hockey scene in 2010 when he was hired by the NHL’s New York Rangers to manage the business and marketing affairs of the club’s AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack. From 2010 to 2012, the team was renamed the Connecticut Whale as a tribute to the Whalers.
After selling the Whalers, Baldwin served as part owner of the Minnesota North Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins and helped create the San Jose Sharks. With Pittsburgh, Baldwin won the Stanley Cup, a President’s trophy, one Patrick Division regular season title and four Northeast Division titles. He also created the AHL minor league affiliate of the Penguins in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
Baldwin has had a successful career as a film producer, too. He produced the Academy Award-nominated Ray and the cult-hit Mystery, Alaska.
Marlon Starling (Hartford)
Starling, who was born in Hartford and attended Hartford Public High School, was a two-time world champion. When he retired in 1990, he was one of the top welterweight fighters in his era. He finished with a record of 45-6-1, which included 27 wins by knockout.
In 1979, the 5-foot-8 boxer, who was also called ‘Magic Man’, made his debut. He won 25 straight fights before losing his first match, a 12-round decision to Donald Curry in 1982.
After a rematch with Curry in 1984 for the WBA and IBF welterweight titles, which he lost, Starling got his second world title fight in 1987 and defeated Mark Breland in the 11th round.
Starling lost the title in a controversial fight with Tomas Molinares, but in 1989 he knocked out Lloyd Honeyghan to regain the WBC welterweight title. He later defended his WBC welterweight title with an unanimous decision over Yung-Kil Chung in front of 7,888 fans at the Hartford Civic Center on Sept. 15, 1989.
In 1990, Starling fought Michael Nunn for the IBF middleweight title, but lost by decision. Starling is estimated to have made about 2.5 million in a pro career from 1979 to 1990.
Bob McVey (Hamden)
Before the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid in 1980, the U.S. men’s hockey team won gold 20 years earlier in Squaw Valley at the 1960 Olympic Games. Bob McVey, who was born in Hartford and grew up in Hamden, helped the Americans bring home their first-ever gold medal in hockey.
In a 3-2 upset victory over Czechoslovakia in the gold medal game, McVey played left wing on the team’s second line and was on the ice for the team’s final shift.
On the way to winning the gold, the Americans defeated the Soviet Union, Sweden and Canada. Against Canada, which had some ex-NHL players, who been reinstated as amateurs, the team won 2-1. The 1960 team is still the only U.S. Olympic team to beat Canada and Sweden in the same Olympics.
Two years after graduating from Harvard, McVey finished the tournament with two goals and two assists. Before playing in the Olympics, McVey represented the U.S. at the 1959 world championships.
The Olympic gold medal victory continued an impressive run of success for McVey, who won a pair of national titles at Harvard in 1957 and 1958, and a New England championship with Hamden High School in 1952. On his 16th birthday, he scored five goals against LaSalle (R.I.) to help Hamden win the title. McVey later attended Choate Rosemary Hall and graduated in the class of 1954.
At Harvard, where he also played left wing, McVey was given the John Tudor Memorial Cup as Harvard’s MVP in 1958.
Paul Assaiante (Trinity College)
As the architect behind one of the greatest runs in collegiate sports history, Paul Assaiante has put both Trinity College and college squash on the map.
Since 1994, Assaiante has led Trinity to 15 national championships, nine straight NESCAC championships and one of the most impressive winning streaks in sports history.
From 1998 to 2012, the team won a record 252 consecutive matches, including 13 national championships – the longest winning streak in college sports history. The run of success far surpassed the number of wins of other notable winning streaks, including Miami men’s tennis, which won 137 matches between 1957 and 1964. Assaiante entered the 2015-16 season with a record of 378-13.
In 2015, Trinity reached the College Squash Association national championship finals for the 19th straight year and the Bantams defeated St. Lawrence 7-2 for the program’s 15th title.
Assaiante has coached the U.S. squash team at the Pan American Games and at the world championships. In 2011, he helped lead the U.S. men’s team to a best-ever, sixth-place finish in Germany at the world championships. He has been twice named the United States Olympic Committee coach of the year and has also coached the U.S. junior team.
After successful stints coaching at the United States Military Academy and Williams College, Assaiante, who grew up in the Bronx, took over at Trinity, where he also led the men’s tennis team to national prominence. In 19 seasons as the school’s tennis coach, Assaiante put together a record of 188-97.
Assaiante is a 1974 graduate of Springfield College and holds a master’s degree from Long Island University. Before coaching, Assaiante had a tremendous professional career, where he won the world hardball doubles championship and was one half of the U.S. national doubles championship team in 1994.
Terry Lowe (Greenwich High)
Terry Lowe has been a part of the Connecticut boys swim scene for nearly half a century.
The veteran Greenwich High School head coach began his career in 1967, leading the Cardinals to a 13-3 record, the first of many FCIAC championships and a third-place finish in the state.
Lowe would take the next two years off from coaching because of military duty, but returned to the Greenwich pool in 1970. He is beginning his 46th consecutive season this winter and 47th overall. Lowe has compiled some eye-popping numbers during that time, including 44 FCIAC titles, while finishing runner-up the other three years.
But it’s been at the state level where Lowe’s legendary coaching career is really defined, guiding Greenwich to a remarkable 43 Class LL state championships and 32 State Open titles. He enters the 2015-16 season with 544 career victories and 41 losses, a .930 winning percentage, which includes 22 undefeated seasons.
In addition, the Hall of Fame swim coach started the boys water polo program at Greenwich in 1975 and built the Cardinals into an East Coast powerhouse before retiring after the 2003 season. In 39 seasons, Lowe posted a career record of 844-169-12 for a .833 winning percentage. That includes five unbeaten seasons, the best of which was a 35-0 mark in 2003.
Greenwich competed in 12 New England tournaments (before it became an event exclusively for private schools in 1990) and the Cardinals won the championship five times, finished runner-up another five times, and placed third twice. They also captured 18 Eastern/Mid-Atlantic titles in the high school division.
Heading into this swim season, Lowe’s overall record in his two sports is 1,388-210-12 (.869).
Tickets to the 75th Gold Key dinner, which begins at 4 p.m., are $75 and can be purchased by contacting either CSWA President Matthew Conyers of The Hartford Courant at 860-874-4166 or email@example.com or Vice President Tim Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets can also be obtained by mailing a check to Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance, P.O. Box 70, Unionville, CT, 06085.