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CIAC's Savage Made Area Proud

POSTED August 31, 2010
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson


He is the quiet man with the low voice and a presence that oozes distinguished. His name carries weight, his career commands respect. You always know when Mike Savage is in the room without looking at the program or listening to the introduction.

He could have been the guy you overlook or just the guy you never paid attention to. You know, a new house in the middle of Levittown. But he never has been.  For three decades Savage has been the loudest voice in Connecticut scholastic sports and he has done it without all the fanfare or injuring his vocal cords.

With a firm and quiet demeanor, common sense, a politician’s ability to navigate through choppy waters and always a vision that has had the student athlete as the top priority, Savage has made plenty of noise. Hall of Fame type of noise and he never had had to raise his voice.

Savage retired recently as the Executive Director of CAS- CIAC after 30 years, much of the energy spent in building the organization into the guiding powerhouse of Connecticut high school sports and an integral part of education in general with its membership now including grades K through 12.

When Savage took over the reigns he had a budget under 0,000. Now it is about million. There was no endowment account, now there is million dollars in the account as a result of sponsorships. His first staff was three, now it is 32. There was no CAS portion (Connecticut Association of Schools) which deals with so many issues other than sports.

We could treat this as another bigwig saying so long and move on. But we won’t. We need to pause a bit here. There’s always been a little more pride around here when it comes to Savage.

He’s the guy with the Golden Bear roots and the Litchfield suits. Thomaston High, class of 1956. The class President who played three sports and captained the baseball team. The long-time home has been in Litchfield, along with stints as math teacher and Principal at Litchfield High.

Those who have been around know him as Mickey in these parts and Mickey will tell you this is his area. “I love Litchfield and I never left Thomaston, it is still my home,” says Savage in a voice that still sounds more Mike than Mickey.

He is respected by all, but the pride runs pretty potent in these parts. He is the guy that is really big time but never forgot the past time or the old times. Thomaston and Litchfield folks in particular will tell you that.
Savage announced his retirement back in October. Still a very brisk 71-years young, he thought it was time to call it a career that has hit the half century mark in education..

“I still had the energy and I still wanted to do some things but I thought 50 years was appropriate,” said Savage after returning from California recently where he was honored by the National Federation of State High School Associations. “We have no legal challenges currently, we have a wonderful relationship with the legislature and we have a new President in place. The last couple of years I have wanted to finish some new projects but realized there will always be something.”

Savage leaves his office in Cheshire with a healthy list of accomplishments that make him smile. The CIAC is servicing 57 percent more kids than when he started and he has helped build a Unified Sports program that matches intellectually disabled athletes with partners.
He has seen 14 state associations around the country get reconstituted by legislative action and takes pride that he is leaving an organization is still manage by high school administrators, athletic directors and coaches. The relationship with the state legislature is a good one.
There is so much more but he is particularly proud of these happenings. Much of it all is due to Savage’s savvy.
“The thing about Mike is that he has had the vision and resolve to see that vision to fruition,” said Newington Principal and CIAC Board of Control member Jim Wenker. “Mike sees things and knows what is best for the CIAC. Everyone else might not see it that way but he has the patience to wait.”
But there are challenges and disappointments he admits. It can’t all be perfect. Savage remembers in the past when the CIAC did things properly they would win cases. Now, he laments activist courts.
“Judges have their own perspective and agendas. They rule on emotions, not law. Now we have to realize that we will probably have to go to the appellate level which is further complicated by costs.”

He worries about a state legislature that could in his words, “create unbelievable harm if it chooses to.” There is disappointment that the role of Principals hasn’t been improved.

“They should be recognized as instructional leaders of schools but local boards and superintendents don’t give them the authority,” Savage says.

On the balance sheet, however, Savage knows it has been a great run. He enjoys not just state admiration but nation-wide respect. They know Mike Savage on a national level. He knows he has made an immense impact.
Over the last nine months Savage talks about how many people have come up to him and thanked him for what he has done. It has strengthened his belief in the importance of sports to families and kids. It has made him wish he had been even `bolder.’

Savage doesn’t know what he will do now. His wife, Margaret will be glad to have him around the house. But, there is still energy to be spent. He is still going to the office almost daily, showing his replacement, former Lewis Mills Principal Karissa Niehoff, the ropes, hurdles and all else he can impart about the job.
He will take six months or so and then get into something. He already has offers. He doesn’t want to live by the clock and calendar any more. He has a new found freedom.
But if he doesn’t know what the future holds, he can glow in what the past now shows – a giant in Connecticut sports and educational circles whose distinguished leadership has been an example for all to follow.
Niehoff knows, she is a smart lady. She will not walk in his footsteps, she will follow his path and leave her own footprints.

Under Savage’s photo in his high school yearbook, is the description `fun-maker.’ Prophetic. Fifty-four years and a lifetime later, a proud state will tell you that the fun has been the Savage run. A time of excellence.

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