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Saying good-bye to a couple of classy guys

POSTED January 16, 2016
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson


            Let’s see, mid-January, 52 degrees and raining. No snow to be found high or low, and the grass still a healthy green for this time of the year. I don’t know about you but I’ll take it. Keep it up Mother Nature.

            A good day for sitting on the couch and sharing a few thoughts meandering through the rainy recesses of the mind.

Back in the 1990s during my days with the Register Citizen I was on the Torrington High football beat. Every Saturday (Friday nights hadn’t taken over yet) there was a date on some area Naugatuck Valley League field with the Red Raiders and their opposition.

            It was usually myself, often a reporter from the Republican-American and the Cable-5 television crew of Mike Conway and Mike Bakunis. Over the years we became good friends and looked forward to those weekend get-togethers in the press box.

            I would supply Mike and Mike with halftime statistics and was often a guest at halftime while they would be very good-natured about my cracks concerning the amount of space they were taking up in our often small and antiquated press box settings. I even would bring a pie for Thanksgiving Day for the annual battle against Watertown and give it to the duo.

            It was fun and it was good. Recently we lost one of the group when Mike Bakunis passed away. I received a recorded phone call in a saddened voice from Mike Conway that a good man that we were both fortunate to spend some time with (certainly Conway more than me) had died.

            I hadn’t seen Mike much in the recent years, in fact it was Conway who would often tell me how he was doing and how much he enjoyed seeing his name in the Christmas greetings poem I do for the Republican every year.

            It didn’t matter. We passed along greetings through friends. It hasn’t surprised much reading social media postings that lauded Mike as a great teacher during his career at Oliver Wolcott.

            That was the guy I know and remember. A friendly gentleman oozing with class. I was fortunate to spend a few Saturday afternoons and Thanksgiving mornings with him. Thanks Mike. You will be missed.

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            He met with Admiral Nimitz, floored Willie Pep and raised one great family. He was Thomaston’s Frank Vigeant.

            Frank passed away shortly before Christmas and the Clocktown lost one of its pillars and proud sporting figures. Vigeant was one of Connecticut boxing’s very best, the state welterweight champion from 1947-49.

            He was known as the `Thomaston Express’ with a hard punch and good jaw winning 26 of 41 bouts with four draws. His town followed him faithfully.

            “He would fight in Waterbury and Hartford and on Sundays there would be 500 or 600 cars heading out on the highway to see him fight,” said longtime friend and former Thomaston First Selectman Gene McMahon.

            How good was Vigeant? Championship good but he also incurred a bit of wrath from the camp of legendary world featherweight champion Willie Pep.

            “They trained in the same place and Frank was heavier than Willie,” remembered McMahon. “One day they asked him if he wanted to spar with Willie and Frank said sure, why not. “Well, they were going at it pretty good and Frank knocked him down. Willie’s camp was mad asking him what are you trying to do.”

            Prior to his pro success, Vigeant served in the Navy on the USS Holland during the World War II. He fought more than 50 fights for the Pacific Fleet Welterweight Championship.

            I was fortunate to get to know Frank first through his family and then through sportswriting. He raised eight children, many solid athletes. I played Little League with sons Terry, Robbie and Timmy, high school basketball with Timmy and softball with Dennis.

            Frank was a gentlemen, fine boxer and most importantly one good guy. He leaves an admirable life at the age of 91 and his home town with a legacy of family and fight. An example for all. Condolences to his family.

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It is one of the great nights of the winter – rivalry night in the Berkshire League. Litchfield and Wamogo, Northwestern Regional and Gilbert, Thomaston and Terryville highlighting the festivities.

            Is there anything like small-town rivalries? Let me answer for you – absolutely not. I have covered all three rivalries through the gym and still carry the electricity that is produced with me.

            This time around I was at Thomaston-Terryville, two teams with a combined record of 3-10. It didn’t matter one little iota. The house in Terryville was SRO, the student cheering sections were out in force, the battle for bragging rights was front and center.

            It started at 3:30 with the first JV contest and ended at almost 9:30 and the show was worth the rivalry. The powerhouse Thomaston girls blasted their rivalry with ease and then the boys team put on quite a show.

            Terryville, which now dominates the boy’s side of the rivalry turned back the Bears, 58-48, in overtime. The gym was rocking to the point you had trouble hearing the whistles, the blood pressure was soaring, the passion was real.

            It happens twice a year and it is special.

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