More than anything Biff Pond is known as a baseball guy. Always a diamond impact player on the Torrington scene, the reputation is well deserved. But let’s not short-change the man who was christened George but seemingly only called that if you never had the pleasure of his company. It was a lifetime of Biff or `Coach’ to the familiar and while baseball occupied a focal point of his life the journey was a diverse one.
Biff was a man for all seasons, not just baseball season. If a perfect Biff night was a sultry, energetic evening at Fuessenich Park with his beloved Torrington P-38 American Legion team going about its business or as his assistant coach and good friend R.J. Poniatoski says, “ a little baseball and a cigar after the game,” there was plenty more going on in life’s room.
School teacher of physical education and special education at Wamogo and Kelbourne School in New Marlborough, Mass. Vietnam veteran. Coach, not just of the P-38s but of girls basketball at Wamogo. We’ll call him music coordinator of the Litchfield Hills Road Race because he secured those cool bands and singers that dot the running route and add another wonderful touch to an event full of atmosphere. A little note here he always told me he really liked `Hot Ethel.’
There was a life of the party zest in Biff, who packed a cooler filled with living in his 75 years before passing away May 21. Louis L’Amour, famed author of countless Western novels, used to always talk about the strong characters as, “A man to ride the river with.” I don’t think Biff did a lot of galloping down to Fuessenich on some big Thoroughbred, at least on a regular basis, but he was a man to ride the Winnebago with. Ask those who were part of the bi-annual Yale-Harvard football game extravaganza.
Biff was kind of addicted to life and its offerings. Strangely enough the attraction may have been nurtured by a place more known for snuffing out life instead of embracing it – Vietnam. Like many veterans of the conflict, Biff didn’t talk much about his tour of duty in Vietnam. But he did share this story with long-time friend Billy Neller.
“On one of his first nights there he was on guard duty near a river and scared stiff. He was told if a boat was coming in, to shoot over the boat to scare it away. Biff didn’t shoot over the boat, he sank it. All hell broke loose the next morning and an investigation was done. Biff got interrogated and chewed out. A short time later they found out that the boat was filled with explosives to blow them up.” – Neller.
“I think Vietnam had a lot to do with Biff’s outlook on life, his enjoying life and giving back through the coaching,” said Neller.
And that he did with baseball occupying a prime spot. Two tours of duty as coach (1974-82, 1997-2010) totaling 22 years. A state title in 1975 along with seven Legion Zone titles. He raised money instead of relying on the Legion to do all the financial backing. When he turned the duties of coach over to Poniatoski in 2010 he spent the next eight years being the General Manager. He worked hard to bring the State Tournament to Fuessenich. Winner of hundreds of games and induction into the Connecticut American Legion Hall of Fame 2020.
“(Biff) resurrected that program. In the early 1990s to 1997 there was nothing, he got it back,” said his able-bodied assistant R.J. Poniatoski.
There was more A decade of teaching and coaching at Wamogo that included a state cross country title and a trio of Berkshire League girls basketball crowns. The time in the classroom particularly with the Special Education students, helping them grow and thrive.
A firm believer that all work and no play is unconstitutional, Biff made he sure he found a good time or created a good time. Yale Bowl was always a special place because Uncle `Ducky’ Pond had coached the Elis in the 1930s and two Heisman Trophy winners in Clint Frank and Larry Kelly. He enjoyed taking his uncle to games in his later years and put together his own entourage in later years.
Biff always used to ask me to go down with the group, but we had our own tradition and I never made it although I met up with him a number of times there. He was a man to ride a Winnebago with. Maybe.
“We had good-sized group one year and Biff rented out a Winnebago,” remembered Neller. “With RJ giving directions and Biff driving he goes under a bridge and scrapes the sides. We get out and look, all the Glass mirrors are gone and smashed and there are big marks on the side. Biff takes a look and says, “it’s only a bridge. We get back on the bus and go.”
What made Biff’s run even cooler was that his wife Holly was there virtually every step with him. She worked with P-38s with him and even has taken over getting the bands for the Litchfield Road Race. She sipped the bourbon, tossed back the brew, laughed the laugh, smiled the smile and cried the cry with him. They danced the dance together.
“He had a love of life, he took it and did what he could – coached, went to Vegas, he did so many things,” said Neller, a rather wise sage.
Biff was sometimes the life of the party and always added life to the party. The party has lost some of its heartbeat for sure. He was a man to ride the Winnebago with. Well, maybe not to Yale Bowl.