TORRINGTON: I’ll never forget the first Varsity Alumni Club dinner I attended.
While I don’t remember the year, I clearly remember that it was held at the Riverton in, a majestic old location, rich in history.
I was doing some freelance work at the Torrington Register Citizen and normally would never have gotten such a prestigious gig at my level at the time but nobody else was available for some reason that night, so they offered it to me, and I accepted.
The VAC, formed in 1945 by Torrington High school legends, Frankie Russo and Andy Pace, was formed to honor and assist Raider athletes who had shown worth wild qualities on and off their chosen fields of competition.
After a half hour or so of mingling with folks (most I didn’t know yet), we went into an impressive dining hall and to my great surprise, I was seating at the head table with Mr. Russo, Mr. Pace and the other members of the VAV Board of Directors.
To my left was Mr. Paul Denza, who towered over everyone else at the table and in the audience. Paul Denza, who has become a friend and supporter of my efforts, was and still is an imposing force.
The athletes, seated directly ahead of us, enjoyed a terrific dinner and were eventually honored and given a scholarship, had a couple more hurdles to go over before accepting their scholarship.
You see, one of the traditions started by Russo and Pace was a question-and-answer session that bordered on a cross examination by the board members if the student/athlete did not put some thought into their answer.
No softball answers were allowed at this gathering. No way. Meager answers or duplicate responses were challenged immediately.
I’m surprised a few of them didn’t head for the door, it was that intense.
Russo and Pace demanded that the recipients reach down deep into the questions, which sometimes included inquiries into how to solve the Middle East conflict.
The kids didn’t have smart phones to look up things quickly at that time either.
It was an impressive night to say the least and on Tuesday night, August 8, the latest group of student/athletes were honored by the newest generation of VAC Board members.
Gone are some of the great men who created the organization that was legendary around the state for their travel basketball teams that would attract college coaches to packed gyms throughout the region.
The tradition carries on though, with a mix of the old and new generations of hard working, dedicated individuals who are continuing the mission of “taking care of the kids”, a Frankie Russo staple.
Eleven THS graduates received checks in the amount of $1000 that night, bringing the group’s total near the $3000,000 mark since the start.
The new generation of leaders includes President Mario Longobucco, Vice President Christine Gamari, Treasurer Denza (from the old guard) and Secretary Paul O’Heron.
Also on hand were Board of Director members Fred Bonvicini, Mark Reichenberg, Kim Aeschliman and Michael Fabiaschi.
Fabiaschi took the role of the questionnaire this year and I’m guessing over time; he will get to that level that Russo and Pace thrived at for decades.
All in all, it continues to be one of the best nights for all involved.
Congratulations to all.
This year’s Honorees.
The Joseph Killiany Scholarship: Rachel Brewer-Karimi
The Lou Zanderigo Scholarship: Belle Smith
The Frank Russo Scholarship: Maria Fragione
The Glen and Kathy Aeschliman Scholarship: Marco D’Addona
The James “Doc” McKenna Scholarship: Fhasal Alam
The Dominic Toce Scholarship: Brianna Murelli
The Andrew Pace Scholarship: Ethan Stater
Board of Directors Scholarship #1: Jessica Maiga
Board of Directors Scholarship #2: Lindsay Pramono
Board of Directors Scholarship #3: Luan Martins Xavier
Board of Directors Scholarship #4 Amelia Bulli