Two New Canaanites who have made indelible marks on the town will be honored as inductees into the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame, officials said Wednesday afternoon.
New Canaan High School head football coach Lou Marinelli and former New Canaan High School basketball student-athlete Wilky Gilmore headline the class of 2016, officials with theFairfield County Sports Commission announced at the University of Connecticut’s Stamford campus.
“It means I’m getting old,” a smiling Marinelli told NewCanaanite.com when asked what the honor meant to him.
“When you turn around and see the people who are in this [Hall of Fame], it’s humbling and I’m honored. I’ll be the first one to tell you, though, we couldn’t have built the program that we have without help from the assistant coaches that I’ve had, the administration, and more importantly the kids at New Canaan High. You’re only as successful as your players and we’ve been fortunate to have some good players who have helped me out. It’s much more of a team thing than an individual accomplishment. I guess my face is on it because I’m the head coach, but hey that’s also who they blame when we lose. But I think it’s a team honor. I have a staff that’s second to none. I have guys who played for me that are now coaches who I’m very proud of. And I think, hopefully, the legacy that’s left at the end is that we helped kids, and not so much about all the championships and such. Helping kids is more important to me.”
In introducing Marinelli, Fairfield County Sports Commission Executive Director Tom Chiappetta told media members and others gathered at UConn that “if 0-29-1 is something you want to walk into, then like you, Lou was up for the challenge.”
“Immediately, within two years, they won a state championship. From that point on it’s been major success, after major success, after major success [for Marinelli and the program]. Eleven state titles and five FCIAC championships. Every conceivable coaching award that’s been given out, he’s won. He’s in the Connecticut High School Coaches Hall of Fame, the FCIAC Hall of Fame. His coaching tree with his son John, who’s now coaching at Greenwich, which is arguably a program equally as proud [as New Canaan’s], now means that two Marinellis are running those programs, which likely means that the successes for those programs are going to continue. A couple years back, Lou was our Sports Person of the Year honoree. He would probably qualify for such an honor every year but we try to only honor someone once. But he is now the third person who has won that award and is now also in our Hall of Fame–Craig Breslow of Trumbull and another New Canaanite, Max Pacioretty, being the others. New Canaan has a very large presence on our wall [of inductees]. It’s a terrific sports town and Lou Marinelli embodies that.”
An inductee into the J. Walter Kennedy Community Service Wing of the Hall of Fame, Marinelli was born in Tarrytown, N.Y., according RamFootball.com. He graduated high school from the New York Military Academy and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Springfield College, where he lettered four years in football and two in lacrosse.
In 1981, Marinelli was hired to take over the football program at New Canaan High by then athletic director Vin Iovino. He was inheriting a program that in the three years prior to his arrival went 0-29-1.
In the first game of that ’81 season, Marinelli’s Rams defeated Stamford’s Rippowam High School, the defending state champions. That squad went on to finish the year with a record of 4-5. To date, that season is still the only losing season Marinelli has experienced while on the sideline for New Canaan. Marinelli followed up his debut season by leading the 1982 New Canaan Rams to a state championship.
At New Canaan, Marinelli has won a total of eleven State Championships (1982, 1993, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2014, 2015). He has also been at the helm for five FCIAC Championship victories (1993, 2000, 2001, 2008, 2013). His total career record is 319-99-7, giving him the most career wins, with prior stints at Mamaroneck (1976) and Yorktown Heights (1978-79), N.Y. included, among active coaches in Connecticut–and in the top-three for all time. His record at New Canaan is 300-92-6. His record against arch rival Darien is 23-15-1.
He notched his 300th career win in a home contest versus Greenwich in September of 2014. And he capped off the 2015 season, his 35th with the program, with not only the program’s third consecutive CIAC Class L title, but his 300th victory as head football coach of the New Canaan Rams.
Marinelli has been recognized several times by his coaching peers as FCIAC Coach of the Year, National Football Foundation Coach of the Year, and Hall of Fame Coach of the Year, Walter Camp Football Foundation’s Connecticut Coach of the Year and, in 2002, Connecticut High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year.
Other awards Marinelli has won during his career include the Gerald R. Ford Award for Outstanding Coaching by the All-American Football Foundation, the Legendary Coach Award by the MSG Network and he has been a finalist for the National Coach of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association on two separate occasions (2007 and 2010). In 2008, Marinelli also won the National Football League’s Coach of the Year. And in November 2009, Marinelli was inducted into the Connecticut High School Hall of Fame, then followed that up in 2013 when he was inducted into the FCIAC Hall of Fame.
Lou and his wife, Frances, have three children, Francesca, Anna, and John, all of whom are graduates of New Canaan High School.
Maurice Wilkens ‘Wilky’ Gilmore will be one of three members inducted into the Hall of Fame’s James O’Rourke Amateur Wing in 2016.
“He was a four-sport letterman at New Canaan High,” Chiappetta said by way of announcing Gilmore’s posthumous induction. “Basketball was where he shined but also played track, golf and football. New Canaan from 1956 to 1958 won a basketball state championship each year. New Canaan High School nowadays has a lot of championships, but Wilky Gilmore was responsible for those in late 1950’s in basketball. He took his great basketball talents to the University of Colorado. He was a three-year starter there. He led the team to two Big Eight Conference championships. His led the teams to the Elite Eight both of those seasons but they, unfortunately, ran into the University of Cincinnati who defeated them both years and went on to win the NCAA championship. Gilmore averaged 14.7 points per game for his career at Colorado and is in the top-30 all-time on the program’s scoring list. After being drafted by the St. Louis Hawks, now the Atlanta Hawks, in the 14th round in 1962, a knee injury curtailed his professional basketball career hopes. So he went on to become a lawyer. But sadly, Gilmore passed away at the very young of age of 53 in 1993.”
Gilmore arrived at New Canaan High School in 1955. At the time, freshmen did not play on the high school team. Nevertheless, Rams head coach Loren Keyes had his varsity team scrimmage the freshmen. Led by the 6’6″ Gilmore, the freshmen defeated the varsity team. The following year, 1956, was the first for Gilmore on the Rams and it was also the first of three consecutive state titles for New Canaan, who had last won the crown in 1934.
In the ’56 playoffs, Gilmore averaged 29 points per game. The following season, Gilmore scored a record 136 points in the four-game playoffs, including 24 in the finals despite being triple-teamed in the Rams’ 70-51 win over Windsor Locks. In 1958, Gilmore capped his high school career with a school record 697 points and another state title. Wilky’s efforts, single-handedly, put basketball on the map at New Canaan High School, inspiring younger athletes to follow in his formidable footsteps.
Wilky was an exceptional student and was class president for three consecutive years at New Canaan High. And he was so as one of only a few African-Americans living in predominantly white New Canaan. His personality, leadership and athleticism transcended any racial barriers that existed through the country in the late ’50s and early ’60s.
Upon graduation from New Canaan, Gilmore attended the University of Colorado in the fall of 1959. And his college career was another period of outstanding success. Gilmore led Colorado to the 1962 Big Eight championship, then in that year’s NCAA tournament, propelled Colorado to a victory over Texas Tech. But the Buffaloes ultimately lost in the Elite Eight to eventual champion Cincinnati. In three years at Colorado, Gilmore scored 1,026 points and grabbed 591 rebounds.
After graduating Colorado with a degree in business, Gilmore was selected in the 14th round of the 1962 NBA draft by the St. Louis Hawks. During that summer’s training camp, Gilmore got to play with the likes of Hall of Famers Bob Petit and Cliff Hagan. Gilmore’s time with the Hawks and NBA was limited to just that one camp, though, as he was one of the team’s final cuts before the 1962-63 regular season commenced.
But while his professional basketball career had ended before it even began, Gilmore was more than prepared for the transition to the real world. Moving back to New Canaan, he earned a CPA license and then graduated from UConn Law School and became an attorney, forming a practice with fellow lawyer Harvey Melzer. Gilmore practiced law in town for several years and was involved in several high profile cases such as the expansion of the YMCA.
Gilmore was also a charter member of New Canaan’s first Town Council and was integral in the efforts to create a youth basketball camp, where he was generous with his time and knowledge of the game he loved.
Rounding out the seven member Class of 2016 are PGA Tour golfer J.J. Henry of Fairfield and former WNBA player Rita Williams of Norwalk who were inducted into the Jackie Robinson Professional Wing; the late Manute Bol of Bridgeport (basketball) and Bill Steinkraus (equestrian) of Darien join Gilmore in the James O’Rourke Amateur Wing; and longtime Trinity Catholic head basketball coach Mike Walsh of Stamford joins Marinelli in the J. Walter Kennedy Community Service Wing.
The Hall of Fame will honor the newly elected members with an induction ceremony at the Commission’s 12th annual Sports Night awards dinner which will be held on Monday, Oct. 17 at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich at 6 p.m.
According to the website of the Fairfield County Sports Commission, Inc., “With the creation of the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame, the area has one central location to honor those residents who excelled in sports in professional, amateur and service categories. Nominating and selection committees, comprised of members from the media, community and the Sports Commission, go through the balloting process each year to determine the inductees. Announcements from each years honorees, are selected from the entire Fairfield County area, not just from the 15 communities served by the Commission.”
The Hall of Fame is housed at the University of Connecticut Stamford Campus in downtown Stamford and is open six days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.