Jay Egan, New Canaan High School’s athletic director, was about 15 years old when he first got to know fellow Stamford native Bo Hickey.
Ten years his senior, Hickey had been a standout multi-sport athlete at Stamford Catholic High School—earning all-county and all-state honors in football his senior year—who would go on to become the starting running back at the University of Maryland and played in the NFL. Hickey was “a larger-than-life sports guy,” Egan recalled.
In those days, there weren’t many weight training facilities around, and the only place you could go locally was the Stamford Y, Egan said. One day, after his parents dropped him off—Egan and his pals weren’t yet old enough to drive—the group went to an old-fashioned leg press machine in the corner of the facility. They’d worked out enough to put “two big plates” on the leg press, “and we thought at the time that we’d made it,” Egan recalled. They saw that Hickey was in the weight room that day doing his own workout, and while they were at the machine the local legend made his way over toward them.
Egan and his friends thought to themselves that Hickey had noticed them working out and that they’d impressed him, he said.
“So he walks over and looks at us and asks, ‘Hey, are you guys gonna put any weight on there or what?’ ” Egan recalled with a laugh.
It was a quintessential Bo Hickey moment—a no-holds-barred, straightforward assessment from a man remembered as much for his authenticity as his generous, caring and ultimately supportive relationship with area youth. In New Canaan, those who knew Hickey best remember him as a self-effacing man who touched countless lives through three-plus decades as a coach, primarily in football and ice hockey, as well as 34 years as superintendent of Lakeview Cemetery.
“He wanted to talk to us and reach out to us, and that was his way of doing it,” Egan said of that memorable interaction at the Stamford Y. “He was like that, all the time he coached. He was a guy with a really big heart and he really cared a lot about people and I think that anybody that played for him always knew that. He was demanding of his players, but I think they all knew he loved them and would do anything for them. That is the essence of Bo.”
Hickey died Tuesday at age 77.
He was a man who “had no filter,” said Lou Marinelli, New Canaan High School’s longtime football coach.
“He would tell you exactly how he felt at the time,” Marinelli said. “You may not like what he had to say, but he was going to say it, whether it was to a player or a friend. He was very, very honest and forthright about how he felt about different things. But then, in the same vein, he would build a kid back up after telling him ‘the truth according to Bo.’ He would turn the kid around and build the kid back up again.”
Hickey left an indelible mark on those he coached, Marinelli said.
“He had so many good intentions on what he wanted to do with kids,” he said. “I mean he had such a big heart. I think it cost him money to coach. He would go around and at halftime he’d bring in all this Gatorade and stuff and I know he did the same thing for hockey, and at the end of the year I think it would cost him money to coach. He’d buy a kid a stick in hockey. We used to go down to Gerry Cosby’s down at Madison Square Garden when we started, to get get kids Cosby shoulder pads because he thought they were the best. I cannot tell you how many weddings and christenings and events we have been to, of former players, where during the reception party there was always a table or two of guys telling Bo Hickey stories. So many stories—some you can’t repeat. But he was quite the character.”
Hickey’s longtime fishing buddy, Rob Mallozzi, remembered his friend’s trademark ‘Bo Hick’ license plate, affixed to a ubiquitous, new GM that Hickey traded in for every six to eight months.
Mallozzi remembered showing up to Hickey’s house at 3:30 a.m. for their outings, with his fishing buddy already in the car, chewing a massive wad of Red Man tobacco with ‘50s tunes blaring from Sirius XM radio. When the day ended, Hickey would have them go—every time—to Joey B’s in Cos Cob for breakfast, then to Happy House Variety Store in Glenbrook for the New York Post and more tobacco.
“He would not go anywhere else, it cracked me up,” Mallozzi recalled. “He had his loop, and I loved to go for rides on his loop.”
Part of what struck Mallozzi most about Hickey—in addition to his loyalty as a friend and his aversion to drawing attention to himself—was his genuine love for kids, whether or not they were involved in sports.
“He just really got a kick out of kids,” Mallozzi said. “We used to go fishing a lot, and sometimes he’d take high school kids. He wasn’t scared to be himself and the kids weren’t scared to be themselves. We were all on the same level and he was so happy to be out there with kids. He knew as much about the kids in the cheering section as he did his own athletes and I always gave him credit for that.”
One of those who knew Hickey the best, and longest, is former NCHS Athletic Director Vin Iovino, who played football and baseball against him when they were in high school.
Hickey had been coaching football at Staples High School when he told Iovino he was interested in helping build the New Canaan football program. Iovino had hired Marinelli as head coach and Hickey came in to interview “and Lou hired him and he’s been with him ever since,” Iovino said.
“Without a question of a doubt, if you were a friend of Bo’s it was always for life,” Iovino said. “He would do anything for you and the best way to characterize it is if it was 2 o’clock in the morning and you had a problem or issue on anything, you’d call him and he would be there. He wound’t even ask you what it was. He was that kind of person. He would do anything for anyone.”
And often he would do those things quietly, with no fanfare.
Hickey was “instrumental” in getting Dunning Stadium built, “which people don’t realize,” Iovino said. “Behind the scenes, he was making sure we had the right contractors and making sure that everything was going right.”
Iovino recalled that he, Marinelli and Hickey always met at Lakeview Cemetery to solve any issues.
“Bo had a special quality in dealing with kids,” Iovino said. “Picture this in your mind. You’re on the field and getting chewed out by Bo—he had a way of chewing out kids and using these classic one-liners. He would make corrections and be tough, and when practice was over I’d look over and see him walking off the field arm-in-arm with the kid that he just made corrections with. Talk about an amazing thing. And he would say, ‘I never want to have kids leave practice with a bad feeling and have it spoil his family dinner, because it’s only a game.’ You don’t teach that. That’s not in any course. That’s intuitive. He was a sensitive person. He had the heart of a giant and he was caring. Underneath that big bear who loved to chew tobacco was a teddy bear.”
Iovino also recalled when NCHS ice hockey fell into turmoil, and he needed someone to bring discipline to a program that had fallen into disarray.
Without knowing whether Hickey had ever had anything to do with hockey, Iovino approached him.
“He said that yes, he had coached youth hockey,” Iovino recalled. “I said, ‘I need you to be the hockey coach,’ and he said, ‘I will do it.’ He turned the entire hockey program around, brought respectability to it and won the FCIAC right out of the shoot. Unheard of. Completely unheard of. His name will always be legend. He is a legend, and there’s not anything he would not do for someone in need.”
Many people may not realize that Hickey’s closest relationship at NCHS likely was with former physical education teacher and venerated field hockey coach Sue Schwerdtle, Iovino said.
At one time, the field hockey team did not have a certifiable field to play on because it was too short, Iovino said.
“She would have to practice on the upper fields, which were all grass and dirt at the time, because the field hockey field was not legitimate,” he recalled. “So I said we’ve got to do something about this. I said, ‘Bo, what’s the chance of cutting the hill down?’ Next thing I know there’s a guy with a machine cutting the hill down. We didn’t ask for permission. Then Sue had a field, and his comment was, ‘Sue is a great coach and a great person and she deserves it.’ That is how Bo was.”
Hickey was “instrumental” in building up New Canaan’s athletic program, “and his friendship goes hand-in-hand,” Iovino said.
“And more importantly—I don’t use this word lightly—but that is a guy that I love,” he said. “And that’s the best way to describe it. And I know it was mutual. That is the relationship I had with Bo.”