New Canaan's Paglialunga among six named to Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame
Updated 2:08 pm, Tuesday, July 2, 2013
STAMFORD -- Appreciation for a life's work well done is something to strive for.
For those involved in athletics, the Hall of Fame is the most likely measuring stick for success.
Six more prominent sports figures from the area received their just accolades as the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame unveiled their Class of 2013 inductees Wednesday at their museum wing located at the Stamford UConn campus.
Now gracing the James O'Rourke Amateur Wing are Stamford native and Raybestos Brakettes softball legend the late Allyson Rioux as well as former University of New Haven baseball standout Dennis Paglialunga of New Canaan.
Inducted into the J. Walter Kennedy Community Service Wing were legendary Fairfield Prep football coach Earl Lavery as well as former Fairfield University, University of Hartford and Sacred Heart University athletic director Don Cook.
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Rioux, who has the Westhill High softball field named in her honor, was a 3-sport standout (softball, basketball, field hockey) as a Viking. In her freshman year at the University of Rhode Island and subsequent college seasons at UMass (2nd team All-American as a senior), Rioux focused on softball.
Although shortstop was her natural position, Rioux played 10 years at second base for the fabled Raybestos Brakettes in Stratford because they had an Olympic-caliber shortstop in Dot Richardson.
With the Brakettes, Rioux played in nine ASA National Championship games with the Brakettes winning five titles.
Rioux, voted into the National Softball Hall of Fame in 2009, died prematurely at age 27 in 1989 due to an inoperable brain tumor.
She was represented at Wednesday's ceremony by her mother Barbara along with sisters Cheryl (Rioux) Tiscia and Francene (Rioux) Moavero.
"I'm so overwhelmed about the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame induction for Allyson," Barbara Rioux said. "The city of Stamford has been so good to our family."
"Allyson would be humble and shy about this honor. But she loved everything about Stamford," Cheryl Tiscia said. "Softball wasn't an Olympic sport in her day. Allyson would be happy to see it now on a worldwide stage. The Raybestos Brakettes were certainly trailblazers for female athletes. They started the path to where women's athletics is today. Allyson didn't want to play on boys teams. She was always about getting the same opportunities for girls."
Some could argue that Allyson Rioux was as talented and fabled a woman's athlete as Bobby Valentine is lauded in Stamford.
But Allyson Rioux's legacy lives on in the Allyson Rioux Memorial Foundation.
The non-profit organization has donated $750,000 over the past 24 years (1989-2013) to 29 female high school student-athletes for college scholarships as well as families dealing with medical issues. The Allyson Rioux Memorial Golf Tournament is in its 25th year.
Dennis Paglialunga was a three-sport athlete (basketball, baseball, football) at New Canaan High.
"(Former legendary NC football coach) Bob Lynch was a big influence on me. But it was Bo Hickey, my junior high school football coach, who taught me how to play football," Paglialunga recalled. "Looking at the plaques on this wall, I can't believe I'm in company with these great athletes."
Paglialunga played baseball (third base) for the University of New Haven under legendary coach Frank "Porky" Vieira from 1976-79. UNH made three NCAA Division II College World Series appearances in that span.
"Coach Vieira gave me the opportunity to be away from home, explore life and be organized," Paglialunga said. "He gave me the chance to play in the Cape Cod Baseball League for three years. Guys I played with there got drafted and signed to the majors. But coach V got me a contract to play pro baseball in Italy for two seasons. I saw Europe because of him. I'm indebted to him because he opened so many doors for me."
Stratford native Mark Hirschbeck was a National League umpire from 1988-1999 and umpired in both the NL and American League from 2000 to 2003. He umpired with his brother John Hirschbeck until complications from artificial hip surgery forced his retirement.
"This is a huge honor," Hirschbeck said. "I followed my brother's footsteps into umpiring. Now I'm following his footsteps into the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame."
Even now, 11 years later, Hirschbeck's passion for umpiring still burns hot. But his current focus is on being a good restaurateur as a proud owner of Hirschbeck's Sports Bar and Grill at 882 Bridgeport Ave. in Shelton.
"I'm getting used to the restaurant. It is a lot of work," Hirschbeck said. "We've been open about 17 months and it's starting to come around. We're starting to see good things happen. Patience is a key to good umpiring. I've learned I don't know everything about the restaurant business. But I've learned from my mistakes."
Blake was the only honoree not represented at Wednesday's ceremony. But with good reason. On Tuesday, the 33-year-old Blake posted his first opening round victory at Wimbledon in five years -- a 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 triumph over Thiemo De Bakker.
Fairfield's Blake, currently ranked No. 87 in the ATP tennis world, has evolved into more of a family man of late. He married Emily Snider in November of 2012 in California, the couple have a daughter Riley Elizabeth and still have ties to Fairfield County.
Lavery never had a losing season in his 24 years (1968-1992) coaching Fairfield Prep football. He retired with a record of 230-54-8 and three state football titles. At the time, his 230 victories were ranked No. 1 among Connecticut state high school football coaches. At present, Lavery's total ranks No. 7.
During his 50 years in college athletics Cook was a major force across the state in his time at Fairfield University (19 seasons as baseball coach, athletic director for 15 years, 1971-86), the University of Hartford (1986-92) and at Sacred Heart University (20 years, retiring last month). Cook was the first president of the Metro Atlantic Conference and saw the creation of the $17.5 million dollar William H. Pitt Health and Athletic Center at SHU.
"This is a special privilege. It's humbling to be a part of the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame," said Cook, who expanded SHU athletics from 12 to 31 varsity teams and still is helping with the transition to new Sacred Heart athletic director Bobby Valentine. "It has been a long road travelled filled with the privilege to constantly be around good people. The support of players, coaches and fellow administrators having my back resulted in my success.
"My concern always tried to be what was best for the student-athletes. There has been an explosion of TV revenue and much conference realignment," Cook continued. "I had a daughter who was a college gymnast. My son played college baseball. I felt I had a big responsibility to all the parents. Getting an education and turning out responsible human beings. That's what college and college athletics should be about."