Just when you thought Lou Marinelli’s Hall of Fame coaching career couldn’t possibly look more impressive, the New Canaan High School football coach added yet another honor to his four-decade body of work.
The winningest coach in Connecticut high school football history received one of the state’s highest sports awards on Sunday, April 29, when he was honored at the 77th Gold Key Dinner at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.
Presented by the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance, the list of past Gold Key recipients reads like a “Who’s Who” in Connecticut sports history. It includes former Major League manager Bobby Valentine, Hall of Famers Floyd Little, Calvin Murphy and Brian Leetch, one-time Hartford Whaler Gordie Howe, UConn’s Geno Auriemma and Jim Calhoun, and World Cup soccer champion Kristine Lilly.
Even former President George H.W. Bush, who captained the Yale University baseball team in 1948, received a Gold Key in 1991.
The list also includes a number of legendary coaches. The name Lou Marinelli is now etched among them.
“I look at the names of the people who’ve received it and I’m still in disbelief I was chosen,” Marinelli, one of Sunday’s five Gold Key recipients, said. “I’m proud and I’m happy to be chosen, don’t get me wrong, but I’m in awe of the people who have received it.”
Marinelli became just the second Gold Key honoree from New Canaan, joining 2013 recipient Gary Liberatore, who cut his Florida vacation short so he could be at Sunday’s dinner.
“That’s certainly rarified air,” Marinelli said of the 1962 New Canaan graduate and basketball great who is still the all-time leading collegiate scorer in New England. “When I think of the many legends from New Canaan, people like Bill Toomey, Joe Sikorski, Bob Lynch, Bill Murphy and Wilky Gilmore, so many of the greats who put so much time and effort into New Canaan, for me to receive the Gold Key is certainly amazing. I honestly cannot begin to express how humbled I am.”
Marinelli, who has been at New Canaan 37 seasons and been a head coach 40 years overall, has led the Rams to 12 state championships, five FCIAC titles and 15 division crowns.
What’s more, on Sept. 15 of last season, New Canaan beat Danbury 42-7 to give Lou Marinelli his 332nd career victory, a new state record. He enters the 2018 season with an overall record of 340-100-7, including a 321-96-6 mark at New Canaan.
With numbers like that, it’s not surprising that of the nearly 400 people in attendance, there were close to five tables of Marinelli supporters, the most of any honoree. That group included family, friends, assistant coaches, parents of former players, and past colleagues such as former NCHS Athletic Director Vinny Iovino and basketball coach Don Usher, who came down from Cape Cod.
“To have people go out of their way to be there on a Sunday afternoon is amazing.”
Marinelli’s four current captains were also there to share the moment.
“It’s an amazing honor for the whole program,” offensive lineman Jack Conley said. “To be coached by an amazing coach and an amazing man, I am truly honored to be under such a guy.”
“I can’t think of anyone more deserving than Coach Marinelli,” echoed Jack Stewart, another captain and offensive lineman. “An award like this is huge for New Canaan football. Coach Marinelli always talks about football, faith and family. We are a family and he’s a father figure to us.”
Conley agreed, adding, “He takes the time to know his players and care for them as a person, not only as a player.”
Many of those relationships are still going strong after more than three-and-a-half decades. Pat Shouvlin and Paul McConnell, who both started on Marinelli’s first New Canaan team as juniors in 1981 and as seniors on his first state title team in 1982, made it a point to be at the dinner.
“I was so surprised to see them there. I can’t explain what that meant to me,” their former coach said. “That ’82 team was a special group and it’s amazing how many players on that team texted, emailed or got in touch with me just to say congratulations and how glad they are to be a part of the New Canaan program.”
But Marinelli’s day wasn’t over when the Gold Key Dinner was done. He and his wife, Fran, drove to Stratford to see their son, Greenwich High head coach John Marinelli, be honored as Coach of the Year by the National Football Foundation at its Fairfield County Chapter Scholar-Athlete Dinner.
“We got there in plenty of time to see John get his award,” his proud dad said. “And our scholar-athlete from New Canaan, Sean Knight, was selected to receive the National Football Foundation $1,000 scholarship.”
It all made for a memorable weekend for New Canaan football.
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