The Connecticut High School Coaches Association announced Monday it has appointed Joe Canzanella as Executive Director.
He replaces long time director and legendary Connecticut coach John Fontana, who passed away on Oct. 21, 2019.
Canzanella, a former citywide athletic director in New Haven, brings a wealth of education and athletic administrative knowledge as well as coaching and officiating experience to the job.
“I’m excited because I have the opportunity to be part of an association that has a long history of high school athletics in the state of Connecticut,” Canzanella said in a release. “It’s been in existence since 1951. There have been tremendous people that have led this organization. I’m very fortunate to have Jiggs Cecchini (CHSCA treasurer) as my mentor and a great executive board.
“The role of the organization will be as a leader along with the CIAC and the Connecticut Athletic Director’s Association in high school athletics, and it hasn’t been more evident than now with the times were having. This is unprecedented. The adversity with Covid-19 has changed the landscape of not only education but the student-athletes and their participation.
“We’re happy to be part of three associations that are on the forefront of leading policy and decision-making. We’re going to do the very best we can for our student-athletes and membership.”
Fontana was executive director for more than 30 years and was involved with the organization since the 1970s. He was Southington’s longtime baseball coach with 669 victories and two state championships. He was a member of the Connecticut and National High School Halls of Fame.
As Director of Athletics of New Haven Schools beginning in 1999, Canzanella oversaw 50 elementary, middle and high schools, all physical education teachers and middle and high school coaches, including Hillhouse, Career, and Wilbur Cross High Schools. Canzanella is a national faculty member of the NIAAA and holds the professional title of Certified Master Athletics Administrator
He also coached football at Hillhouse and Cross over a 10-year period as well as coaching boys soccer, girls basketball, baseball, softball and was a director of the New Haven Unified Sports for six years.
He has officiated boys and girls basketball for more than 30 years, more than 20 in the CIAC tournament and 11 CIAC state championships. He served as an assigning supervisor and high school softball official for 30 years, 25 as a CIAC state tournament official and 10 in state championships.
A member of numerous professional organizations, he holds many executive board positions. Awards are numerous as well from many organizations, including National Football Foundation, New Haven Tap Off Club, Connecticut High School/College Softball Hall of Fame, New England Collegiate Basketball, among many others.
He has a clear focus for the organization.
“Our priorities are many,” he said. “No. 1 is to increase recognition throughout all the educational bodies of the CHSCA. Recognition of our brand and our name is very important to us. We’re hoping to be part of every decision that affects our high school student athletes.”
He also said it’s important to represent the membership of the group, which is close to 4,000, “in a positive light and to promote to the public that our coaches are very important to student athletes and their academic, athletic and social success.”
“Kids depend on coaches, very close to being a second parent,” he said. “From the inner cities to rural Connecticut, coaches are the lifeline between kids and schools.”
The question still lingers about schools reopening this year and the playing of a fall sports season.
“Everybody’s planning on a full go right now,” Canzanella said. “The situation is fluid. Decisions and policies will be developed as the data is analyzed. Later on this month or early next month, there will be some idea where we’re going.”
Canzanella has nothing but praise for the incoming board, which he said is filled with highly talented people. They are: President Deb Petruzzello of Middletown High; First Vice President Scott Aresco of Maloney-Meriden; Second Vice President Bill Vanderrest of Coventry; and Third Vice President Jim Buonocore of Ledyard.
“I believe I’m a lead by example person,” Canzanella said. “I would never ask anyone to do anything that I’m not willing to do.” Leading a group such as the Connecticut Coaches Association is different than any type of leadership I’ve had before, be it a school or be it an athletic department, but the bottom line is you’re still working with people and I’m working with great people. Building relationships and trust within your group is important and I’m excited about doing so.”