Former longtime Cromwell boys basketball coach Jake Salafia has died. Salafia was 92.
Salafia won seven Class S state championships at Cromwell, including five straight from 1967-71. The other two came in 1979 and 1980, respectively.
The Panthers made a total of 11 state finals under Salafia, who had a career record of 445-118. The gym at the high school is named after him.
“When he came to games. I would try and say hello and see how he was doing,” current Cromwell boys basketball coach John Pinone said. “When Isaiah (Salafia’s grandson, who went on to play at Yale University), was playing, he was at every game. He was always helpful.”
Tony Budzik, a neighbor of Salafia’s for 16 years, said he heard the news about his passing from a family member.
“He was just an unbelievable person,” Budzik said. “He was very calm, extremely polite and nice and the one thing he always told me was he never yelled at any of the players he coached. He always encouraged them. His wife (Shirley) always told me that, too.”
Budzik, also a high school basketball official for Board 6 (Hartford), said he last spoke to Salafia a couple weeks ago about the UConn women’s basketball team.
Budzik’s son Noah was a member of Pinone’s Division V state champion in 2018 and daughter Sadie a senior on the 2019 girls state championship team. He said Salafia often attended games for both of those teams.
“He really truly enjoyed talking about basketball, talking about games from the 1970s. He was a unique individual.”
Salafia also coached Cromwell’s cross country teams from 1958-86, winning seven state championships. He also won a state championship in outdoor track and field the one year he coached the sport. He was also the school’s athletic director from 1967-92.
Salafia starred in football, basketball and track at Woodrow Wilson High in Middletown. He went on to play football and compete in track at Central Connecticut State University. He was enshrined in the Blue Devils’ Hall of Fame in 2007.
“I don’t think a lot of people know how good of an athlete he was,” Pinone said.
Salafia was a member of the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame Museum, the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the New England Basketball Hall of Fame. He received a Gold Key from the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance in 2005.
Among the 15 all-state selections Salafia coached included Don Lewis (Providence), Al Weston (UConn) and his son Joe. He also coached his son Steve.
Funeral services are pending.
email@example.com; @nhrJoe Morelli