CHESHIRE — He has won more games than any high school football coach in Connecticut history, including an eye-popping 12 state championships.
And yet, when Lou Marinelli was asked to name his favorite highlight in his 37 seasons at the helm at New Canaan High School, his response came as a bit of a shock to the dozen or so reporters who had gathered at the CIAC headquarters for the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance Gold Key press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Because it had nothing to do with football.
“If I had to choose one thing that I thought was the highlight of my career, it would be being asked to be the graduation speaker in 2009,” Marinelli said, “because it was more than just football. There was more to it. That, to me, was the ultimate honor.”
What was the message in his graduation speech?
“First of all, never forget where you came from,” he said. “And there’s no place like New Canaan.”
And when it comes to winning football games, there’s nobody in Connecticut better than Marinelli, whose career record as a head coach is 340-103-7, including a 321-96-6 mark since taking over the program in New Canaan in 1981.
Marinelli will be one of five recipients this year of the CSWA’s Gold Key Award. He will be honored at the at the 77th-annual Gold Key Dinner at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington on April 29. The other Gold Key Award recipients will be PGA golf professional Dennis Coscina, former Granby Memorial High School field hockey coach Dot Johnson, recently retired UConn women’s soccer coach Len Tsantiris, and Olympic women’s ice hockey gold medalist Gretchen Ulion Silverman.
Among the previous Gold Key Award recipients are baseball manager Connie Mack (1940), boxer Willie Pep (1961), President George H.W. Bush (1991), hockey great Gordie Howe (1992), Hall of Fame basketball coaches Geno Auriemma (2001) and Jim Calhoun (2003), U.S. women’s soccer star Kristine Lilly (2012) and Super Bowl champion Dwight Freeney (2017).
Also on that list is former West Haven and St. Joseph football coach Ed McCarthy, a 2014 Gold Key recipient who Marinelli surpassed in 2017 to become the winningest football coach in Connecticut history.
“When you look back at the names of the people who have won this, it’s like ‘Which one doesn’t belong?’ and I kind of think it’s me,” Marinelli said with a laugh. “I don’t know how many football coaches have won the Gold Key, but I know it’s not that many. So, representing football, especially high school football, which has come so far in Connecticut, I’m very honored.”
Among the keys to New Canaan’s success, Marinelli said — in addition to a supportive administration and a close-knit community — has been the town’s feeder program.
“Our youth program has 300 kids playing tackle football from grades 3 through 8, and there are another 300-plus who are playing flag football. It’s wonderful,” Marinelli said. “Those coaches work hard, and we’re involved with them. I think one of the mistakes some high school coaches make is that they don’t get involved with the youth program. It really serves our kids well, because I send our kids down to coach them. Because they are the role models.
“And they love to come out on Friday nights,” Marinelli continued. “Friday nights at New Canaan, when you turn the lights on, it’s a thrill. I get a thrill now. And you look up in the crowd and you see all these young families and these young boys and girls, it’s a wonderful feeling.”
Tickets to the Gold Key Dinner are $75 apiece and may be reserved by contacting CSWA President Tim Jensen at email@example.com. Proceeds from the dinner go to benefit the Bohdan Kolinsky Memorial Sports Journalism Scholarship, which, honors the memory of Bohdan Kolinsky, longtime school sports editor of the Hartford Courant, who died in 2003.
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