Ansonia football legend Jack Hunt dies
Updated 2:53 am, Friday, November 23, 2012
ANSONIA -- On the day of its biggest game, Ansonia lost its largest football legend.
Jack Hunt, the school's gigantic two-way lineman from the 1960s who honed his playing skills under Bill Parcells and Jimmy Johnson at Wichita State before coming home to lead the Ansonia Chargers to seven state championships in 11 title games, died Thursday following a six-month battle with esophageal cancer.
Hunt, 66, retired as Ansonia football coach in 2005, but still worked at the city's middle school, where his 6-foot-7 and 275-pound frame and booming voice served him well in handling attendance, discipline and in-school suspensions there.
Mayor James DellaVolpe, who quarterbacked the 1964 Ansonia team, is forever thankful for Hunt's size.
"I never had to be worried about being sacked," the mayor said.
He also remembers the respect Hunt's size and talent garnered from opponents.
In that year's Derby game, Ansonia was facing a fourth-and-1 when coach Charles "Boots" Jarvis told DellaVolpe to run the ball over "Big Hunt."
"I looked over and they had practically the whole team lined up on Jack," DellaVolpe said.
Still the QB followed his coach's orders, handed the ball off and watched the back get stopped short, enabling Derby's 30-26 win. But DellaVolpe said that defensive key showed respect for Hunt's abilities.
Hunt's death at Griffin Hospital occurred about an hour before the kickoff of the annual Ansonia-Naugatuck Thanksgiving game at Jarvis Field. No formal announcement was made, but word passed by mouth and tweets through the hushed crowd, according to people who attended.
"What's ironic is that nothing meant more to Jack than the traditional Thanksgiving game against Naugatuck," said John Sponheimer, an Ansonia attorney, assistant Ansonia football coach and longtime Hunt friend. "To him this was the game that made Ansonia's season."
Sponheimer said Hunt's record of 17-2 "against some great Naugatuck teams," which is a much larger school, is a testament to the coach.
Almost as Hunt would have wanted Ansonia crushed Naugatuck 48-27 at Jarvis Field. The win keeps the Chargers' winning streak alive at 25 and paves the way for their Class S quarterfinal clash with Prince Tech of Hartford Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Ansonia.
But Tedder said he learned more than just football from Hunt.
"He taught discipline. He made me the person I am today," said Tedder who works as an insurance claims adjuster for Connecticare in Farmington.
Just before Thursday's game, booster clubs from both Ansonia and Seymour High School announced the creation of a Jack Hunt/Paul Sponheimer trophy named after the two Valley football coaching legends, according to John Sponheimer. The trophy will go home with the winner of the annual Ansonia-Seymour game.
It was only a few weeks ago that Paul Sponheimer, who served as Hunt's best man, visited his friend.
"He seemed to be on the rebound. We went for a walk, and he was able to do about three-quarters of a block," Sponheimer recalled. "I called him Tree because he was just about the biggest human being I ever saw."
The two rival coaches sat on Hunt's porch and reminisced about the old days when the subject of concussions came up. "He said, `Spoon, I wonder how many we had.' "
Sponheimer said when Seymour joined the Naugatuck Valley League he requested Ansonia be on its schedule.
"People asked me why would you want that?" Sponheimer said. "I told them because I wanted to play good teams. Ansonia was disciplined, well prepared and it'd be a good game. We had some wars."
But Sponheimer said Hunt's teams won all the games played in Seymour.
"He owned our turf," Sponheimer said. "I told him they should rename DeBarber Field after him."
In 1986, Hunt retired after serving 15 years as an assistant line coach at Ansonia High School. He helped coach his son, John, who served as an Ansonia co-captain in 1984.
With Hunt gone and Douglas Morrell serving his first and only year as the head coach, Ansonia dropped to a 5-6 record. It marked Ansonia's first losing season since 1969.
Morrell resigned and Hunt was brought in the next year as the head coach.
He immediately turned the team around. "We won the state championship three years in a row," said John Sponheimer, who still coaches Ansonia freshman football and works the headphones at the varsity games. Sponheimer, who is Paul Sponheimer's cousin, specifically recalls the 1988 title game against New London, which was the top ranked team in the state. Ansonia was down 15-0 at the half.
He said Hunt gathered the team around him in the locker room and began "speaking about Ansonia pride, how we never give up and how we can come back and win. And we turned it around and won."
Ansonia scored 20 unanswered points while shutting New London out in the second half.
Hunt often said he never planned on staying more than five years as head coach. He stayed 19 years before retiring in 2005. His overall record of 193-26 ranks him 17th among high school football coaches, according to the Connecticut High School Record and Fact Book.
"I don't think Jack gets the recognition he deserves as a coach," John Sponheimer said.
Hunt also coached freshman basketball and varsity golf at Ansonia High.
"I'm actually really honored," Hunt told the New Haven Register in accepting the honor. "If you look back at some of the past winners like Bill McAllister and Boots Jarvis (both former Ansonia High School coaches) and Lou DeFillippo (who coached Derby High School and played four seasons with the New York Giants), I'm not sure if I'm anywhere close to those guys. I grew up idolizing them."
On Oct. 21 a benefit dinner for Hunt was held at the St. Sebastian Club in Ansonia.
Funeral services have not been announced.
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