Legendary Prep coach Lavery headed to county's sports hall of fame
The numbers don't lie. Earl Lavery is among the great high school football coaches in Connecticut, a man whose Fairfield Prep teams won three state championships and 80 percent of their games across 28 seasons.
Now living in retirement in Westerly, R.I., Lavery was pleased to learn recently that he had been elected to the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame.
He and two others with Fairfield ties -- James Blake, the pro tennis star, and Don Cook, who retired in June after 21 years as director of athletics at Sacred Heart University-- will be among the honorees at the organization's ninth annual dinner on Monday, Oct. 21, at the Hyatt Regency in Greenwich.
"I'm honored to be selected," Lavery said during a visit to the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame in Stamford on June 27. "To look at the plaques of the inductees already on this wall and to be included is very special indeed."
Lavery and Cook will be inducted into the J. Walter Kennedy Community Service Wing, while Blake and retired Major League Baseball umpire Mark Hirschbeck, of Stratford, will enter the Jackie Robinson Professional Wing.
The James O'Rourke Amateur Wing will welcome Dennis Paglialunga, of New Canaan, a former star third baseman at the University of New Haven, and the late Allison Rioux, of Stamford, a softball legend with the Raybestos Brakettes.
Although born and raised in Bridgeport, Lavery's ties with Fairfield College Preparatory School are virtually lifelong.
As a senior, he was a tackle on the Jesuits' 1949 football team coached by Fella Gintoff. The squad won its first seven games before settling for a 6-6 tie with Stamford High in the season finale.
Heads to Holy Cross
Following graduation in 1950, Lavery received a football scholarship to Holy Cross (a Jesuit college), where he played three seasons of varsity football -- primarily as a defensive tackle -- and graduated in 1954 with a bachelor's degree in political science.
"Waiting to be drafted," Lavery sold cars and worked at Sikorsky Aircraft for a while before he returned to Fairfield Prep as a math teacher and assistant football coach under Joe Brosley.
This career move would pay many dividends: He taught mathematics for 32 years at his alma mater and also coached track and golf briefly. After nine seasons as a football assistant, he succeeded Brosley as head coach in 1965.
Lavery proceeded to direct the Jesuits to four undefeated, untied seasons (1967, '69, '73, '77), an 11-0-1 record in 1975 and CIAC state titles in 1977, '82 and '88.
When Lavery retired following the 1992 season, his 230 career victories were a state record. He's now No. 7.
His .801 winning percentage ranks eighth in state history.
No fewer than a dozen of his players were rewarded with first-team berths on the New Haven Register All-State Team, among them end Tom Lyddy (1966), defensive backs Paul Halas (1973) and John DiTulio (1977), and the Zingo brothers -- Chris (1989) and Randy (1991).
Chris Zingo developed into a two-time All-American linebacker at Cornell and was voted into the university's Athletic Hall of Fame.
The team is the thing
"It is still about team. Kids can do things together that they can't do individually," said Lavery, who received the prestigious Gold Key Award from the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance in 1996 and was elected to the Connecticut High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 1991. "Good relationships with the kids remain the key. Success was always a team thing, not just about me.
"Any success for a head coach depends on the kids he has and the assistants he has. Too many times assistant coaches don't get the credit they deserve."
Earl and his wife, Eleanor, are enjoying retirement in Rhode Island. He keeps busy by working at the pro shop at the Wood River Golf Course in Hopkinton and playing the game, as well.
"I'm not getting any better," he joked about his golf game.
He is the father of two children, Kathleen and James, and the grandfather of three -- Shawna, Brandon and Ian.