When the calendar hit June 30 this summer it hit the exact halfway mark of the calendar year 2016.
And that date also signaled the end of quite an era for the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference.
That was the official date that conference Executive Secretary John Kuczo and his great friend and assistant, Ralph King, retired from their administrative careers of guiding the FCIAC to unprecedented success and handed over the reins to Dave Schulz and Joe Madaffari. Schulz succeeds Kuczo as the new executive secretary and Madaffari is assistant executive secretary.
Though the official title was called executive secretary, Kuczo was most often referred to as conference “commissioner” and he held that role for 39 years since taking over in 1978.
“John is the absolute best,” King said. “Let’s put it this way, he did everything he possibly could to make the FCIAC the league it is. He deserves all the credit, believe me. He’s a super guy and a super worker. The league got the very best out of him.”
Both Kuczo and King had great success as coaches prior to serving the conference.
When King retired from the Norwalk school system in 1996, he came aboard as assistant executive secretary, also known as assistant commissioner.
“We both had positive ideas,” King said. “Number one, we always agreed on putting the FCIAC first as the prime goal of what we were talking about or working about. We didn’t agree on everything. But we always listened to each other, we worked with it and he made the final decision. John is such an easy person to work with. We discussed things in two different directions, we were always able to make a decision and it was always for the betterment of the league.”
Another thing Kuczo and King disagree on is King’s contention that Kuczo deserves all the credit. Though King has a great point, the unassuming Kuczo deferred much of the credit to the plentiful help he has received from the likes of Sheila Moffett, Pat Spinola, Vinnie Iovino, Schulz, Madaffari and so many others.
Kuczo retires full of pride knowing that the FCIAC has had as much success as any high school sports league can possibly have and that it is still in good hands.
“The conference has become, without a doubt, the finest in the state,” Kuczo said. “Not only in the organization of it, but also with the success of the schools, the kids and the coaches we have had. They’re coaching and competing in a superior league so when they get to state competition they’ll match up against anybody.
“No other league has tournaments like we do. We want to be competitive in every sport and I think we are. All you have to do is look at all the state championships we’ve won since 1961 (the first year of the FCIAC) and no other league comes near us.”
To his point, during this past 2015-16 school year the FCIAC had 34 of its teams from the three seasons win state championships in Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference state tournaments or state championship meets on either state class divisions or the Open championship meets levels.
The Staples High School boys cross country team began that run this past Nov. 4 when it won the State Open for the first of 10 state championships among the seven fall sports.
The Greenwich girls swimming and diving team swept the Class LL and State Open titles, while the other seven fall season state championship teams were Darien girls swimming and diving (Class L), undefeated Darien football (Class LL), New Canaan football (Class L), Wilton field hockey (Class L), New Canaan field hockey (Class M), St. Joseph girls soccer (Class LL) and Fairfield Ludlowe girls volleyball (Class LL).
The FCIAC collected 12 state championships among the seven winter sports, highlighted by the conference sweeping the Division I (Darien), Division II (Fairfield Warde/Ludlowe) and Division III (Westhill/Stamford) boys ice hockey tournaments.
Danbury swept Class LL and State Open championships in boys indoor track and field, the Greenwich boys swimming and diving team also won Class LL and State Open titles, while the other five state championship teams from the winter season were Stamford girls basketball (Class LL), Greenwich girls gymnastics (Class L), Danbury girls indoor track and field (Class LL), Danbury wrestling (Class LL) and New Canaan boys swimming and diving (Class L).
There were another dozen state championship teams from eight of the 11 spring sports. Staples and Greenwich were co-champions in the Boys Tennis Class LL Tournament while the conference’s other 10 state championship teams from the spring season were undefeated Darien boys lacrosse (Class L), New Canaan boys lacrosse (Class M), Darien girls lacrosse (Class L), New Canaan girls lacrosse (Class M), New Canaan boys tennis (Class L), Greenwich girls tennis (Class L), Greenwich girls golf, Danbury boys track and field (Class LL), Ridgefield girls track and field (Class LL) and Ridgefield boys volleyball (Class L).
Kuczo is just as proud of the consistent success of the conference tournaments, always very popular with the players, coaches, parents and fans, and for that he lauded the organizational skills of King and the respective chairwomen and chairmen from all of the sports.
It was no surprise the conference was the recipient of such quality, dignity and class in Kuczo and King, given the significant success they had as coaches and educators.
Kuczo celebrated his 79th birthday in June, King will do the same in August, and they have been involved with the conference as coaches or administrators since its inception in 1961.
The Baby Boomers generation began shortly after World War II when husbands and wives from “The Greatest Generation” began having their families and many of them were large families. When those early Baby Boomers became teenagers, cities such as Stamford and Norwalk saw the need for more high schools given the significant influx of high school students.
So in the early 1960s, Brien McMahon became the second public high school in Norwalk, Rippowam became the second public high school in Stamford and Stamford Catholic (now Trinity) was also a new high school in lower Fairfield County.
Kuczo’s father, Paul Kuczo, a legendary coach at Stamford High, was prominent among several other visionary leaders who saw this addition of high schools to the county as a timely opportunity to create the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference. The gymnasium at Stamford High is named after Paul Kuczo.
John Kuczo was a young teacher and coach at Rippowam during the conference’s formative years. His boys track and field teams had an incredible .860 winning percentage (202-33) in dual meets, his indoor track and field teams won six FCIAC titles and three state championships, his outdoor track and field teams won another six conference crowns and a state title, and his cross country teams won three straight FCIAC championships from 1963-65.
Five years ago the former distance runner at New Haven State Teachers College (now Southern Connecticut State University) joined his father as an inductee into the National High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Kuczo’s coaching career ended in 1972 when he became a school administrator. He came aboard with the FCIAC as its secretary-treasurer in 1968, and throughout about the last four decades or so he has had prideful joy watching many of his children and grandchildren become successful FCIAC athletes.
King was the FCIAC chairman for boys basketball and boys soccer, so he dealt with Kuczo often in those roles to incubate their eventual wonderful working relationship. It is no embellishment to state that King was absolutely a great coach in his two sports.
All Ralph did was rack up a combined 713 wins and many championships in both sports. During 23 years as head boys basketball coach McMahon became the conference’s first-ever state champion (Class LL) in 1977, the first of his two state titles. His Senators also won five FCIAC championships and he had a .753 career winning percentage (396-130).
King had a 317-151-45 career record during 33 years as McMahon’s soccer coach and got to watch his son, Ricky, make many superb saves for him as an All-State goalkeeper. King’s soccer teams won nine FCIAC championships and pair of state championships, and he was selected the National Coach of the Year in 1983. King is in several halls of fame and the City of Norwalk deemed fit to name McMahon’s gymnasium Ralph King/Mary Kehoe Gym in honor of King and Kehoe, a very successful coach of girls sports at the school.
As much success as Kuczo and King have had as coaches, they have matched that with just as much dedication in giving their brains, heart and soul to the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference.
“John and Ralph are the cornerstones of the FCIAC,” Schulz said. “This league is what it is because of those two and the tireless energy they had to make this league into the best league in the state. I am honored to take over for John. I have him on speed dial. It’s going to be a challenge for me to follow in his footsteps.”
Schulz just retired after his 38th year serving the Town of Fairfield as a successful teacher, coach and athletic director. He spent much of the 2015-16 school year shadowing Kuczo to learn the ins and outs of guiding the league. Schulz quipped he would be a rich man now if he knew the aspects of finances and financial planning 30 years ago that he has learned from Kuczo.
“Dave Schulz is retired from the Fairfield school system. That gave him the opportunity to step in without losing a beat,” Kuczo said. “He’s a very ethical and moral person. And he’s got savvy. He’s the savviest when it comes to scheduling. There is no one who can tell him he’s got to do it this way or that way. He’s done it every way. He’s just a great person. Even though is background is basketball, he’s got the best interest of every sport. He has always encouraged every kid to be out for something and get involved.”
Kuczo and King have considered stepping away from their roles for about the last half dozen years, but every time they broached that subject aloud there would be a Schulz or a Madaffari encouraging them to stay aboard.
But their heads and their hearts combined to tell them now is the right time to pass the torch.
Kuczo has worked with their successors so long now that he has nothing but the utmost confidence they will certainly keep this ship sailing as smooth as it always has.
“They’ll invent a new rudder,” Kuczo said with a quick laugh. “And they will do it excellently. They will improve on everything we’ve done and make it better. That’s how confident I am. We had a lot of irons in the fire and they’ll continue on with that.”
Kuczo and King will still attend league meetings and functions and always be available as valued mentors and consultants sharing their wisdom.
“I have a feeling of big relief now,” Kuczo said. “I’m so happy with the people taking our place. Dave Schulz and Joe Madaffari – they’re just super people and they have the heart of the league within them. I’m tickled pink. I don’t have to worry about everything now. I don’t have to worry about anything with those two.”