Derby High School Athletic Hall of Fame

Congratulations to the DHS Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2016

The Class of 2016 were presented with Hall of Fame jackets at halftime of the Ansonia/Derby Game at Ryan Field. The official induction ceremony was held at a banquet on April 8, 2017 at Derby High School. Click here for highlights of the banquet.

Charlie DiCenso
Phil Donfrio
Bill Duggan
Jim Keefe
Ken Pereiras
Brent Sanford
Al Vitello

In addition to the Hall of Fame inductees, this year's banquet will also honor Jim Mascolo with the Bill Pucci Service Award.

The 1951 Boys Basketball State Championship Team was also recognized as the first Special Team honoree.

Though recent years have been a struggle for Derby basketball, as you will see throughout the night, there is a rich legacy of outstanding individuals and teams down through the years. However, only one Derby team has managed to win a state championship in basketball, and that is the team being honored tonight. Derby’s 1951 State Class “B” state championship remains the pinnacle of Derby basketball.

In1950 the Raiders had reached the semi-finals of the tournament, losing by a single point to Stonington in overtime after dethroning 1949 state champs Sacred Heart. Several players were returning for the new season which was to see Ed Coss taking over as head coach from legendary Nuggy Ryan. The regular season in the powerful Housatonic was a strong test and the team finished with an 11-7 record that included two losses to highly regarded Shelton.

The Raiders opened tournament play with a 44-37 win over Wilcox Tech in a play-in game that set up a rematch with a Shelton Team that was one of the favorites to win the whole tournament. However, this time Derby turned the tables with a tight 45-52 win as Mike Kiley’s basket and Frank Pascuzzo’s foul shot broke a 42-42 tie and provided the margin of victory. Over 2,000 people were on hand for the game at the Payne Whitney.

That set the stage for a match with defending champion Stonington with Derby avenging the previous year’s loss with a 51-42 win setting up a title tilt with Sacred Heart at a sold out Payne Whitney gym at Yale.

Things were going smoothly for Derby and they looked as though they would run Sacred Heart out of the gym as they raced out to a 29-9 lead. It wasn’t going to be so easy! Sacred Heart cut it to 31-14 at the half and by the end of the third quarter the lead was down to 34-32 as Bill Duggan’s 3 points were the only ones Derby scored in the period. The Hearts got as close as a point including 40-39 before Jack Kiley produced the final points. There was no shot clock back then so Derby “froze” the ball for the last 40 seconds. There was no parade to the foul line either because the rules of the time allowed the fouled team to waive the foul shots and keep the ball – and Derby did that three times. Probably a good thing since they were 4 for 17 from the foul line on the night!

The city was wild with excitement and the next day the high school was dismissed early following a victory celebration and then given the next day off as an additional reward! I don’t think that would happen today.

The newspaper in Branford summed up Derby’s exciting win with this inspiring quote:
“Nothing went right for Derby in the late going except for their fight. The difference between a champion and a near champ is heart, not luck, and up in Red Raider town the students can rightfully look in a trophy case and wink back at the shining silverpiece, knowing that it has its right home…”
 

Charlie DiCenso '65 (Football Coach 1983-92)

Taking over for a legend is never easy. Becoming a legend in one's own right is near impossible. After a 5-5 campaign and near mutiny in his rookie year at the helm, many were wondering if Charlie DiCenso had what it took to right the ship and steer the Red Raiders toward contention in the rough-and-tumble Housatonic League.

It didn't take long to figure out that the answer to that question was a resounding "Yes!" After going 8-2 in 1984, the Raiders went on to win ten games and their first Class S title in '85, including a thrilling mid-season 7-6 win at Ansonia, the first win against the Chargers since 1975. Back-to-back playoff appearances and a league championship the following year cemented Charlie as one of the premier coaches in the state. Derby became a regular in the Register Top Ten, year in and year out.

A sterling 9-1 record in 1987 was good enough for another Housy League crown, as Big Red went unbeaten in league play. That year they saved their best for last as they torched Thanksgiving rival Shelton to secure Derby's first win versus the Gaels in four years. Though the '88 squad fell one game short of a Housy three-peat, their 7-0 start propelled them to #3 in the state before finishing 8-2. The highlight of that year was a bruising, gut-wrenching 10-7 victory over arch-rival Ansonia, avenging an embarrassing freshman loss three years prior.

The best was yet to come, however. Two years later, the 1990 version of the Red Raiders started the season with a lot of question marks. Several starters from the previous season had graduated. An inexperienced senior class came into the season wondering just how good they could be.

Even as their record approached 5-0, several skeptics wondered how long it could last, especially with perennial powerhouse Ansonia lurking around the corner. Many of their victories were of the grind-it-out variety. This wasn't a team that made a habit of blowing out its opponents. Week 6 versus the Chargers was no exception. It was a back-and-forth affair the whole way, with Big Red holding on for a hard-fought 19-15 victory.

Even at 10-0, it wasn't until late in their playoff game that they resembled anything close to world beaters. After a sluggish beginning, the offense came to life and scored 34 points in the second half to win going away. Coach DiCenso and Company put the finishing touches on Derby's first 11-0 season, still the most wins in a season in school history.

After accumulating nearly 80 wins, multiple Housy and State championships over a ten year span, the only question remaining was, "Is Charlie DiCenso a Hall of Famer?" The answer is a resounding "Yes!" Welcome aboard, Coach.

 

Phil Donofrio '58

Some guys are all business all the time, tough as nails right from the get-go. Phil Donofrio is one of those guys. Growing up in the 50's in a blue collar mill town like Derby, is it any wonder?

Luckily for Phil, sports were also a big part of his life at an early age. Many of the rough-and-tumble lessons he learned in the heat of competition helped build him into the strong young man who led Derby basketball to a position of prominence in an era where great players were few and far between.

As just the second (and, to date, the last) All-State basketball player from Derby, Donofrio led the Red Raiders in most offensive categories while guiding them to the playoffs on multiple occasions. Despite his best efforts, they fell one game short of state championship glory, but always gave it their all. As team captain, Phil wouldn't have it any other way.

Donofrio also excelled at Quinnipiac, leading the Braves with the same hard-nosed approach that served him so well at DHS. By the time he graduated in 1962, Phil had scored over 1000 points, was a two-time tournament MVP and was named captain his senior season, while leading the team with an average of 15.5 points per game.

In 1977 he became the first men’s basketball player inducted into the Quinnipiac Athletic Hall of Fame

Fittingly, he ended up in the hardware business - blue collar and tough as nails...a Derby guy to his very core.

 

Bill Duggan '51

Championships are won long before the opening tip, and certainly before a single point is scored. Likewise, leaders are forged through countless hours of practice and preparation (both mentally and physically), so that when the time comes for them to shine, they step up and do so as if they've been waiting their whole lives for the opportunity.

Team captain Bill Duggan had worked his way into a leadership role on the 1951 Red Raiders basketball team. Like Leo Ryan before him, Coach Ed Coss was a developer of champions. His team was poised to make a deep playoff run on the strong and steady shoulders of his leading man.

Of course, basketball, like any team sport, is anything but a one-man show. Several key performers chipped in and did their part along the way. Big Red featured a fairly balanced scoring attack, which made it difficult for opponents to defend. An early round test from Valley rival Shelton got the team rolling. Despite having been blown out by the Gaels in the regular season, Derby pulled together for a 45-42 victory. From there, it was a victory over Stonington in the semis before facing Sacred Heart in the finals. Derby got off to an early lead, even extending it to 20 at one point. But Sacred Heart chipped away slowly but surely, until it was down to a one-point game.

The championship came down to the final minutes, where the leadership, hard work and preparation finally paid off. Duggan earned MVP honors for his role at the forefront of the Derby title run, still the only one in DHS basketball history.

As might be expected, Bill embarked on a successful professional career as assistant and head coach at Derby before becoming the long-time principal of Bradley School. Some come by leadership more naturally than others, but when you put in the time and pay your dues, you're ready to lead the charge when your time comes. Nobody can ever accuse Bill Duggan of not being ready.

Jim Keefe '59

Going the extra mile is the mark of a true champion. Throughout his stellar career, Jim Keefe proved that he was more than just a miler specialist. His accomplishments on the track and on the road helped put distance between him and all others who tried in vain to keep pace.

Although he played football, Jim was able to also compete in the cross country championships during his senior season, winning the Class M title and earning silver in the State Open.

It was during track season that Keefe really excelled. He won back-to-back Class M crowns in '58 and '59 with times of 4:35 and 4:33, respectively. Before him, it had been 20 years since a Derby runner had won gold in the mile.

His time of 4:25 in the 1959 State Open mile was not only good enough for #2 overall, but was also the school record for many years thereafter. During the indoor season, his dominance included yet another State title his senior year.

In the college ranks, Jim continued his standout career at Central Connecticut, winning championships and earning All-American accolades at various distances (mile, 5K and 10K), making him one of the most versatile champions in school history.

He was selected to the USA track and field team for 1963-64 and as a NCAA track and field All American for 1963-64. He earned NCAA cross country All American status in 1963. Prior to that he was the NAIA cross country national champion 1962. In 1964 he was the NCAA champion in both the 3 and 6 mile.

He capped his amazing run by representing America in international competition in Moscow, Warsaw, Hanover and London versus the likes of the Soviet Union, East Germany and other world powers, cementing his legacy as a true giant in his field. Had it not been for an injury, he most likely would have qualified for the U.S. Olympic team for the Olympics in Tokyo in 1964.

He was inducted into the Central Connecticut State University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1979, the very first year that their hall was created.

As Jim rounds the corner and heads down the stretch, let's all cheer him on as he breaks the tape once more and takes his rightful place in the DHS Hall of Fame.

 

Ken Pereiras '71

It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog. At 5'6" and 110 pounds, Ken Pereiras proved that size indeed does not matter when it comes to dominating on the basketball court. His quick first step and uncanny ability to penetrate the opposing defense more than made up for anything he may have lacked in the height department.

Arguably the best basketball player to lace 'em up for the Red Raiders, Kenny was the type of player to fill the box score, leading the team in several categories on any given night, while setting several school records along the way - some of which still stand.

Pereiras was a scoring machine, including a 48-point outburst against Shelton that is still the top single-game performance in school history. His 574 points in a season was also #1 on the Red Raider list. He became the first Derby player to surpass the 1000-point plateau, and graduated with the career scoring record (1,053 points). Ken's scoring prowess became evident early on. He finished his tenure at DHS with a streak of 52 consecutive starts and a span of 60 consecutive games in which he scored. Just for good measure, he is also the school's standard-bearer in assists, with 12 in a single game, proving that he was willing and able to set the table for others, as well.

After an undefeated junior college championship season at Mattatuck, Ken went on to play at Western Connecticut.

In 2014, the Waterbury Republican America’s HoopZone selected Ken as the Best male basketball player in Derby history.
Ken returned to Derby as the boys basketball coach though he is probably better known today for his incredible success as the Seymour softball coach where his record makes him the Geno Aueriemma of girls sports in the Valley.
 

With a trophy case full of accolades to his credit, few have ever stood taller on the basketball court than Ken Pereiras, one of Derby's all-time greats.

Brent Sanford '70

On a team loaded with standout athletes, the one who stood out the most (and, not just because of his height) may well have been Brent Sanford, to date the only High School All-American in Derby football history.

As a two-way starter on the legendary '69 edition of the Red Raiders, Sanford was an opposing coach's nightmare. On offense, he was impossible to defend, often a favorite target of QB Bunny Baczek. As a defender, he routinely blew up the backfield, even when double-teamed.

On the hardwood, Sanford was just as dominant. He was regularly a team leader in scoring, and was a beast on the boards. His school record 32 rebounds is still the best ever for a single game. When he set up shop in the low post, opponents either gave way or ended up wishing they had. At the other end of the court, if you dared come through the lane, you did so at your own risk, because one thing's for certain. When you went head to head with Brent Sanford, you felt it.

After graduation, Brent joined Derby teammate Frank Romano at Maryland, where the two of them continued their sterling gridiron careers, just as dominant as ever. Once a standout, always a standout - and now, a Hall of Famer.

 

Alphonse Vitello '41 Player/Coach/AD

For over 50 years, the name Al Vitello was synonymous with Derby High School athletics. From the time he first suited up for the Red Raiders in the late 30's until his retirement as athletic director in the late 80's, no one cast a bigger shadow on the program than he did.

He was an outstanding student athlete at Derby High School from 1937-1941. Mr. Vitello was a member of the football, basketball, baseball, and track teams and was named Derby High School’s Most Valuable Athlete in 1941. He captained both the football and basketball teams. He played both ways on the football team as a halfback and defensive back/linebacker. His 1940 team was the Housatonic League Champion and State Co-Champion. He was named as a member of the Bridgeport Post All State Team.

He played guard on the basketball team for four years and second base and shortstop on the baseball team. Though three sport athletes are very rare today, Al Vitello was a four-sport star! In those days a high school athlete could participate in both baseball and track during the same season and Vitello lent his speed to the track team for three years.

Mr. Vitello served with distinction as a teacher at Derby High School for over forty years (1951-1992) teaching history and heading the Social Studies Department. He was the head basketball coach from 1955 to 1965 and his teams advanced to the state tournament five times including the semi-finals in 1958. He was also the head baseball coach from 1951 through 1954, and the 1952 team won the Derby’s only Housatonic League Championship. He also served as an assistant football coach from 1953 through 1955. He served as AD from 1968-1988.
 

In 2011, the gym at Derby High was renamed in his honor.

Jim Mascolo '64
Bill Pucci Service Award

He came to Derby Pop Warner in the early 80's and was named President in 1986 and retired in. 2000. Shortly after the football equipment room in the clubhouse was named after him.

He could often be found driving around town recruiting kids and wasresponsible for getting many of them off the street. Until his legs would no longer let him, he could be seen on the sidelines of the high school games lending a hand to the coaches and the kids.

During his time as President was responsible for getting several grants for Derby Pop Warner to help fund the program. He kept the registration far lower than any of the surrounding towns so that it would be affordable for all. Often
offering discounted fees for those who could not afford it.

Not only was he President, he was also the head coach of the midgets for most of his time. He took such pride in making Derby Pop Warner the best run program that was started in the late 60's. He paved the way for all of the Presidents who followed him and the program is still running strong today.

He was also a very active member of Derby's Parks and Recreation Committee.

He never asked for praise and never got paid a dime. He did it because of his love for the kids of Derby. Many in Derby benefited from the generosity and dedication of Big Jim. We will be forever grateful.

 


Story posted on May 19, 2016


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