By JOHN GORALSKI
When Art Secondo strolled onto the Southington football field in the late 1960s, he was hit by a wave of boos and taunts. Each time a Southington player danced into the end zone, he’d throw an angry glare at the young Southington sports writer. Secondo was pushed to the edge of the sidelines during that Thanksgiving Day game in 1967, and every heckle, every taunt, and every boo seemed to pierce him to his very core.
Almost half a century has passed, but Secondo still winces when he tells the story. It broke his heart to pick against the Blue Knights, but he did it because a young Coach Dom D’Angelo urged him to. The coach wanted to light a fire under his players for Thanksgiving Day, so Secondo took one for the team.
“I told him I couldn’t do it, but he told me that I had to do it for Southington. He really made me feel guilty,” Secondo said, shaking his head as if he was still fighting to avoid it. “I came up with these stupid reasons, and they were all false. The paper came out and—oh, my God—people fell for it. There was wet toilet paper on my front lawn. When I showed up for the Thanksgiving game, they booed me from the stands…Everybody gave me the cold shoulder.”
Secondo begged D’Angelo to tell his team the truth when they entered halftime with a commanding lead. He beseeched him after the game to tell his players the truth. It wasn’t until Monday morning when D’Angelo finally called off the dogs.
“It got so bad that I had to beg him,” Secondo said. “He actually had to go on the school’s intercom on Monday morning and tell everyone that it was a setup. It got that big. Even the Plainville coach—Palmer—came to me at halftime and told me he knew what I did. He told me that I would never pick Plainville over Southington.”
It’s important to note that Southington destroyed Plainville in the annual contest, 34-0. Secondo’s betrayal spurred the team to take no prisoners.
But how could Southington fans have fallen for the ploy? How could they not see through the charade when a man, known by most in town as “Mr. Suddington,” found himself rooting against his alma mater? Or a man who said—more than once—that, if the town was a woman, he’d marry it? How could they fall for it?
It seems ludicrous that Southington players and fans could be so naive. Some people love their town, but Secondo is “in love” with it. How could he root against it? Maybe that’s why it actually worked.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in the town that loves Southington as much as him,” said former Blue Knight baseball coach and a former longtime Southington Parks Commission member John Fontana. “I mean, he’s just that way. If I saw him at a function at Rentschler Field, all he would talk about was Southington…to everybody. He was always that way.”
Secondo is a bit of an enigma. He’s served on almost every major committee in town. He’s been seen visiting the town green almost every night like a parent tucking his child into bed. He’s fought for his visions. He’s fought for the people, and—one time—he even picked against his favorite team to try to help them get a win.
Nobody has been more committed to Southington sports on the field, in the newsroom, or behind the scenes. Nobody. His unofficial role as a town historian continues to be an act of love.
“I still get a lump in my throat when I hear the school song,” he said. “When kids play sports for Southington, it’s like playing for the Yankees. There’s a lot of pressure. When you play football here, it’s an honor. For some kids, just to be on the team is an honor. There’s a lot of history here, and I like to think that I may have been responsible for, at least, keeping that past alive.”
Secondo might not have been one of the best athletes in that Liberty Street crew in the 1950s, but he cut his teeth against some of the greatest athletes in town history. He learned to hit fastballs thrown by hall of famer Dick Tully and his siblings. He would try to keep up with other hall of famers like Dick Lorenzo or Eddie Nardi on the hard court, and he’d match up against future high school stars in pick-up football games on the town green.
That’s where Secondo first developed his love for local sports… and local athletes.
“Some of the best athletes came out of Liberty Street. The high school can take credit, but the talent was there. That was all we did,” he said. “We learned how to hit a ball that was thrown pretty fast. We played touch football and basketball. Even if it was 30 degrees, we would play. Mucus would run down our face it was so cold, and the basketball would hurt when it hit you. We were tough kids, but we had some good times.”
Secondo never shrank from a challenge and he worked his way into a decent player. He even battled his way onto three varsity rosters. He might not have been an athletic star. He might have been a bench player when Southington High School rallied for its first baseball title in 1961, but Secondo was right there in the trenches fighting alongside them.
For more than 50 years, that has been his calling card. Most of his former teammates and childhood rivals have already hung up their cleats for good, but Secondo is still going…and going…and going. In fact, he’s the senior umpire for Southington’s Park and Recreation Department’s softball leagues.
Since 1973, he has become a fixture behind the plate. He’s umpired generations of players and mentored generations of young officials. And there doesn’t seem to be any chance that he’ll be letting up soon.
“I can remember when I first started umpiring years ago. He was my mentor. I would work games with him, and he’d show me the way,” said Southington Parks and Recreation director Dave Lapreay. “He’s done a great job with it. He loves to be out there, talking to the teams, and getting involved with the players. And he’s still going.”
If there’s a sports contest, Secondo can usually be seen rooting on the Blue Knights.
Between games, he’s the biggest cheerleader. He still rattles off names of athletes off the top of his head, citing extraordinary examples from each team, championing different ages and arguing—sometimes with himself—about which ones were the best.
Perhaps it’s because nobody has followed Southington teams for as long as he has.
“When it came to sports, he threw himself into it because it was Southington sports,” said Fontana. “Anything that dealt with Southington, you’d find him there. That’s the key to him, even when it came to newspaper writing. I’m not saying that, if it wasn’t about Southington, he wouldn’t have been good. But I don’t think that his heart and soul would have shown as much if he was writing for the state instead of Southington.”
Perhaps it’s because Secondo never set out to be a reporter, an editor, or a town historian, but he embraced the role like he did everything else. He was hired as the circulation manager for the former Southington News, and the editor approached him with a proposition.
“Hey, Secondo. You’re from town,” he called out across the newsroom. “I don’t have any sports section. Can you write a column for me or cover sports?”
Secondo jumped at the opportunity. “My first column was called ‘The Bouncing Ball,’” he said with a laugh. “That’s how it started. It was about local sports because he wanted to keep everything local, and I have never written about national sports unless there was a Southington connection.”
Although he was never formally trained, Secondo threw himself into the work. He eventually went on to become a regular sports writer, a photographer, a news man, and an editor. His signature column, “Second Look,” which focuses on Southington sports, news, and history, has been featured in almost every local paper at various times for almost 50 years. He even spent a short time in the 1960s on a sports talk show on WNTY with hall of famer Jim Senich.
But it was the newspaper where he made the biggest impact. He wrote about Southington stars during their journeys into the professional arenas. He weighed in on Connecticut players, like Bobby Valentine, after covering them in games against the Blue Knights. He brought Southington fans along for the ride on interviews with Frank Gifford or at the New York Giants training camp.
Whatever he did, it seemed to always center around the Southington sports scene—even when he wasn’t writing about it.
From 1978 to 1992 his Hall of Fame Sports Lounge (now the Cadillac Ranch) served as the center for Southington sports conversations. One of the first of its kind in Connecticut, it attracted everybody from local athletes to regional stars like Connecticut boxer Willie Pep and nationally known sports figures like ESPN anchors Dan Patrick, Tom Mees, and Chris Berman.
Once, he even spent a night alone at his bar with Mickey Mantle and his manager. The three talked about sports until the morning light.
Secondo retold those stories, one by one, in his column, and brought his readers along for the ride, but it didn’t stop there. Secondo’s passion didn’t end with the final whistle. He talked the talk, but he also walked the walk.
When he wasn’t writing about sports, he was throwing himself into various causes. He formed a group, the Citizens for Lights Committee, that lobbied the town for $30,000 to install lights at Recreation Park. He served five years on the Southington Parks Committee. He coached youth leagues, and he served as a booster for Southington sports teams. He helped with projects that ranged from lighting various fields to raising a scoreboard for the basketball team. He served as a president of the Blue Knight Booster Club and championed a bocce movement that raised Southington to the national level.
Sometimes controversial and often outspoken, Secondo made no apologies for his efforts. Agree or disagree with the issue, you couldn’t find any fault with his intentions.
“I am never worried about whether he’s right or wrong. He’s always willing to stand up for what he thinks is right for this town,” said Fontana. “He’s gotten in more arguments with more people in town on more commissions than anybody else. If it was something that he felt was right for the kids, he’d fight for it.”
That’s why it’s no surprise that members of the Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee have named Secondo as a member of the Class of 2015. On Wednesday, Nov. 11, he will be the first to be honored as both a booster and a media member during a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville.
“Art loves Southington, and he’s its biggest voice out there, always fighting for the town. He will go to bat for everything,” said Lapreay. “When I think about all the time I’ve worked with him in softball, he’s always looking to improve the league. He’s always giving input because, in a nut shell, he just loves this town.”
Secondo said he was humbled by the selection. “When you look at the names that are in there? To be in the sixth ballot? Maybe if I was 85 years old, people might say to put me in because I’m about to die, but I didn’t want to get a token offer,” he said. “To be in with guys like Dick Galliette and Jim Senich? Obviously, it’s a big honor.”
To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335 or Val DePaolo at (860) 620-9460.
To comment on this story or to contact Observer editor John Goralski, email him at email@example.com.