By BRIAN JENNINGS
“Some people like this town. Some people love this town, but he had passion for it.” It was an unmistakable comment former Blue Knight baseball coach John Fontana made about his uncle, the late Joseph “Jay” Fontana in an interview with The Observer back in 2010.
Jay Fontana was called upon by college coaches for his innovations on the gridiron. He was revered by his players on the diamond. As the athletic director, he helped start a wrestling program at Southington High School. Now, he’s being recognized for his work at the state level.
Fontana is one of six distinguished honorees who will be inducted as the third class of the CAS-CIAC Hall of Honor on Nov. 10 at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington for their exceptional service to the Connecticut Association of Schools– Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.
“Everyone looked at him because he was such a big figure head and a powerful guy,” said his nephew. “But if you went to a meeting with him, like I did when I first started on the executive board, you didn’t hear him speak too often. The only time you would hear him speak was if he felt someone was out of line, or he knew it meant something.”
A football standout at Lewis High School, Fontana graduated in 1927 and attended Fordham University, later transferring to Trinity College. After graduating from Trinity, he returned to Lewis High School as a teacher and coach.
After serving as the football coach from 1932-1954, Fontana finished with a 13-38-14 record, which included four undefeated teams and nine seasons with one loss. Although he stepped down from football, he stayed on as the high school baseball coach and the school’s athletic director. He coached the baseball team from 1932-1961 and finished with a 190-23 record, including nine conference titles, one state title, one undefeated season, and four runners-up.
He taught biology at Lewis High School until the late 1960s and spent the remainder of his years at Southington High School as the athletic director. He retired in the spring of 1979 after a 47-year career and an overall coaching record of 329-61-14.
As the winner of the UNICO Man of the Year Award in 1949 and numerous other awards, Fontana was one of the founders of the National High School Coaches’ Association and the Connecticut High School Coaches’ Association.
“He never wanted to be president of the National Association,” said John Fontana. “But because he was such a figure head, they put him on the board of directors. The board of directors was only past presidents.”
Fontana was inducted into the Connecticut High School Hall of Fame in 1978. The Southington High School athletic complex was named as the Joseph J. Fontana Complex in 1975. He passed away in 1995 and is being honored posthumously.
According to the CAS-CIAC, the CAS-CIAC Hall of Honor was established to honor individuals that have made significant, long-term contributions to CAS-CIAC in one of seven categories: educational leadership, athletic leadership, friend of education, contribution to education, contribution to athletics, service to education, or service to athletics. The other five honorees include Dr. Mike Buckley, Mr. Beau Doherty, Ms. Pam Goodpaster, Mr. Dave Leete, and Mr. Larry McHugh.
Tickets to the event honoring the inductees are available to the public and can be purchased at www.gofan.co/app/school/CIAC.