National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame

National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame The National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to preserving honorable values through sports.
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Hours of Operation: Office: Monday - Friday 9am - 5pm Phone: 312.226.5566 Fax: 312.226.5678

Mission: Family, Friends, Faith and Community

Operating as usual

Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans
10/12/2020

Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans

The #proudandpositive rally at Arrigo Park presented by the JCCIA featured many prominent Italian American leaders as well as City of Chicago and Illinois elected officials. Thank you to all those who attended and a huge Grazie to the volunteers and organizers! Happy Columbus Day! #columbusday2020

Inductee Spotlight - Franco ColumbuA world bodybuilding champion who held titles including Mr. Italy, Mr. Europe, Mr. In...
10/12/2020

Inductee Spotlight - Franco Columbu

A world bodybuilding champion who held titles including Mr. Italy, Mr. Europe, Mr. International, Mr. Universe, Mr. World, and Mr. Olympia. “The resistance that you fight physically in the gym and the resistance that you fight in life can only build a strong character.” –Franco Columbu
Franco Columbu, a native of the Italian island of Sardinia, has won nearly every bodybuilding title a man can win. He has been crowned Mr. Italy, Mr. Europe, Mr. International, Mr. Universe, Mr. World, and Mr. Olympia, twice.
Of course, those muscles are not just for show. Columbu is also a champion weightlifter, setting world records in the bench press (520lbs.), squat (655lbs.) and deadlift (750lbs.). He has held titles such as Champion of Italy, Champion of Germany, Champion of Europe and World Champion. He is also a Doctor of Chiropractic, and holds a Ph.D. in Nutrition. He is an expert in Sports Medicine and Kinesiology. He has authored books on bodybuilding and sports nutrition, and is a health and fitness consultant.
Dr. Columbu produced documentaries on the art of bodybuilding early in his career, and his well-developed physique eventually earned him feature film roles in “Conan the Barbarian” and “The Terminator”, with his long-time friend, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Currently, he operates his own film production company, Franco Columbu Productions, Inc., which has released three films to date, including “Beretta’s Island,” “Doublecross on Costa’s Island,” and “Sardinia: The Greatest Isle of the Sea”.
Franco Columbu was elected the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1983.

Push To Return Chicago's Columbus Statues Returns On Holiday Weekend
10/11/2020
Push To Return Chicago's Columbus Statues Returns On Holiday Weekend

Push To Return Chicago's Columbus Statues Returns On Holiday Weekend

On Friday, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans hand delivered a letter to Chicago’s mayor, asking her to return the statues to their “rightful locations.” The letter cites Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s statement regarding the fate of the statues over the summer, calling the removal of...

Inductee Spotlight - Jim CovertJim Covert had a stellar college career at the University of Pittsburgh. As the team’s le...
10/09/2020

Inductee Spotlight - Jim Covert

Jim Covert had a stellar college career at the University of Pittsburgh. As the team’s left tackle, he was named All-American twice and did not allow a sack in his senior season. Selected in the first round by the Chicago Bears in 1983, Covert made an immediate impact. With Covert blocking and Walter Payton running, the Bears led the league in rushing four consecutive years (83-86). The team won six division championships, played in three conference championship games, and Won Super Bowl XX after the 1985 season.
Arguably the greatest left tackle ever to play the game, Covert was a four-time All-Pro (84-87), and was selected as the 1985 NFLPA Offensive Lineman of the Year and the 1986 Miller Lite Offensive Lineman of the Year. He was elected to the All-NFL team of the 1980s by the Pro Football Hall of Fame board of selectors.
Jim Covert was inducted to the National Italian Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

Inductee Spotlight - Doug BuffoneA record-setting Chicago Bear legend who continued his enduring legend as an on-air spo...
10/07/2020

Inductee Spotlight - Doug Buffone

A record-setting Chicago Bear legend who continued his enduring legend as an on-air sports personality.
Born June 27, 1944, in Yatesboro, Pennsylvania, Chicago Bears legend Doug Buffone was a cherished sports personality in his adopted hometown of Chicago.
After attending the University of Louisville, Buffone was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fourth round in 1966. In total, he played 14 years with the team – longer than any other player–including a stint as defensive captain from 1972 to 1979.
During his years with the Bears, Buffone set records for the most career interceptions (24) and the most sacks in a season (18 in 1968).
After retiring in 1980, Buffone went on to become an on-air sports personality. He hosted The Doug Buffone Show on the Fox Sports Network for 14 years. He was inducted to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.

🇮🇹 Inductee Spotlight - Bobby CzyzA three-time World Champion, Bobby Czyz first gained notoriety in the ring as an 18-ye...
10/07/2020

🇮🇹 Inductee Spotlight - Bobby Czyz

A three-time World Champion, Bobby Czyz first gained notoriety in the ring as an 18-year old in 1980.
Robert Edward “Bobby” Czyz is a New Jersey native of Polish and Italian descent, he is both a former world light heavyweight and cruiserweight champion.
Still an amateur, Czyz was selected to box for the United States in the Olympics, but missed a shot at the gold when the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Summer Games. He turned down several college scholarships that year to follow his boxing dream, and his drive immediately paid off. His pro career began with 20 consecutive victories, 15 by knockout. In 1986, Czyz stopped Slobodan Kacar in the 5th round to win the Light Heavyweight Title. For the next six years, Czyz competed against the very best fighters in the world, including Virgil Hill, Robert Daniels, and Don LaLonde. He retired in 1998 with an impressive record of 44-8.
Czyz has used his quick wit, charm, and wealth of boxing expertise to become one of the most respected analysts in the sport. He currently provides commentary for a number of boxing programs.
He was inducted into the Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame and the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

🇮🇹 Inductee Spotlight - Mike AdamleFormer NFL football player, WWE General Manager, NBC Sports Broadcaster and American ...
10/05/2020

🇮🇹 Inductee Spotlight - Mike Adamle

Former NFL football player, WWE General Manager, NBC Sports Broadcaster and American Gladiators co-host.
Mike Adamle grew up in Kent, Ohio and graduated from Theodore High School in 1967. His father, Tony Adamle played football in the 1940’s & 1950’s with the Cleveland Browns. Taking a page from his father’s playbook, Adamle went on to play collegiate football for Northwestern University. During his time as a Wildcat, Adamle was team captain, All American fullback and the Big Ten MVP in 1970. Adamle still holds the school record for most rushing yards in a game, 316, against the Wisconsin Badgers, a record set in 1969.
After graduating in 1971, Adamle went on to play 6 seasons in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets and Chicago Bears. After retiring from playing football professionally, Adamle went on to have a successful broadcasting career. He joined NBC Sports as a radio host and sideline reporter. During his six years with NBC Sports, Adamle also hosted SportsWorld and pre-game shows.
Adamle became the co-host of American Gladiators from 1989-1996 and co-hosted International Gladiators with the UK and Australian hosts. In addition to his hosting duties, Adamle was a contender in the celebrity show.
Returning to sideline reporting in 2001, Adamle joined KNBC’s Fred Roggin on NBC’s primary XFL broadcast team. He also covered the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics.
In 2008, Adamle joined the World Wresting Enteretainment (WWE) and WWE RAW as an interviewer. He then went on to be the General Manager for RAW Brand. Adding to Adamle’s extensive resume, he became the play by play announcer for the Chicago Rush Arena Football League and broadcast Rush games for Comcast SportsNet Chicago and WGN.
Adamle has completed two Ironman Triathlons, his first in Lake Placid in 2003 and most recently in 2009 at 60 years old.
Suffering from epilepsy himself, Adamle is active in the Epilepsy Foundation, where he is currently a member of the Greater Chicago division’s board and was given the Personal Achievement Award at the 2007 Richard N. Rovner Awards Dinner. Early this year, Adamle announced he was diagnosed with dementia and signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It is believed that the past 19 years of epileptic seizures resulted from his concussions in football. Adamle is now actively involved in the Concussion Legacy Foundation and hopes to serve as an example of someone continuing to live their best life despite symptoms of the disease.
Mike Adamle was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 2017.

Inductee Spotlight - Yogi BerraOne of the best-loved and greatest catchers of all time—and the most-quoted man in baseba...
09/28/2020

Inductee Spotlight - Yogi Berra

One of the best-loved and greatest catchers of all time—and the most-quoted man in baseball. “I never blame myself when I’m not hitting. I just blame the bat and if it keeps up I change bats … After all, if I know it isn’t my fault that I’m not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?” –Yogi Berra
Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra may be one of the best-loved American athletes in history. Born in St. Louis, Missouri on May 12, 1925, Berra was given the name “Yogi” by a childhood friend, Bobby Hofman, who decided his friend looked like a Hindu snake-charmer he’d seen in a movie.
In 1942, he was offered a contract by the St. Louis Cardinals for $250, but he turned it down after learning that his good friend Joe Garagiola had been offered $500.
Berra signed with the Yankees a year later, and baseball historians credit his never-say-die attitude for much of the team’s success.
Berra is as well-known for his quirky quotes as for his superlative ball-playing, and is cited as the best catcher the game has ever seen, as well as one of its most-seen catchers (he has appeared on TV for a record 14 World Series games).
This three-time American League MVP (1951, 1954 and 1955) played on 14 pennant-winning teams and 10 World Series clubs, a record that is still unmatched, and was selected as a member of the All-Star Team for thirteen consecutive years, 1948-1962. He hit 358 home runs and finished his career with a .285 lifetime average during his 18 years as a player at the major league level, and went on to coach both the New York Yankees and the Mets.
Berra has also been praised for his work with charitable causes, including his sponsorship of an annual golf tournament to raise money for special-needs Boy Scouts.
“In the brightest of publicity spotlights, for more than four decades, Yogi remained completely himself,” noted journalist Leonard Koppett, adding, “[this is] a rarer and more difficult accomplishment than making the Hall of Fame.”
His malapropisms have made him the most quoted person in baseball history, although it’s often difficult to separate what Berra said from what others said he said.
Some Yogi-isms include: “He was a big clog in their machine,” “It gets late early there,” “Nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded,” “Take it with a grain of salt,” or the immortal “It’s not over ’til it’s over.”
When Berra was given a benefit on his retirement, he graciously thanked “all those who made this day necessary.” Berra attempted to set the quote record straight in 1998 by penning “The Yogi Book: I Didn’t Really Say Everything That I Said,” and has since gone on to publish other popular books.
In 1972 Berra was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Berra was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1979.

Inductee Spotlight - Craig BiggioCraig Biggio has done it all in Major League Baseball. He’s a seven-time National Leagu...
09/25/2020

Inductee Spotlight - Craig Biggio

Craig Biggio has done it all in Major League Baseball. He’s a seven-time National League All-Star with four NL Gold Glove Awards. He’s the only player in history to be an All-Star at catcher and second base, has been hit by more pitches than anyone in history and has played for only one team in his entire 19-year major league career.
Called up as a catcher midway through the 1988 season, Biggio didn’t waste any time before winning the starting job from veterans Alex Trevino and Alan Ashby. By 1989, Biggio was providing a spark in the Astros’ lineup as he hit 13 home runs while driving in 60 and stealing 21 bases, good enough to earn the Silver Slugger Award for best-hitting catcher in the National League.
1991 was Biggio’s coming out party as he wound up in the All-Star Game for the first time thanks to a .295 batting average and 19 steals. In 1992, the Astros were growing concerned with Biggio’s legs staying healthy behind the plate. That concern prompted Biggio’s move to second base where he made his home for the next several seasons.
In the ’92 season, Biggio’s stolen base total went from 19 to 38, and his hitting took off from there. Biggio, who now has 281 career home runs, hit over 20 for the first time in 1993, the first of eight times that he would reach that plateau in a season.
Defensively, Biggio had also become one of the best in the business and was rewarded with four consecutive Gold Gloves from 1994.1997. As Biggio was growing into his own at second base, the Astros were starting to gel as a team. Led by the Killer Bs.Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Derek Bell and Sean Berry.the Astros went to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years in 1997.
It wasn’t until 2004, Biggio’s fifth trip to the postseason, that he would really come through at the dish. A combined 7-for-54 during his first four postseason series, Biggio broke out in the 2004 NLDS against the Braves by going 8-for-20 with a home run and four RBI as the Astros won a postseason series for the first time in franchise history.
In 2005, Houston, led by Biggio’s career-high 26 home runs, would win two more postseason series, culminating in their first trip to the World Series. While the World Series didn’t go the way the Astros had hoped after getting swept by the Chicago White Sox, Biggio ended a streak of playing in 2,564 regular season games without playing in the Fall Classic.
Biggio finished the 2006 season with 21 home runs and 62 RBI. He also found himself just 70 hits away from becoming the 27th player in history to record 3,000 hits in a career. All of the others, with the exception of Pete Rose and those not yet eligible, have a plaque in Cooperstown which should already be dusting off a spot for Craig Biggio.
In July 2007, Biggio announced his retirement.
Biggio is a member of the Astros Hall of Fame. He is widely considered to be the best all around position player in club history.
He was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.

TBT President Jimmy Carter & George 🇮🇹
09/24/2020

TBT President Jimmy Carter & George 🇮🇹

Inductee Spotlight - Carmen BasilioOne of the toughest, most-decorated, and best-loved boxing champions of the 1950s.A b...
09/23/2020

Inductee Spotlight - Carmen Basilio

One of the toughest, most-decorated, and best-loved boxing champions of the 1950s.

A boxer unafraid to take on the toughest foes in his division, Carmen Basilio crafted a fine record during one of the toughest ages in boxing history.

With 56 wins and 27 KOs in his 79 pro bouts, Basilio was victorious over such notables as Sugar Ray Robinson, Kid Gavilan, Tony DeMarco and Johnny Saxon. He made his mark on the post-WWII boxing scene with reigns as welterweight champion of the world twice during 1955-57 and middleweight champion from 1957-58.

His tough, gritty style won him two world titles, but it was the heart and desire he displayed in the ring that won him a place in the hearts of 1950s boxing fans, as well as the sporting press. The Boxing Writers Association of America named him “Fighter of the Year” in 1955 and 1957.

The Canastota, New York, native was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1969. He was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1977.

Inductee Spotlight - Rocky GrazianoOne of the most popular fighters of any era—a controversial, colorful, and adored cha...
09/21/2020

Inductee Spotlight - Rocky Graziano

One of the most popular fighters of any era—a controversial, colorful, and adored champion until the day he died.

Born Thomas Rocco Barbella on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1922, Rocky Graziano rose above the mean streets of his youth to become one of boxing’s legends. This colorful and controversial boxer was celebrated both in the record books and in a movie on his life starring Paul Newman (the entertaining Somebody Up There Likes Me, 1956).

A crude puncher and true street fighter, Graziano mauled his opponents with a tireless attack and potent right hand. His ability to take a punch was legendary; opponents ultimately withered as they tried to stop a man who appeared made of rock.

Graziano fought between the welterweight and middleweight divisions, but made his mark in 1945 when he knocked out welterweight contenders Billy Arnold, who was 31-1 before Graziano kayoed him, and Al “Bummy” Davis.

Graziano’s three-fight series with middleweight champ Tony Zale defines his career. The three contests lasted a combined 15 rounds and saw seven knockdowns.

In the first fight, at Yankee Stadium in 1946, Zale seemed on the verge of collapse under Graziano’s pounding, but he suddenly scored a sixth-round knockout to hold onto the title.

The rematch was in Chicago a year later because Graziano had his license suspended in New York for failing to report a bribe. Bleeding badly, Graziano knocked out Zale in six to win the title.

Illinois then passed a law barring anyone with a dishonorable discharge from boxing. The third Graziano-Zale fight was held in Newark on June 10, 1948, and Zale regained the title with a third-round knockout.

Graziano was unbeaten in his next 21 fights, and was given a shot at Ray Robinson for his old title in April 1952. He dropped Robinson in the third with a right, thrown like a stone out of a sling. Robinson got up and knocked him out.

Graziano retired in September 1952 after a $50,000 payday against Chuck Davey. In his retirement, he began acting in commercials and movies.

In 83 professional fights, Graziano had 67 victories, 52 by knockout. He lost 10, three by knockout, and fought to six draws.

He died on May 22, 1990. Graziano is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and was elected into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1977.

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From Coach Conenna to Coach Conenna..... I think this is something that every hockey dad will one day wish they had written to their sons: Has it really been 27 years since I first took you skating? It feels like it was yesterday. I can remember the very first time, and the look on your face as you struggled to balance on those skates. Has it really been all those seasons of watching you play? Where has the time gone… how many hundreds of hours have we spent at the rink and in the car? How many trips to different arenas have we made? I find it hard to believe that it all ended in a blink of an eye.The practices, the games, the trips to buy new gear in the summer, and all the camps. While it would be easy for me to be selfish and complain about it ending, I can only hope you can find a way to replace what you have always known as routine. While you may be leaving the game as a competitive player, the game should always be a part of you. The memories you have should last a lifetime. The friends you have made will always be your friends. Through this adventure we have taken as a family, you have grown into a man. A man that any parent would be proud of. You have a future, you understand rules, and you know what it is to be a team player. You have learned to give back, and you understand what it takes to push yourself beyond what you thought you could achieve. My joy in having watched you grow into the person that you are today will outweigh the sadness of watching these last games, knowing they will be the last. My joy will one day be in watching you tie your son’s skates as you pass on this tradition. I am proud of you. Thank you for allowing me to come along on this journey with you. I wouldn’t trade one minute of this experience for anything.It amazes me that now you have given back to the game becoming a coach just like I did after my playing days.....Dad.AKA Coach Conenna,Sr...The Hockey life articles are written by John Conenna for the Hockey community.Conenna was inducted into the Illinois Hockey Hall Of Fame class of 2019.Pictured below with his dad is Vince Conenna St Viator High School Hockey Head Coach.
Fond memories of a great town from my youth.... In my life I have had many great memories as both an athlete and a coach, and those moments inspired me to focus on the topic of youth sports. We lived and breathed sports and have fond memories of our moments in these pick-up games: our first big hit, a spectacular diving catch, a great stop and throw that robbed a guy of a base hit, a first touchdown, a game-saving tackle, a first goal, a quick save or a physical body check. We weren’t burdened with all of today’s gadgetry or On Demand television; we found entertainment in the friends and neighborhood kids who became teammates. These friends, my parents and my coaches taught me some of my youth’s best lessons through sports.Growing up in Norridge Illinois was great a small town just east of Chicago that to this day is in my heart.A great community for families and friends and at the time of my youth little known for sports. Playing sports taught me about overcoming fear and learning confidence (quiet confidence, not arrogance). It taught me the value of hard work and preparation and the importance of practice. It taught me how to stand by a teammate and how to respect an opponent. It taught me that life isn’t always fair, and the best athlete or team doesn’t always win. It taught me to relish the role of the underdog and that anyone could be beaten on any given day and the importance of sacrificing for the good of the team. I learned that “the other team can’t win with zero” and that if you out-work and out-hustle the other team, you always have a chance. I have taken many of these lessons and incorporated them into my coaching philosophy. In the end, all the trophies and medals and awards are not important; the life lessons and life-long friendships and memories are.I Truly thank my dad and mom for moving to Norridge,it was truly a great experience of growing up in a small town with great friends and family.I will never forget those memories and cherished sports moments of my youth.The Hockey Life articles are written by John Conenna for the Hockey community.Conenna was inducted Into the Illinois Hockey Hall Of Fame class of 2019.Pictured Below Conenna playing for Holy Cross High School Circa 1975 Franklin Park Ice Arena...
Hi, please enjoy my interview on We the Italians with Ron Onesti, President of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame https://wetheitalians.com/interviews/sport-entertainment-culture-pride-ron-onesti-all-italy-chicago-one-great-italian Please take care and subscribe our free newsletter, here http://wetheitalians.com/newsletter and like us on Facebook here https://www.facebook.com/WeTheItalians Ciao
John Conenna, Coaches’ Category, at the 2019 Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Dinner.
“Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Lou Gehrig, the Iron Horse of baseball famed for his 2,130 consecutive-games-played streak, made one of the most memorable speeches in the annals of sports. Heartfelt and poignant, this man with less than two years to live shared his feelings to an enraptured audience that left tears rolling down the cheeks of all but a few. It was on July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, when the longtime Yankee first baseman uttered the famous words at a home plate ceremony at Yankee Stadium... "For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. “When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such a fine looking men as they’re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky. "When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know. "So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you."......The Great Lou Gehrig reminds us that even in this time of Pandemic in our world and troubled times we must consider ourselves very lucky to be alive and cherish the moments we have with family and friendship...Be Safe,Stay Strong........Lou Gehrig Born June 19,1903.....Deceased June 2,1941.
Happy birthday, Joey. Gabriel Robles here....
Life Lessons You Learn from Hockey..... We all learn important life lessons as we grow. Hockey offers many unique opportunities to learn valuable skills we all need as adults. Here are my top 5 Hockey Life Lessons.... Good Sportsmanship We can’t all win at everything in life, so learning this at a young age is important. Learning to be a gracious loser isn’t easy, but encouraged in hockey. Shaking hands with the other team after a game is a well known tradition of hockey etiquette that can be relatable to other game experiences in life . Observing how teammates, coaches and parents react when you lose a game, will also help mold your own attitude when it comes to winning and losing. Working with Others – Teamwork Learning to work together with others is crucial in life with family, at school or at work.Sometimes you need to depend on and work with others and trust that they will help you out when you need them. As a team player, you will gain knowledge and experience as you work with your teammates to achieve the same goals. Communication & Listening Skills Communication is key to playing a team sport. The skill of communicating and listening effectively is paramount in any group activity that aims for a similar result. Listening while your coaches talk and communicating with your team on the ice will help develop these important life skills. Following rules Self explanatory there. Life is full of rules we all need to follow. In almost in every aspect of our daily lives, we will be required to follow some rules…just as in Hockey. Learning early in life to play with rules, boundaries and limitations will help you function and adapt to rules in society as you grow. Setting Goals Having goals and developing a strong work ethic and will take you far in life. Everyone needs to practice to become good at something, and hockey is no exception. Hockey helps you practice this skill by encouraging players to develop their techniques, work on their game and set future goals. Players realize the importance of training to become successful....These lessons become the foundation of your future,The sport is truly a Life Lesson Sport.....The Hockey Life article by John Conenna are articles written weekly...Conenna was inducted into The Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2019..Pictured below are John and son Vincent Conenna,the Head Hockey Coach JV for St.Viator High School in Arlington Hts,Illinois.
Congratulations Ron Onesti
You guys should be the experts in this. Who would you say was the FIRST ITALIAN-American sports super star in this country?
State hockey hall of famer John Conenna Posted by: Vincent Martorano in Athletic Achievers, Profiles December 10, 2019 0 An abiding passion for hockey propelled John Conenna to the pinnacle of the sport in Illinois. From standout grade-school goalie to stellar high school coach to Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, John Conenna has excelled at every local level of the sport. The soon-to-be-60-year-old travel agency owner was bitten by the hockey bug when he was only 8. “I used to watch a group of boys in my neighborhood play street hockey outside my window,” Conenna says. “I figured I’d tag along and try it and I was hooked.” His choice of positions was influenced by the play of legendary Chicago Blackhawks goalie Tony Esposito. “When he skated out and took control of the net, I knew at that very moment I would strive to be the best goalie,” Conenna recalls. And his passion for the sport was fueled by the friends he made while playing it, including Don Ciochon and John Socha, and in particular Ron Glaubitz. “He was the goaltender who was my rival. He pushed me to another level,” Conenna explains. “Every night I had to prepare for him. He brought out the best in me.” Another huge influence was his first coach, Stan Gialo, who led the Harwood Heights Bruins from 1972 to 1976. “He was such a fun-loving family guy who loves playing hockey and seeing everyone develop into better players,” Conenna shares. But his biggest influence was his father. “My dad was a workaholic and he gave me this great work ethic that I put toward the game,” Conenna reveals. The Bruins went to the 1976 championship with Conenna in goal, and he continued his standout play in high school under another dynamic Italian American, head coach Jimmy Nardella of the Holy Cross Crusaders. “He was a very aggressive, motivational type of coach and a real inspiration to me,” Conenna says. Conenna was staunch in the net throughout his high school career, helping to propel the Crusaders to the state finals in 1978. His collegiate run was cut short by a knee injury, but his years as a goalie prepared him for life as a coach. “I saw the game from the net,” he explains. “I could really visualize who was in position, who was working, and it really gave me a good perspective on the game.” Conenna cut his coaching teeth at Holy Cross, working with the goalies for Nardella’s Crusaders. As the head coach of the Northwest Chargers from 1993 to 2003, he guided his team to several first place finishes in the Northern Illinois Hockey League as well as one trip to the state finals. And he took the Conant Cougars to the final four during a 12-year stint as head coach that earned him the following praise from the president of the Conant Hockey Club at the time: “Your hard work and complete dedication have elevated your program to one of the most respected high school clubs in Illinois,” Mark Barbera wrote in a commemorative book assembled when Conenna retired. “The lives of these players have been changed in a positive way that no other coach could have ever done.” Conenna led his team to a 14 and 1 record during the second of two years in charge of the newly formed White Team of the DePaul Blue Demons to cap his coaching career. Conenna won Coach of the Year honors twice during his storied run, but his proudest moments in the sport came while coaching his son, Vince, at DePaul, and watching from the stands as his daughter, Julianna, danced for the Blackhawks. “And I have to give credit to my wife, Connie,” Conenna adds. “She was my rock throughout all this.” Now, Conenna will be one of five coaches inducted into the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame on Jan. 26 at Belvedere Banquets in Elk Grove Village. (847-269-2922) “I remember my roots of those days playing with my friends,” Conenna says of his most recent honor. “To get to this, it’s a dream I never thought could happen.” The above appears in the January 2020 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.