An unsung hero who launched the city’s youth soccer program is scheduled to be honored at a ceremony Sept. 7 at the soccer fields at the Ansonia Nature Center.
The date, a Sunday, kicks off the 2014 season for the city’s youth soccer program.
It’s tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m.
Mary Cavagnuolo (maiden name Zebrowski) was a teacher for many years in the Ansonia school system, where she was named a teacher of the year in 1993.
She passed away suddenly in September 2012 at the age of 69.
Her passing came as a shock to people such as Stephen Kish, 36, who played in various soccer teams growing up in Ansonia. Kish said recreation-league soccer games wouldn’t be an option for kids today if it wasn’t for Cavagnuolo’s efforts in the early 1980s.
So, Kish, with the encouragement of his parents, who knew Cavagnuolo, has been spearheading an effort to finally officially honor Cavagnuolo.
Kish said Cavagnuolo in those days she didn’t want her young son — 5 or 6 at the time — playing football, but there were few options. So, she successfully organized a youth soccer league and lobbied the city for funding.
“There was no soccer program back then in the City of Ansonia. Even back then it was all football, football, football. Mary was a workhorse. She met with the Aldermen and the rec board back then, and worked to get the funding, along with sponsorships to get this program started,” Kish said.
The first game was played on the field at the Ansonia Nature Center. The first coach — Patrick Henri, now a elected member of the Ansonia Board of Aldermen.
In e-mail, Henri told the Valley Indy Cavagnuolo cold called him back in 1980 or so telling him that she wanted to start a soccer program, not only as an alternative to football, but as a way to expand the athletic options for Ansonia girls.
Henri was about 20 at the time, and Cavagnuolo had apparently found his name in a soccer team photo in an O’Brien Tech yearbook.
“Mary was easy to work with, friendly, very caring, involved and loving mom; could return a quip as fast as I could deliver one,” Henri said. “She was engaging and decisive. I was always glad to run into her or her husband, Don, over the years. Good people.”
Kish was among the Ansonia soccer players Henri coached.
And today, Kish coaches in one of the leagues. About 200 kids a year play recreation-league soccer in Ansonia.
“The league just got progressively bigger and bigger,” Kish said.
Kish and family members have been busy looking up old Evening Sentinel articles on microfilm at the Ansonia Public Library to learn more about Cavagnuolo’s efforts.
In addition, he has a nostalgic Facebook page where he’s been spreading the word about the Sept. 7 ceremony. Click here to visit the page.
There are lots of 80s-era photos on the Facebook page showing Ansonia soccer players from the league’s earliest days.
Kish and the soccer league are going to put up a sign at the soccer fields to publicly and permanently mark her contribution to Ansonia.
Kish said the sign will cost about $1,600. They’ve raised about half the amount, which includes donations from the Ansonia Rod and Gun Club, and Durante’s Pasta in West Haven.
Checks to cover the cost of the sign can be mailed to Kish, at 21 Chester St. in Ansonia (06401).
Checks must be made out to the Ansonia Soccer Club.
Signs Unlimited of Derby is creating the sign.
Henri, who is not one to name things after people, said Cavagnuolo deserves the honor.
“Mary was directly responsible for establishing, entrenching and fortifying a fun and popular soccer league that has evolved and grown into part of the athletic culture of Ansonia,” Henri said. “She took on a challenging task (a gross understatement) for the sake of her own children and for those who also might appreciate another option for youth sports.
“Today, there are thousands who have participated in a team sport, enjoyed outdoor activity on city fields, made friends, developed skills and discovered abilities because Mary gave them the chance to play soccer,” Henri said.