Former champs rooting on NHS.
By GEORGE ALBANO
Tony Pasiakos thinks it’s about time his 1966 Norwalk High School boys soccer team had some company.
Pasiakos was the senior captain and leading scorer of that ’66 NHS team which won the first — and still only — state soccer championship in school history. That 46-year drought, however, could finally come to an end this morning when the 2012 Norwalk High boys soccer team plays Fairfield Prep in the Class LL state final at New Canaan High School.
And somewhere about 125 miles away, nestled in tiny Woodstock, near the Massachusetts border, there will be one player from the last Norwalk team to win a state title rooting for his alma mater to do it again.
“I hope they bring the championship home. It’s been a lot of years,” Pasiakos, who turns 64 this week, said the other day. “I’d love to see them get another one. Hopefully they bring home the trophy.”
Pasiakos didn’t even know this year’s team was in the running for a state crown until he got a call Tuesday night. When he was told, however, he couldn’t be more thrilled.
“Every time I come down to Norwalk to visit family I try to see how they’re doing or check on the Internet. But I haven’t been following this year’s team,” he said. “So they have a good team, huh? They’re ranked No. 1? Wow, that’s great. I wish they get another one.”
He certainly had a lot to do with the last one nearly a half century ago. He scored 14 of the team’s 38 goals. The next highest scorer had seven. Throw in his three assists and Pasiakos also finished with a team-high 17 points.
But what’s even more amazing is that he played fullback, the last line of defense. Today they call them stoppers or sweepers.
“I played center fullback, but I did score a lot of goals. I think I was third in the state,” Pasiakos said. “I would dribble the ball up and shoot it from 30 or 40 yards out. I had a hard shot.”
What’s more, Pasiakos scored his 17 goals in just 15 games, including just 11 regular-season contests.
“We didn’t play 20 games like they do now. It wasn’t as long a season back then,” he noted. “There were probably less teams, too.”
Indeed, there were only 11 soccer teams in the then-fiveyear- old FCIAC in the fall of 1966.
In fact, while Norwalk did go 13-2, it didn’t win the FCIAC that year, or even its division.
The Green Wave, as they were known before becoming the Bears, won their first three games, all by shutout, before a 1-0 loss to Staples.
Their next game was against city rival Brien McMahon, the league’s other perennial powerhouse which won its first state title the year before. But Norwalk upset the Senators 1-0 on a penalty kick by Pasiakos in the first period ( they played four periods back then).
That was the start of a sevengame winning streak by NHS, six of them league games, as the Green Wave finished tied for first place in the Eastern Division with McMahon, both 9-1.
The two teams had a onegame playoff which McMahon won easily, 7-2. Norwalk allowed only four other goals all season.
“We beat them the first time, but the second game they took it to us,” Pasiakos, who scored both Norwalk goals, recalled. ” They just had a day where they couldn’t miss. It seemed every shot they took went in. It was one of those days where they couldn’t do anything wrong.”
McMahon went on to beat Staples 1-0 for the FCIAC championship, while Norwalk began preparing for the state tournament. Even that was different back then. Winning 40 percent of your games like today, or even finishing with a winning record, didn’t guarantee a spot in the state tourney.
Instead, only 10 teams were selected by a state committee in Class A, B and C. The top six teams in each class advanced directly to the quarterfinals while the bottom four staged two playdown games.
“We only had to play three games in the state playoffs,” Pasiakos pointed out.
Norwalk, rated No. 2, beat No. 7 Windsor 3-1 in the quarterfinals on goals by Bill Vasil, Blair Ciklin and a penalty kick by Pasiakos with two minutes left to seal it. Windsor came into the game 9-1-1.
Meanwhile, No. 3 McMahon was upset by No. 6 Conard 2-0, but No. 5 Staples beat No. 4 Hillhouse 2-0. That set up a rematch with Staples in the semi- finals and, trailing 1-0, Rich Swain headed a corner kick by Leon Yacher into the net in the third quarter to tie it 1-1.
The score remained tied after 80 minutes, and after two overtimes and two more sudden death periods, they went to penalty kicks. Tied three apiece, Pasiakos was the fifth and last NHS player to go and his goal gave the Green Wave a dramatic upset win and a berth in the state finals.
“Talk about nervous,” Pasiakos laughed. “I didn’t want to take the last penalty kick. If I missed…” But he didn’t. Instead, he nailed it.
“I don’t know if we ever beat Staples before. At Norwalk High School that was a big deal.”
The next game would be an even bigger deal as the Green Wave met No. 9 Wethersfield for the Class A state championship. A veteran Wethersfield team, 9-3-1 during the season, beat No. 1 Goodwin Tech 4- 2 in the quarterfinals and Conard 1-0 in the semis.
Norwalk and Wethersfield played at 2 p.m. on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1966, at Sterling Field in West Hartford. It was a Friday — just like this year’s state final — and the game was scoreless until, with only 30 seconds left in regulation, Yacher fired a shot that hit the inside corner of the left post and the ball had enough reverse spin on it to trickle in the goal.
Thirty seconds later, the Norwalk High School soccer team was the 1966 state champion.
“We were a Cinderella team. We were not favored to win,” Pasiakos said. “Brien McMahon and Staples were favored every year. For us to win that year was very unexpected. We were very happy just to make the state tournament. To win it was incredible.
“Teams that are ranked No. 1 expect to win. But I don’t think anyone expected us to win. I didn’t and none of the other guys on our team did. Like I said, we were happy just to make the playoffs.”
What made the Norwalk’s magical run even more noteworthy was the fact the team was missing some key players down the stretch. Two days before the state tournament began, Larry Kalmanides, Pasiakos’ cousin and an All-FCIAC left fullback, had surgery on his knee for torn cartilage suffered in the playoff game against McMahon.
Jim Hagan, the starting inside left on the forward line, was out with a fractured ankle and Jesus Cerrilla, a starting halfback, had to go to Mexico to visit family.
In addition, Robin Appleby, Norwalk’s All-FCIAC goalie, played with a broken finger the last two games and still recorded 12 saves in the state final for his 10th shutout.
Meanwhile, head coach Tom Scarso compensated for the missing players by cleverly shifting some people around, including Pasiakos, who he moved from fullback to inside right.
“Tom Scarso was a good guy and a good coach,” Pasiakos said. “I remember he passed away very young (in 1974 at age 55) when I was in college. I loved having him as a coach. He gave me a lot of freedom. He never told me what to do or not do. He used to tell me if you can dribble the ball up and shoot it from 40 yards away, go ahead … and I did.”
But as good and dangerous as Pasiakos was, he’d be the first to tell you he wasn’t the only reason for Norwalk’s success that season. Kalmanides, Appleby and Ciklin were also first-team All-FCIAC picks, while Yacher was a secondteam choice ” We had a good team,” he said. “But if you take player by player and put us against teams like Brien McMahon and Staples, oh, no, they were much more skilled at each position.
McMahon had Phil Kydes and Gary Marmanides, great players, and they had a great team. They had a lot more talent than us.
“But we had good chemistry. We all loved playing for each other. Nobody cared who scored. We just wanted to win.”
Sounds a lot like the 2012 Norwalk High soccer team, doesn’t it?
“We may not have been the best skilled team,” Pasiakos added, “but we had a lot of heart and I think that’s what won it for us.”
Pasiakos continued to play soccer long after his graduation from NHS in 1967. He went to Mount St. Mary’s College in Maryland, where he scored a record 40 career goals in 38 games, received All-America honors, and was eventually inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame.
In the summers Pasiakos played for a Greek club team in Norwalk and Stamford (“All the players were from the same small town in Greece called Spilia,” he said. “We all immigrated here about the same time.”) And after he graduated from Law School and worked as an IRS tax attorney in Washington for five years, Pasiakos played in an amateur soccer league in the D.C. area.
He eventually moved back to Connecticut, relocated upstate, and in 1978 opened his own restaurant called ‘Some Place Special’ in Putnam.
“It’s actually Italian-American cuisine,” he said. “A lot of people from Norwalk and Fairfield County stop in when they’re up here.”
Although he retired five years ago from the day to day operation, he still owns the restaurant. And he still played soccer till the mid- 1990s.
“I played in an over-30 league until I was 48. Then I stopped,” the father of five and grandfather of six pointed out. “All I do now is play golf.”
But he still occasionally thinks back to his soccer days at Norwalk High School, especially that 1966 season. Today, however, his thoughts will be with the 2012 NHS team.
“I wish them luck and I’m sure all the guys I played with wish them luck,” Tony Pasiakos concluded. “I hope they get one this year and hopefully a couple of more later.”
© The Hour Newspaper