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Welcome the debut of "SportsBeat," a daily feature that will focus on the issues, athletes and other figures in sports on both the local and national fronts. The goal is to inform, entertain and give thought to what is going on in what has become a big part of many of our lives.
No matter what the subject-matter, the conversation in your local Patch comment thread will be local—this is your space to discuss sports with your neighbors, and we're here to ensure it's timely and topical. Want to focus an installment on something in particular? Just say so.
As a former baseball player at UNC and in the Boston Red Sox organization, as well as working in the print and broadcast media for nearly 20 years, I'm hoping to bring a unique perspective to this column.
The first feature deals with those who left their mark on sports in Connecticut. Here is the list of the Top 20 greatest athletes from Patch coverage area and beyond. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments area below.
20. RICO BROGNA (Watertown) Brogna was recruited out of Watertown High School to play quarterback for the Clemson Tigers, but chose the Bengals with different kind of stripes. Brogna was selected in the first-round of the Major League draft by Detroit in 1988. He made it to the big leagues with the Tigers but also the Mets, Phillies, Red Sox, and Braves.
19. GEORGE RADACHOWSKY (Danbury) A three-sport star at , Radachowsky earned a football scholarship to Boston College and became a starter as freshman. Radachowsky played defensive back for the Eagles and earned a job in the NFL with the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts.
18. AJ MLECZKO (New Canaan) One of the most decorated women's hockey players in history, Mleczko attended The Taft School in Watertown. She played college hockey at Harvard, leading the Crimson to the national title in 1999. That same season, Mleczko was named National Player of the Year. She was part of the Olympic gold medal winning team in 1998 and helped Team USA capture the silver in 2002.
17. JEN RIZZOTTI (New Fairfield) The all-everything point guard led the UConn women's basketball team to the national title in 1995. A four-year starter, Rizzotti was named the AP's Women's College Player of the Year in 1996.
16. CHARLES NAGY (Fairfield) A graduate of , Nagy went to UConn on a baseball scholarship. He was a two-time Big East Pitcher of the Year and first-round pick of the Cleveland Indians. Nagy enjoyed a solid, 14-year Major League career. He's currently the pitching coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks
15. SCOTT BURRELL (Hamden) Anyone who was a first-round pick in two sports has to be on this list. A tremendous athlete at , Burrell was taken in the first-round as a pitcher by the Toronto Blue Jays. However, Burrell starred in basketball for the UConn Huskies and in 1993 was selected 20th overall in the NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets. Won an NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls in 1998
14. MIKE GMINSKI (Monroe) A three-year center on the basketball team, Gminski earned a scholarship to Duke University where he was named ACC Rookie of the Year in 1977. A three-time All-ACC selection, Gminski had his number (43) retired by the Blue Devils. After being selected by the New Jersey Nets in the first-round, Gminski enjoyed a 15-year career in the NBA.
13. DOROTHY HAMILL (Greenwich) Born in Chicago, Illinois, Hamill spent most of her childhood in the Riverside section of Greenwich. Hamill was a 3-time U.S. National Champion figure skater, won a world title in 1976, then became the darling of America when she captured the gold medal the same year at the Winter Olympic Games in Austria. A is named for Hamill.
12. BILL TOOMEY (New Canaan) The pride of the Rams was originally a pentathlete, winning four AAU titles before turning to the decathlon in 1963. Toomey won five AAU titles in the decathlon and captured gold in the 1967 Pan American Games. In 1968, Toomey went into the annals of Olympic history by winning the gold medal in Mexico City.
11. BILL RODGERS (Newington) An elite distance runner, Rodgers won a total of 22 marathons in his illustrious career. He won the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon four times each.
10. CHRIS DRURY (Trumbull) Drury's coming out party took place in 1989 when he led Trumbull to the Little League World Series title. Hockey became his best sport and after earning All-State honors for Fairfield Prep, he went to Boston University where he was an All-American and a two-time national champion. He also won the Hobey Baker award in 1998, which is given to the best player in college hockey. Drury was named the NHL's Rookie of the Year the next season with the Colorado Avalanche and also has his named etched on the Stanley Cup. Retired in August 2011
9. KRISTINE LILLY (Wilton) The graduate is one of the most decorated players in soccer history. Lilly made the U.S. Woman's National Team in 1987 when she was still in high school. She was a 4-time NCAA champion at the University of North Carolina where they retired her number (15). She's also a two-time Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion.
8. MO VAUGHN (Norwalk) The Norwalk native attended both and Trinity Pawling in New York before taking his talents to Seton Hall University where he became an All-American first baseman. Vaughn was drafted in the first round by the Boston Red Sox where he was a 3-time All-Star and the AL MVP in 1995.
7. ANDY ROBUSTELLI (Stamford) The late went to and attended Arnold College in Milford where he played football and baseball. A defensive end, Robustelli was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, but made his mark with the New York Giants. He was a 7-time All-Pro selection and won the NFL's MVP award in 1962. He was part of the Giants championship team in 1958.
6. BRIAN LEETCH (Cheshire) Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Leetch is one of the greatest American-born players in NHL history. He played at before transferring to Avon Old Farms. Leetch was also an excellent baseball player, leading the Cheshire Rams to the state championship as a sophomore. Leetch attended Boston College before embarking on an 18-year NHL career. He was a 7-time All-Star and two-time Norris Trophy Award winner (best defenseman) while leading the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup title in 1994
5. FLOYD LITTLE (New Haven) Attended Hillhouse High School before going to boarding school in New Jersey. A three-time All-American running back at Syracuse University, Little was a first-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
4. BOBBY VALENTINE (Stamford) is regarded as one of the best high school football players in Connecticut history. A speedy running back at Rippowam High School, Valentine, now the manager of the Boston Red Sox, was a 3-time All-State selection. He was recruited by hundreds of schools and attended USC, where he was picked by the Los Angeles Dodgers as the fifth overall pick in the 1968 Major League Baseball draft. He played in Major Leagues and also managed the New York Mets and Texas Rangers.
3. CALVIN MURPHY (Norwalk) A 3-time All-State selection and 2-time All-American at , Murphy's name and number is now the address of the school. He played college basketball at Niagara University before putting his signature on an NBA career that culminated with his enshrinement into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993. At 5'9", Murphy is the shortest player ever inducted into it. Before playing basketball, Murphy was a world-class baton twirler.
2. BRUCE JENNER (Newtown) Jenner grew up in Westchester, New York before his family moved to the Newtown area in the late 1960's. Jenner played football, basketball, and ran track during his junior and senior year at . After graduating in 1968, Jenner attended Graceland University where he played football before concentrating on the decathlon. Jenner became known as the "world's greatest athlete" after winning the gold-medal in the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, setting a world record of 8,618 points in process. That same year, Newtown High School renamed the football stadium after Jenner. But almost a quarter-century llater, after the adminstration felt snubbed by Jenner, they renamed the stadium "Blue and Gold Sport Stadium."
1. STEVE YOUNG (Greenwich) A three-sport star at , Young made his mark on the gridiron. He rushed for nearly 2,000 yards as a quarterback as a senior in high school. Young attended BYU where he became a first-team All-American and Davey O'Brien Award winner as the nation's best quarterback. In the NFL, Young was a two-time MVP with the San Francisco 49ers and was named MVP of Super Bowl MVP after throwing six TD passes against the San Diego Chargers. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.