A Reunion For Friends, Rivals
NFA's Snitkin,Windham's Crudden Headline Connecticut's First Class Into National Wrestling Hall Of Fame Along With Vino, Manzi, Powers
Day Sports Editor
Published on 2/14/2003

Only after retiring in 1999 did Carl Snitkin take time and reflect on his 25-year career as Norwich Free Academy's wrestling coach.

“When you're living this thing,” Snitkin said recently, “you have so much going on, sometimes you forget to take time and realize what you might have accomplished.”

What Snitkin accomplished is unprecedented in Connecticut high school wrestling. He finished with 471 wins, the most in state history, led NFA to nine Class LL state championships and five runner-up finishes, and coached 63 Class LL, State Open and New England individual champions.

And Snitkin will receive the ultimate honor on Sunday, March 9, when he headlines the first class of state legends to receive “lifetime service” awards and be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame during the Connecticut Chapter Induction Ceremony at Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Snitkin will be joined by longtime rival and friend, retired Windham High School coach Brian Crudden, and three officials — John Vino of Stonington, Brian Manzi and Art Powers. In addition, Gov. John G. Rowland, who wrestled at Holy Cross High School in Waterbury, will receive the chapter's “Outstanding American” award.

All six honorees will be permanently recognized at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum on the Oklahoma State University campus in Stillwater.

“It's nice to have a Connecticut section in the Hall of Fame,” said Snitkin, a personal trainer who still teaches at NFA after retiring with a 471-80 record. “And we're going to be the first ones, which is pretty special. It's very unusual when anything in Connecticut wrestling is mentioned with the Iowas and Oklahomas.”

Snitkin is also happy to be going in with Crudden. The two built one of the state's fiercest rivalries (Crudden coached for 20 years), and while Snitkin was leading the Wildcats to their nine state titles, Crudden's Whippets won seven state championships, were runner-up six times and captured the 1992 New England championship (they were runner-up the following year).

“Every time we got together it was a big deal,” Snitkin said. “But it was healthy because we got along so good. I think we helped each other become a better program.”

“A lot of years NFA was setting the standard and we would go into the season saying, ‘What do we have to do to beat NFA?' ” Crudden said. “That did make us better. We did have some fierce competition, but we are friends and respect each other ... and it's nice with Carl and I both being from Springfield (College).”

While Crudden began his coaching career in 1978, Snitkin started the NFA program in 1974 after enjoying a successful career as a power lifter, where he won a world championship.

“I brought a lot of intensity,” he said. “I competed all over the world, so when I came to NFA I wouldn't settle for anything less and I instilled that in the kids. Success breeds success and these kids enjoyed winning.

“And then it kept mushrooming. We had 133 kids in the program one year and even though you could only wrestle 13 at a time, they were perfectly happy being part of that group. During a 15-year span we were first or second (in Class LL) every year with the exception of finishing third one time.”

His undefeated 1986 team was his favorite, but for a different reason.

“My three captains that year were Erik Hilinski, Mike Mathieu and Mike Senecal,” Snitkin said. “All three were state champions, but Erik went to Yale, Mathieu went to Harvard and Senecal went to the Coast Guard Academy, where he's now a professor.

“That's just an example of some of the kids we had and they really set the tone for some of the things that happened at NFA.”

Crudden, who remains active at the youth level (he coaches the middle school team and assisted the Team Connecticut schoolboy team), remembers the 1992 New England title well.

“The nicest thing was it happened to be in Connecticut (Glastonbury High School) and was good for Connecticut wrestling,” he said.

But his greatest thrill is seeing so many of his ex-wrestlers now in the coaching ranks, including current Windham coach Pat Risley, as well as Ernie Goodwin (Glastonbury), Bobby Crespo (New London), Kirk Jenkins (Windham Tech) and Mike Spudic (Fairfax, Va.), not to mention a number of others who are assistants.

“That might be the most special thing,” Crudden said. “Obviously their experience was so good they wanted to go out and coach. ... I'm also happy with the success that the hispanic male has had at Windham because that's been a pretty important thing, too.”

While Snitkin and Crudden have retired (Crudden is still Windham's head football coach) from wrestling, Vino is going strong.

A native of Long Island who now lives in Stonington, Vino is about to complete his 42nd season as an official and isn't ready to stop just yet.

“I like the business I'm in,” said Vino, who moved to Connecticut in 1970 when he coached at Wesleyan University. “When I left coaching, I missed it, and the only way to stay involved was to officiate.”

He's officiated at the high school and collegiate levels (he officiated the NCAA Division I nationals at Iowa State in 1979), but some of his fondest memories are at the high school level, where he worked the great NFA-Windham and NFA-Ledyard rivalries, as well as the 1992 New England championships.

“This was totally out of the blue,” Vino said. “And the best part about it is going in with such great people. I was there when Carl and Brian started.”

Manzi, who lives in Southington, has been an official for 32 years and currently serves as commissioner of officials in southeastern Connecticut (18 years), commissioner of college officials in New England (10 years), Connecticut rules interpreter (10 years) and head official for the State Open (five years). He has worked 13 Div. I national tournaments, 16 Division III national tournaments and 22 New England Division III championship meets.

Powers, who lives in Berlin where he helped establish its high school program, retired in 2001 after 50 years as a high school official, but is about to complete his 52nd year as a college referee in New England.

He is a charter member of the Connecticut Interscholastic Wrestling Officials Association.

Gov. Rowland was a varsity wrestler at Holy Cross for four years and never missed a match. He went 12-0 as a senior captain and was voted the Crusaders' MVP.

•Ledyard's Mike Quibble is the Connecticut Chapter president and organized the induction ceremony, which begins with a reception at 5 p.m. and dinner at 6 p.m. in the Grand Pequot Tower. Tickets are $55. For further information email Quibble at Mquibble@comcast.net

c.banning@theday.com or 701-4441

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