The 1976 Shelton High girls basketball team received an honorary proclamation by the city of Shelton, commemorating the 40th Anniversary the team won the 1976 CIAC Class LL State Championship. The team earned the championship after they beat Lee High School of New Haven.
Mayor Mark Lauretti presented the award to the women at the Board of Alderman meeting on April 14.
Not only was the 1976 team, head coach, and assistant coach there, but so were other past members of the Shelton Women’s High School there to celebrate the women’s anniversary of their victory.
The 1976 Shelton High School Gaelette basketball team consisted of tri-captains Michele Katz, Karen Meade, and Jill Rhodes, and other team members include Diane Dietman, Michele LeBlanc, and Debbie Whitney. The head coach was Bernice Nicolari and assistant coach was Celeste Beattie. Whitney, unfortunately, was not at the winning game because she was in a caste. However, all the women attended the event and were honored, except LeBlanc who couldn’t attend because lived out of Connecticut. The award would be sent to her by Nicolari.
Nicolari won several awards in 1976 for her work with the winning team, including the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year Award and the 1976 New Haven Tap-Off Club Coach of the Year award.
Mayor Lauretti praised Nicolari for her leadership of the team, and he reminisced about his experience with her as a teacher at Shelton High School.
“I had the opportunity to have Mrs. Nicolari as an English teacher, so I understood the discipline and dedication that was involved with being associated with her, because if you didn’t, there were consequences, “Mayor Lauretti said…”There’s nothing wrong with that. I sometimes wonder if there are things we lack today, that structure, that makes us do the things we were suppose to do and sometimes we don’t want to do. I can tell you there was an awful lot of respect for Bernice Nicolari, whether it was in the classroom or in the gymnasium.”
Nicolari coached from 1962 to 1979. She started the first women’s athletics in Shelton High School athletics in 1962. She commented on advice for today’s high school athletes.
“The young athletes are as determined as ever; it’s very different now from what it was,” Nicolari said. “It’s not necessary bad, but I am glad we played when we did, and I coached when we did. My concern was for the women because at Shelton High in 1962, there was absolutely not one single team for women.”
The women of the 1976 team commented afterwards about the presentation, the 1976 team, and their two coaches’ hard work that took them to victory.
“It was a big honor of us to receive the award, but unfortunately I was in a cast and not playing at the championship game,” Debbie Whitney said. “But it was an honor to play for Bernice for four years.”
“It’s just such a wonderful honor and just great to be with everyone again, “Michele Katz said. “Again, it is very much an honor,” Karen Mead-Bentlee said. “We have all stayed in contact through-out the years. It’s amazing what three or four years on a team like this can do; it improves your whole life.”
“It certainly was an honor to receive and be recognized by the City of Shelton for our accomplishments, and especially to have played for Coach Nicolari,” Diane Dietman said. Assistant coach Celeste Beattie commented on her history with Nicolari in starting the team for the high school women.
“It was the best thing that happened in the world that Bernie and I said, ‘Let’s get together and start a team,’” Beattie said. “Before that, the girls had nothing -nothing, and we were the pioneers.” Nicolari praised the 1976 team before she and the women left.
“This is the finest group of young women who were outstanding athletes,” Nicolari said. “The best thing about them is they knew how to follow a plan because we came up with a strategy, and man it worked. You gotta have the people who can follow a plan.”
SHS 1: The women of the 1976 Shelton High School Team include: Head Coach Bernice Nicolari, Ast. Head Coach Celeste Beattie, (back row)Debbie Whitney Daniels, Michele Katz, Karen Meade-Bentlage, and Diane Dietman (Karen LaBlanc not shown).
SHS 2: Head Coach Bernice Nicolari recieves an award from Mayor Mark Lauretti.
SHS3: Diane Dietman, Debbie Whitney Daniels, Michele Katz, Karen Meade-Bentlage, Celeste Beattie, and Bernice Nicolari accept an honor from Mayor Mark Lauretti