Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame announces 2021 class

The Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame has announced its 2021 class of inductees, naming eight prominent sports figures into its three wings. With the eight new honorees, the HOF has now recognized 111 county sports legends in its 17 years of existence.

The Hall of Fame, which is overseen by the Fairfield County Sports Commission, Inc., will honor the newly elected Hall of Famers at a later date to be determined. The Commission has postponed its annual Sports Night gala dinner until 2022.

For the first time in the history of the Hall of Fame there was a three-way tie in the voting in one of the wings so additional seventh and eighth inductees are being recognized this year.

The class of 2021 honorees are:

Jackie Robinson Professional Wing: Cam Atkinson (Riverside), Joe LaCava (Newtown), Chris Smith (Bridgeport) and posthumously Chico Vejar (Stamford)

James O’Rourke Amateur Wing: Kathy Arendsen (Stratford), Ellie Karvoski (Norwalk)

J. Walter Kennedy Community Service Wing: Ed Crotty (Danbury) posthumously, Mike Ornato (Greenwich)

With LaCava’s induction being the first selection from Newtown, 21 communities are now represented in the Hall of Fame.

Atkinson is entering his 11th NHL season (2011-2021) with a new team after being traded to Philadelphia in July by Columbus, where he had played his entire pro career. Columbus drafted him in 2008 in the 6th round (157th overall) and signed him in March 2011 after an impressive collegiate career at Boston College. As a junior, Atkinson earned first-team All-American honors and was one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. His sophomore year he led the Eagles to the 2010 NCAA title and was the top goal scorer in the country with 31.

The 5-foot-8 right winger scored 49 goals in 83 minor league games, then scored his first NHL goal three days after making his NHL debut on Oct.7, 2011. From there it was all systems go as the natural goal scorer became a two-time All-Star, racking up six straight 20-goal seasons and had his breakout year in 2018-19 with career highs in goals (41) and points (69). He is the Blue Jackets’ second all-time leading scorer with 402 points in 627 games and 2nd in goals scored with 213. A two-time U.S team player in the World Championships, he earned a bronze medal in 2018, scoring seven goals in 10 games. Atkinson grew up in the Riverside section of Greenwich and attended Avon Old Farms School for three years before his three seasons at BC.

LaCava, a Newtown native, began his successful professional golf caddie career on the PGA Tour close to home as he started looping in 1987 for his cousin Ken Green, who hails from Danbury and was inducted into the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame in 2017. The local tandem both made names for themselves in the pro golf profession and more than 30 years later LaCava is now one of the most well-known caddies in the world. That was confirmed in August 2019 when he was inducted into the Caddie Hall of Fame. After getting his start with his cousin, LaCava quickly moved forward to begin work with some of the biggest names in the game, when he was hired in 1990 by Fred Couples. That relationship lasted for two decades with Couples winning the Masters in 1992 and the 1996 Players Championship. Couples won 12 PGA Tour events with LaCava, who then spent time as Dustin Johnson’s caddie as the then up and coming star made his way to the top echelon of the sport. Other top-ranked golfers that LaCava caddied for include Davis Love III and Justin Leonard. But since September 2011, LaCava has been walking beside this generation’s greatest player, Tiger Woods. During LaCava’s 10 years, Woods returned to the No. 1 player in the world status, won his 15th major at the 2019 Masters and added 11 more wins to his total of 82, tied for the all-time best with Sam Snead. For LaCava, who graduated from Western Connecticut State University in 1986 with a degree in finance, his hometown roots have now made him one of the most recognized caddies in the game.

Smith, a Bridgeport native who graduated from Kolbe Cathedral High, was selected in the second round of the 1992 NBA Draft (34th overall) by the Minnesota Timberwolves, after a celebrated four-year career at UConn. He played three seasons (1992-1995) as a point guard in Minnesota, appearing in 224 games and averaged 5.1 points ppg, 2.8 assists and had a total of 118 steals. After those three years, his contract was up and in the summer of 1995 the NBA had its first ever lock out. The lock out lasted only 10 weeks, but Smith had already opted to play in Europe, signing a two-year contract in Spain. At the end of his two years there he tore his Achilles tendon and was out of basketball, recuperating for a year in Europe. He then continued to play professionally in France and Israel, as well as with several different franchises in the Continental Basketball Association until 2000, when a series of injuries ended his career. Still the all-time leading scorer at UConn (2,145 pts), he is a member of the UConn Basketball All-Century Team. His accomplishments for the Huskies include averaging 21.2 ppg his senior year to earn All-Big East first team honors and as a sophomore being named Big East Tournament MVP in leading UConn to its first league title. He also played for the U.S. national team in the 1990 FIBA World Championship that won the bronze medal.

Vejar was one of the most popular and successful boxers of the 1950s in a middleweight career that spanned from 1950-1961. The 1951 Stamford High School graduate, whose birth name was Francis, fought in 116 bouts and posted a career record of 92-20-4 with 43 knockouts. As a teenager, he turned pro as a welterweight and had immediate success, posting a 32-0 mark, earning him the nickname “Stamford's Socking Schoolboy". As his career progressed, Vejar moved up to the middleweight class and fought in major arenas around the United States as boxing was coming of age as a television sport, with close to 30 of Vejar’s fights broadcast across the country. While never winning a world title, the 5-foot-8½ Vejar went up against the best fighters in the world in his weight class, including bouts against former middleweight champions Joey Giardello (taking Giardello the full distance on two occasions) and Gene Fullmer, as well as Kid Gavilan and Luis Rodriguez, all International Boxing Hall of Famers. He rose to be the 4th ranked middleweight in the world in 1958. In 1961, he retired at age 29 to spend time with his son, Jimmy, who died the following year at age three from complications resulting from cerebral palsy. Vejar then became a champion advocate for raising awareness and funding for the disease. In December, 2006, Vejar was inducted into the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame’s second class. He became a film actor after studying drama at New York University. Vejar died in September 2016 at the age of 85.

Karvoski was one of Norwalk's best female athletes, who excelled in multiple sports at all levels of competition. Her versatile talents and ability to succeed in specific sports right from taking up the challenge makes her accomplishments all the more unique. As a youth, her favorite sport was soccer, but had to play on a boys’ team as there were no girls’ teams she could join. She played five varsity sports at Brien McMahon. As a freshman, she played volleyball and was named to the All-City team in a sport she never played before. That winter she joined the indoor track team (earning a third-place medal at the state meet), while in the spring she played softball and was named All-City again. The following year, she switched to field hockey in the fall and basketball in the winter. Her senior year she was named All-FCIAC East in hoops, finishing 5th in the league with a 14.4 scoring average and helping her team to reach the Class L state finals. In softball, Karvoski was a two-time All-FCIAC outfielder, All-State, and the All-City MVP as a senior when she batted .397. She also starred in field hockey, twice earning All-FCIAC honors as well as 1st-team All-State. She is one of only two female athletes at McMahon to have her number (No. 13) retired when she graduated in 1993, alongside 2016 FC HOFer Rita Williams. She received a field hockey scholarship to play at Division I Northwestern, where she was a 4-year starter for the nationally ranked Wildcats, and as a sophomore helped them make it to the NCAA Final Four. She earned All-Big Ten and third team All-American honors as a senior. Karvoski then played for the U.S. National squad from 1997-98. And as if she hadn’t succeeded enough in her sports career, she took on a new sport later in life--rugby. She was a member of the U.S. National Rugby team from 2002-2009, played in three World Cups (2- 15s, 1-7s), and was named to the World Rugby Cup All-World team. She also coached Rugby 7s at the Olympic development academy and was inducted into the CT Field Hockey HOF (2003).

Arendsen was one of the Stratford Brakettes’ greatest pitchers for 15 years from 1978-1992. A 13-time All-American she led the team to nine ASA national titles and three ISF world championships. She concluded her career with 337 wins (3rd best in team history) and only 26 losses, a 0.15 ERA,79 no-hitters, 42 perfect games, and is 2nd all-time with 4,061 strikeouts. At her peak in the 1980 and ’81 seasons she was virtually unhittable, posting an 0.07 ERA in both years and setting the top two team season records with 593 and 551 strikeouts. Arendsen has been honored at all levels of her softball/athletic career, being selected to the International Softball HOF (2003) and National ASA HOF (1996), where she was the youngest player (37) ever inducted. As a collegian, she was named the top player in college softball three consecutive years and has been voted into halls of fame at both Cal State-Chico and Texas Women’s where she helped guide her teams to AIAW Division I National Championships in 1979 and 1980, respectively. And in her native Michigan has been recognized by Michigan’s ASA HOF and the Michigan Sports HOF (2003). The 6-foot-3 right-hander pitched Team USA to medals at the Pan American Games in 1979 (gold) and a silver in ‘83. She also competed at the 1981 World Games, where she helped the U.S. to another first-place finish. In 1981, Arendsen became the first softball player ever to be a finalist for the James E. Sullivan award that recognizes the top amateur athlete in the country. She continued her softball life by becoming one of the top college head coaches, starting in 1983 at Western Connecticut and ending in 2009 at Oregon with 607 victories at five different universities.

The name Edward "Copper" Crotty is synonymous with the glory days of Danbury High School football as well as his hometown’s athletics and recreation programs. However, his actual head coaching career began in 1938 when he was named as the basketball coach at Providence College. His seven-year stint as PC’s hoops coach produced a 58-53 record, and also gave him the opportunity to be an assistant line coach for the football team. He then continued his gridiron coaching at Brown in the mid-1940’s under legendary coach Rip Engle. But Crotty got the call to come back home and in 1946 returned to his native Danbury and started to develop his own coaching legacy at DHS. Crotty coached the Hatters from 1946 until 1963 and had four undefeated teams: 1950 (7-0-2), 1952 (7-0-1), 1953 (8-0) and 1959 (9-0). Crotty was 113-44-5 at Danbury. As an administrator, Crottywas athletic director at DHS from 1947-78 and served as city director of parks and rec for 31 years. The final lasting impression of his impact is that the home field where the Hatters play bears his name. Previous Hall of Fame honors include being one of the original 6 FCIAC inductees (’95), first class of DHS HOF (’97) and CT High School Coaches (’79). He passed away in 1988 at age 76.

Ornato was the Greenwich High head football coach for 25 years (1972-96), where he would build a dynasty that won four state championships, seven FCIAC titles and 13 division crowns. His career record at GHS was 210-50-7. In his first season, Ornato's Cardinals went 8-2 and reached the school's first FCIAC title game. The Cards went undefeated to win their first league title in 1974 and went on from there to become a perennial state power, reaching seven title games and capturing their initial championship in ’81, finishing as runner-up in ’82 and winning again in 1983. His 1979 FCIAC division champs were led by quarterback Steve Young, one of the original 2005 class of the FC Sports HOF. Ornato began his coaching career as an assistant at Ithaca College, his alma mater, before taking his first head coaching job at a small high school in Waterloo, N.Y. He then moved on to spend six seasons (1965-70) at Port Chester (NY)High before taking the job at Greenwich, where he was inducted into the Greenwich High Sports Hall of Fame in 2015 and the FCIAC HOF in 2007. In his 36 years coaching scholastic football, Ornato posted a combined record of 267-77-9.

The Hall of Fame is housed at Chelsea Piers Connecticut in Stamford. The Hall of Fame is open to the public 7 days per week during regular business hours at the sports complex