Gura family: A legacy in education, athletics
Neither Howard Gura nor Scott Gura planned to be coaches and educators.
Fortunately for Shelton High, their plans changed.
The father-son duo has combined to coach 905 games on the varsity level, leading the Gaels to 565 wins and 16 division, conference or state championships. This doesn’t count sub-varsity games or games they served as assistant coaches, which would add a few hundred more games and several more titles.
More importantly to the tandem is that they have served the Shelton public school system for nearly 60 years between them.
The story starts with Howard, who starred in football, basketball and baseball at Shelton High. The baseball diamond was where he shined brightest. A four-year starter, he was a three-year All-Housatonic League player for the Gaels, graduating in 1966.
He went on to further both his education and athletic career at the University of Connecticut.
“I played baseball at UConn with a major in Biology with the thought of a medical field career, but a substitute teaching stint at Shelton High during breaks fostered a love of the teaching field,” said Howard. “I was offered a job teaching chemistry, and my Shelton High School coach Joe Benanto immediately involved me in a position on the baseball and basketball staffs.”
Among the roles Howard served on the academic side of his career before retiring included teacher, guidance counselor, Shelton Intermediate School Headmaster and Shelton High School Housemaster.
On the coaching side, Gura started as an assistant coach of both the baseball and boys’ basketball teams under Benanto. He was an assistant coach for four state championships in baseball. A stint as an assistant football coach yielded another state title in 1988.
“Joe Benanto remains my most important coaching role model,” said Howard. “His impact was immeasurable on my teaching and coaching.”
There were other influences.
“I am also indebted to the coaches who then became colleagues, such as Tony “Sonny” Savignano, Leon Sylvester, John "Red" Larson,” Howard said. “On the college level, Andy Baylock was an impressive mentor. I would be remiss to point out another role model in Bernice Nicolari. As a teaching colleague and as a spectator to the games of this legendary coach/teacher, one could not help but want to mirror her exceptional abilities.”
Fate would again play a role in Gura’s head coaching role at Shelton.
“I never really thought about a head coaching position until Joe Benanto moved to the college level at Yale,” said Howard. “I applied for the head baseball coaching position but was not selected. Months later, Bernice Nicolari retired from her Hall of Fame career, and I applied to the position of head coach of the girls’ basketball program. It lasted 18 years.”
Howard was passionate about his craft, whether it be a game, practice or the classroom.
“He put all of his emotions and hard work into every practice as a coach,” said Scott. “I will never forget once he said, ‘If you are not tired at the end of practice as a coach, you are not coaching or teaching hard enough’. He was very demanding of his players in a good sense. He expected his teams to play at their highest level.”
In his own words, Howard was an admitted “taskmaster”, but he made sure to interject some fun, too.
“I worked those around me as hard as I worked, but with every opportunity, I explained why they were working so intensely,” said the elder Gura. “Classes and practices were not always torture. I interspersed humor and fun when appropriate to create a memory that says, ‘I am so glad I participated in that experience.’”
And the girls on Howard’s basketball teams were part of plenty of good experiences. His teams went 328-103, winning a state title in 1985, the inaugural Southern Connecticut Conference (SCC) tournament championship in 1995, five Housatonic League titles and three SCC Housatonic Division championships.
Howard’s accomplishments as a coach and educator have been well recognized. Among the many honors include being named to Shelton High’s inaugural Hall of Fame class in 2017, which honors those who have made significant contributions to the school.
He was inducted into the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018, and joined the Southern Connecticut Diamond Club Hall of Fame in October.
Talk about big shoes to fill.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason Scott initially had other plans for his post-school life.
“I first went to school for finance and played collegiate baseball at Bryant University,” said Scott.
He went into the business world after school, but much like his father, his calling emerged soon thereafter.
“After a few years in the business field, I had a calling to teach and coach,” said Scott. “My father was ending his career with girls’ basketball. He was always the role model I looked up to and if there was anyone I wanted to be like it was him.”
Scott got his master's and teaching degree at Sacred Heart University. He is now in his 22nd year teaching 8th grade social studies at Shelton Intermediate School.
Coaching, of course, was a natural fit for Scott.
“My first opportunity to be a coach was in 1996, as his freshman basketball coach,” said Scott of teaming up with his father. “I learned from one of the best, being right by his side for every varsity game.”
In 1999, Scott took over the Shelton varsity girls’ basketball head coaching position from Michelle Sedlock, who had replaced Howard. The program had begun to slide back from its powerhouse days, but Scott was able to keep it respectable with an 81-127 record, and the two most recent division titles the Gaelettes have won.
Scott also began assisting longtime varsity baseball coach Ed Marocco, for whom Scott had played — he was an All-Area shortstop on Shelton’s 1989 Class LL finalist team — and considered a mentor.
When Marocco suddenly passed away during the 2009 season, Scott stepped in as interim head coach.
“It was very difficult,” said Scott. “I knew how he ran the program and what his expectations were, but when you lose your head coach in the middle of the season, it is a shock to all.”
Scott leaned on a couple of people to help get through that season. One was his father.
“I spoke with him all the time,” said Scott, about topics ranging from running practices to dealing with bad losses. The other was one of his father’s mentors, Benanto.
“Joe Benanto, the greatest baseball coach in our program's history…said to me something that I will also never forget at a Memorial Day parade. ‘Scott, always go with your upperclassman first. They are more mature and stronger that the younger players. Give them every chance you can to keep that spot. It will be good for team chemistry. The upperclassmen have been part of the program for 3-4 years and they get the first crack.’"
Scott and team got through the difficult season. The interim tag was removed, and better days were ahead.
With a strong group of assistant coaches that included Bob Ayer, Dave Moore, Jeff Napoli and Jeff Van Scoy, the Gael baseball program not only stayed on track after Marocco’s untimely passing, but it has flourished.
The Gaels won the SCC Tournament in 2010, and they ended a 36-year state title drought in 2012.
“In 2012, everything clicked,” said Scott. “That first practice we had at Riverview Park in March 2012, we said boys, this is our year, all this hard work from day one will pay off on June 9th. We went 22-5 and finished the year with a 7-2 victory versus South Windsor.”
Scott admitted that a few days before the state championship game, he started to contemplate how great it would be to match his father’s state title with one of his own.
“I began to think, ‘wow, if we win this thing, my Dad and I will be a part of history, both winning state championships as head coaches in the state of Connecticut and for our hometown Shelton. There are not too many that I know that share that honor,’" said Scott.
Time marches on. Howard is now retired from education and coaching, but he and his wife of 50 years, Judy, can still be found at various athletic fields and facilities around Shelton cheering on Scott’s four daughters, the oldest of which is a Shelton High junior.
Scott continues his role as teacher and baseball coach, winning more than 150 games since 2008 and leading the Gaels to SCC Housatonic Division titles in 2012 and 2015.
Scott hopes to add to the legacy started by his father with a few more championships. He also is the Shelton Girls Recreational Basketball president.
At the end of the day it always has been, and will continue to be, about serving the students and student-athletes of Shelton.
“I hope all my students and players realize that when all is said and done, I cared for them as valued individuals who can make a difference,” summed up Howard.
Scott said: “All the banners on the walls when you walk into the Shelton High gym, the two of us being head coaches for 16 of those banners, is something special. We both bleed Orange and Black. We always say to people that we would do anything for this town.”