John Larkins to be honored for volunteerism

John Larkins is eagerly awaiting the end of April, and it has nothing to do with spring fever even though the 53-year old Shelton resident is an avid landscaper.

On Saturday, April 27, he will again take the field as a manager in the Shelton American Little League, where his two sons, Paden and Derek, play.

The following day, Larkins will be honored along with four others from around the state by the Connecticut Sportswriters' Alliance at the organizations' 78th Gold Key Dinner at the Aqua-Turf in Southington.

Last October, the Monroe native who played on three Class S state championship football teams at St. Joseph High in the early 1980s, was selected to receive a John Wentworth Good Sport award.

The awards are given to individuals from around the state for their extraordinary work in volunteering, usually in youth sports.

Larkins will become the second person from the Shelton Little League to receive the award. The first was current Shelton American League President Tim Kulish (in 2014).

"It' humbling," Larkins said. "There's an old saying which goes, ‘Find a job to do, one that you truly love, almost as much as your wife and kids, and you'll never have to work a day in your life.'

“I truly feel blessed to have the chance to do what I'm able to do almost every day for the kids in our town.

"I've had a chance to look over that Gold Key list and the other awards which the organization gives out each year. I know that it's going to be a great day for me and my family."

Three Gold Key recipients — Vito Montelli (former St. Joe's athletic director and basketball coach), Bruce Webster (ex-University of Bridgeport men's basketball coach) and Ed McCarthy (former St. Joe's and West Haven High football coach) — have all had an influence on Larkins' life.

"I like to tell everybody that Vito Montelli and Bruce Webster were two of my little league coaches," said Larkins, a special education teacher in the Norwalk school system.

"You have no idea what it's like to be yelled at until you've been around guys like that. It was always positive, but, for an 11-year old, it was like staring at a Grizzly Bear."

McCarthy was both Larkins' football and baseball coach at St. Joe's, where he was a running and defensive back in football and a catcher on the baseball team.

After graduating in 1984, Larkins wasn't sure what path he was going to take in his life.

He worked several years for United Parcel before entering college (at Southern Connecticut State University) in 1987.

"I didn't come from a family that had much money (his father John was a construction worker who died from a massive heart attack in 1991)." Larkins said. "I was the first one in my family to go to college and the first to graduate."

Just five weeks before commencement, his father died.

"I had him in my life for 25 years," Larkins said. "That may not seem like a lot of time, but I've coached kids along the way who lost either a mother or a father in a shorter amount of time. I've had some who never even knew who either one of their parents was."

After securing a degree in Corporate Communications, Larkins got a job in the financial sector in Manhattan and decided to specialize in sales.

"I've always been told that I talked too much," he said. "So, I thought, 'why not use my gift of gab to try and propel myself in some kind of career.'"

It worked for a while.

One afternoon in the late summer, Larkins got a call from Newtown High football coach Bob Zito, inviting him out for a round of golf.

"We're finishing up and getting ready to head off and have some refreshments, when, all of a sudden, Zito asks me if I'd like to become one of his assistants for the upcoming season."

It proved to be yet another turning point in his life.

Several days into early-season workouts, Larkins came into contact with one of the teams' offensive linemen.

"He was a small kid with a big heart," Larkins recalled. "He had dyslexia and he was struggling. I could tell it was hampering him and it definitely was hurting his soul.

“I began working with him, showing him all the little things he could do to remember which way to block. It didn't take me long to realize that working with kids who had special needs was really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

Right after practice, Larkins went home and called his then girlfriend and now wife, Michele, and told her his plan to change occupations.

"I knew that we could've no doubt had a very comfortable and financially rewarding life if I kept working in the business field," he said. "I also knew that a switch, going into education and coaching, something I knew I wanted to do, would be less rewarding on the money side.

“I gave her an option of walking away from our relationship if she wanted to. Instead, she chose to stay."

Larkins would go on to earn another degree, buy a house, get married and have two children, Paden (13) and Derek (10). Paden is Scottish for Patrick. Having been a life-long New York Yankees' fan it's easy to see who Derek (Jeter) was named after.

Once Paden turned 10, his dad got involved in the Shelton American Little League, taking the 12-and-under All-Star team to the District 3 title last summer and earning a trip to the Section 2 finals where they were defeated by Wallingford.

"From the moment I went up to the fields at the Nike Site, I knew I wanted to make a difference," he said. "I wanted to make the league better if I could. It was not only with the players. Making the fields better was just as important to me. Making the entire experience better mattered, too."

Because he had spent lots of time in landscaping, the condition of the two fields was a concern.

Larkins wasted little time.

"I got some people together, parents and others from within the town," he said. "I decided to hold a golf tournament. "It works all the time in business. It's a great way to raise money."

To say his endeavor was successful would be an understatement.

Larkins came into contact with an individual whose family ran a charitable foundation.

A $100,000 donation allowed the league to completely refurbish one of the fields.

"You could see it in those kids' eyes when they first stepped on that new field," Larkins said. "There was a different hop in their step. All of a sudden, more parents were coming to games. We were gaining momentum."

That degree of commitment in volunteering is why John Larkins will be honored on April 28, one day after the Shelton American Little League opens its season.