An essay by James Johnson, Conard ’60, dedicated to Connecticut Hall of Fame Coach Bob McKee of West Hartford who helped shape the lives of countless students.
[Editor’s Note: James Johnson submitted this article in honor of the third annual Bob McKee Classic Golf Tournament which will be held beginning at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, at Simsbury Farms. The head golf pro at Simsbury Farms is West Hartford resident John Verrengia, who was the starting quarterback of Conard’s football team in 1985. His son, Michael, is a rising senior and captain of the Hall High School football team for 2016.]
By James A. Johnson
Assuming you have read Hall-Conard: Basketball now comes Conard Football. If you have not read Hall-Conard Basketball contact me by E-mail and I will send you a copy. In January 1959 after basketball practice out from the showers stepped a 6’ 3” 175 pound, linear muscular player. He said to George McCombe, Bruce Fiske and this writer, all of whom lived in his neighborhood, “I will give you guys a ride home every night for 10 cents each.” Notwithstanding that gas was only 17 cents per gallon; this offer would relieve our parents from picking us up. No one refused the offer. With the benefit of hindsight this was his early entrepreneurial acumen that blossomed into something more prolific, later in his career. You will learn about that as this story unfolds.
This young athlete was a star football player and Co-Captain of the track team decided to come out for basketball. Larry Stewart, who was also his assistant football coach, put him on the varsity basketball team. He was not a starter, but very capable and with his rugged football mind-set, always came to play. During the 3rd game of the season Coach Stewart looked down the bench and shouted out – “Hornbruch go in for Johnson.” Fred Hornbruch entered his first game of varsity basketball representing Conard High School of West Hartford, Connecticut.
The central figure in this story is student-athlete Fred Hornbruch. But, you cannot mention Fred without mentioning Co-Captains of the football team, Ed Driscoll and Billy Julavits and quarterback Craig Nation. I knew Craig Nation since the 7th grade and I was his catcher in organized summer baseball at Duffy Field. Craig was the pitcher and my left hand is still burning from his fastballs. I am setting this out so you can glean the speed and accuracy of Craig’s passes to football ends Ed Driscoll and Fred Hornbruch. Not to be overlooked is Don Blumenthal, another outstanding Conard football player who was on this summer baseball team. Don was also a member of the varsity basketball team. Have you noticed how basketball and football are intertwined in this story?
ROBERT J. MCKEE
The most important person at the helm of the football team was Coach Bob McKee. Robert J. McKee came to Hall High School in 1951 after graduating from Boston University in 1949. He coached football and baseball at Hall from 1951 to 1956. Coach McKee moved across town in 1957 when Conard High School opened and coached football, baseball and wrestling. The following is a short list of his coaching accomplishments:
CONARD FOOTBALL – 1957 – 1984
- 168 games won, 61 lost and 15 ties
- 9 Central Connecticut Interscholastic League Championships
CONARD BASEBALL 1957 – 1979
- 202 games won, lost 134 and captured 7 CCIL Championships
CONARD WRESTLING – 7 Years
- 55 matches won, lost 9; 3 unbeaten seasons and one State Championship
In 1968 Coach Mckee was President of the Connecticut H.S. Coaches Association. And, in 1982 was President of the State Coaches Hall of Fame. Now, you can understand why the football field at Conard H.S. is named ROBERT J. MCKEE STADIUM.
In the fall of 1959, Fred Hornbruch’s senior football season, Craig Nation from his quarterback position was firing bullets to Fred. At the end of the season based on his stellar performance Fred was selected to the Connecticut All-State Football Team. How big a deal is that? It was an honor that eluded outstanding Dick Gogal, Ed Driscoll, Bill Julavits, Charlie Bassos and Don Blumenthal. Not even this writer, captain of the basketball team, top rebounder, second leading scorer and 2 times All-CCIL honoree was selected First Team All-State.
Now, I am going to answer that query about Fred’s entrepreneurial acumen. As a genuine student- athlete, Fred graduated from Yale University in 1964 with a B.S. degree in Industrial Engineering and Administration. Then later, on to Stanford University to earn an MBA degree. Somewhere in between Fred is employed in a supervisory capacity with Procter & Gamble in New York City. In addition, right out of Stanford, he is a co-founder of an educational publishing company called Creative Publications, Inc.
Today Fred is a coach, offering entrepreneurial advice to profit seeking startups and career coaching for companies and entrepreneurs in transition. See www.PhileasFoggsVentures.com and www.FredHornbruch.com for detailed information on Fred’s business acumen, since he was 10 years old.
The bottom line of this story for the young reader is “Don’t try to be like Mike (MJordan).” Try to be like Fred Hornbruch and the other student-athletes in this story and get involved in sports. This is where you will learn leadership qualities, fair play, discipline, sportsmanship and a sense of who you are. Take the advice of Barry Slossberg, a second team tackle on Conard’s football team who said to me in 2012 “one of the best things I did in high school was being on the football team with Bob McKee as coach.” Today Barry Slossberg is a commercial airline pilot. Harmon Michelson echoed similar remarks and lettered in wrestling under the tutelage of Coach McKee. Harmon is a medical doctor practicing in California.
The Bob McKee Award is given to the senior football player who exhibits exceptional academic, football and leadership ability. The 2012 recipient was presented to W. Christopher Reckmeyer on June 29, 2012. The 2015 recipient was Jake Reynolds. The 2016 recipient was Jack Ryan.
Ryan Bell, captain of Conard’s Football Team was selected in 2015 as a National Football Scholar-Athlete by the National Football Foundation. Others who have been selected as National Football Scholar-Athletes at Conard include Matthew Redman, son of Conard assistant coach Jeff Redman, in 2012. The Award is based on football performance, scholarship and leadership. Former honorees were Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow and Steve Young of the NFL.
Nate Richam-Odi was the 2016 National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete.
Conard’s current football coach is Matt Cersosimo. If the name sounds familiar, you are correct. This is the son of former Head Coach Rob Cersosimo, and the grandson of Bob McKee. Matt has plenty of experience previously serving as an assistant football coach at UConn.
In closing, I will not say goodbye, but see you later, because I have more good stories to tell.
James A. Johnson is an accomplished attorney licensed in Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas and Federal Court Bars. Jim’s practice is national in scope concentrating in serious Personal Injury, Insurance Coverage and Sports & Entertainment Law. He can be reached through his website www.JamesAJohnsonEsq.com and by email: [email protected]