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‘Keep the Joy’: How Two Hall High School Coaches have Inspired 50 years of Student-Athletes

Coach Sue Curnias enjoying her 50 years of coaching ceremony. May 14, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford’s Hall High School coaches Sue Curnias (girls track and field) and Jim Solomon (boys tennis) both reached their 50-years of coaching milestone this year.  

Coach Jim Solomon’s 50-year milestone was celebrated on May, 18, 2024. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

By Bridget Bronsdon 

It’s not every day a 50-year career milestone is met, and it’s certainly no small feat. This year, Hall High School had the unique privilege of honoring two coaches, Sue Curnias and Jim Solomon, in celebrating 50 years of coaching at the school. 

Even though the resumes, records, and awards they have to show for their 50-year tenure are exceptional, what makes these two so special is the impact they’ve had on the West Hartford community and the hundreds of lives they’ve touched. As for the student-athletes of Hall High School, they’ve had the rare privilege of finding a mentor, teacher, friend, and lifelong supporter all in one. 

On the afternoon of Tuesday, May 14, Hall girls track and field Coach Sue Curnias was honored before the Hall-Conard track meet as athletes, friends, and colleagues looked on. Her career has spanned 80 seasons, five decades, and generations of women, and her journey began at a time when the foundation of girls’ sports was still in its infancy. 

Coach Sue Curnias with current and former athletes at her 50 years of coaching ceremony. May 14, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

In 1973, just one year after Title IX passed, Curnias emerged on the scene of West Hartford athletics to unknowingly begin the career of a lifetime and help put female athletics on the map. 

Just months after graduating college, Coach Curnias quickly became a pioneer for female athletics. As the first girl’s swim coach for Conard and the first girl’s gymnastics coach for Hall, she was already opening the doors for young women in sports. 

However, in the early 1970s, she was taking on more than just the role of “coach.” 

“Sometimes it was hard with the coaching because parents expected, a lot of times, the girls to be home and helping out with the domestic things because that was the culture, women were still helping with younger siblings or cooking dinner or doing whatever the domestic things would be,” she said. 

Although it was challenging at first, Curnias soon recognized how hungry the girls were to have athletic opportunities. “It was like trying to teach a culture. Your practice is just as important as your brother’s football practice,” she said. 

Mayor Shari Cantor, who attended the celebration of Curnias’ 50th year, was coached by her in the early days as a member of the gymnastics team in Curnias’ second year. She was recruited away from the tennis team by Curnias to run the two-mile for the track team – and credits that early coaching with her lifelong love of running and other fitness pursuits.

Despite the challenges, Curnias had support and recognized how encouraging the town has been since the beginning of women’s athletics. 

“I really appreciate West Hartford. They supported me and all of the women, and they were willing to listen to us.” She continued, “they felt as though it was important to put women on the map for athletics and in making sure it was fair to everybody and equitable to everybody.” 

Curnias also grew to treasure a close group of female coaches during her early years. “We were like a sorority of sports so to speak,” she said.

Coach Sue Curnias and West Hartford Mayor, Shari Cantor. May 14, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

While inspiring generations of women is no small accomplishment, Curnias’ conviction for pursuing equality and mentorship in girls’ sports began with a mentor of her own: her mother. 

As a child, Curnias watched as her mother supported her and her three siblings through the loss of her father when he was just 31. Her strength, perseverance, and grace provided a perfect role model for her children and helped instill priceless values that Curnias still carries to this day. 

Decades later, Curnias carries her mother’s values with her and has become a mentor of her own. “I think it’s so important for young female teenagers to be able to have a strong role model for women and so it’s become a mission with me,” she said. Forging strong and positive relationships, helping empower women and teaching young girls about their autonomy have also become essential pillars in her coaching. 

Among these valuable life skills, Curnias also makes sure to prioritize the simple joy sports brings to her students. “We need to make sure we keep the joy in the sport for these high school kids,” she said. 

Coach Sue Curnias enjoying her 50 years of coaching ceremony. May 14, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

As for her records, her career has reached exceptional milestones. Most notably, she is the first and only female coach in the state to be named Connecticut Coach of the Year in three different high school sports: track and field, cross country, and gymnastics. 

After 80 seasons, there is much to be proud of, especially for a young woman who began at a time when girl’s sports were just taking off. 

What began as a job coaching the first generations of female athletes can now be defined as an incredible career in pioneering and empowering women’s sports. 

Honorary plaque awarded to Coach Sue Curnias’ 50 years of coaching. May 14, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

As for her colleagues, she couldn’t be prouder. “I’m so proud of both Jim and John because, you know, we just do it for the love of it and they’re great coaches and the kids really respect them and we all work really hard,” she said. She was referring to coach Jim Solomon who is also celebrating his 50th year with Hall boy’s tennis while Hall swim coach John McClure will be celebrating the 50-year milestone next year. 

In addition to the track, the student-athletes on the tennis courts have been learning from the best for decades. 

Coach Jim Solomon with him son, Jarrett Solomon. May, 18, 2024. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

While Coach Jim Solomon is one of the most decorated tennis coaches in Connecticut, his journey has proven that he’s not just committed to winning, but also to creating a community defined by a culture of hard work, passion, and equity. What began as a decision to coach tennis in 1975 has since transformed into a five-decade-long journey, profoundly touching the lives of hundreds of student-athletes. 

Although Solomon, the winningest boys tennis coach in Connecticut, may have dozens of awards and records to his name, including 23 league championships, he is known simply as “Sol” by those closest to him. On the morning of Saturday May 18, generations of current and former players, coaches, friends, family, and colleagues arrived at the Hall tennis courts to celebrate the remarkable 50-year milestone of the “Sol” they have come to know and love. 

The 2024 Hall Boys Tennis captains shake hands with Coach Solomon after exchanging kind words. May, 18, 2024. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

While countless loved ones shared both heartwarming and comical stories reminiscent of their fond memories on and off the court, one theme was constant: Sol’s commitment to inclusion, excellence and community. 

Sol’s son, Jarrett Solomon, was the first to emphasize the family that his father has built and shared a laugh with the crowd as he noted his father’s local celebrity status. Solomon went on to praise his father’s incredible patience, ability to adjust his coaching style to meet an athlete’s individual needs, and his knack for seeing the good in everyone. 

“Look around, look at the family that you’ve created, all here unified and united by a love of tennis and a shared experience of having had the opportunity to play for you or be around you in the game in some capacity,” Solomon said. 

The sentiment of community rang true as Sol’s former players from the 80s, 90s, 2000s and on arrived, some now accompanied by children of their own, to not only reminisce upon their success but to thank Sol for remaining a constant supporter and friend well past their years as a high school athlete. 

Coach Solomon joined by dozens of his current and former players. May, 18, 2024. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

Steve Blanchfield, a veteran of over 50 years of both Conrad and Hall athletics, was another one of the first to share his memories. While the two have been colleagues, competitors, and dear friends throughout their careers, Blanchfield emphasized the no-cut policy, established in the early 90s, as one of the hallmarks of Sol’s career. Between six courts and over 60 players, Blanchfield said “no-cut” wasn’t an easy decision, however, it proved to be both worthwhile and effective and as Hall Principal Daniel Zittoun said, “You were such a great role model for people to see that you don’t have to choose either excellence or inclusion, that you can do both.” 

Inclusion, excellence and community: pillars of a massively successful career that Sol has been nurturing for the better half of a century, and when asked about a specific moment that has stood out from his career, Sol said “the fact that relationships that were forged over that time remain.” 

As for his legacy off the court, Sol has remained a true and constant friend and mentor to many of his players. He hopes that his athletes can reflect fondly upon their time as a “bright spot” in their Hall experience that gave them a supportive community, made them better players, and above all, made them better people. 

Thanks to the efforts and dedication of Coach Curnias and Coach Solomon, the West Hartford athletics community is all the richer for it and will be experiencing the ripple effects of their hard work for many more years to come.

Several of Coach Solomon’s current and former athletes took to the courts to play a round of tennis following his celebration. May, 18, 2024. Photo credit: Bridget Bronsdon

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Bridget Bronsdon

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