By NED X. GRIFFEN
Jack Hunt loved Thanksgiving Day. It was the day when his Ansonia Chargers hooked up with long-time rival Naugatuck. The importance of that game was driven into him playing for Ansonia under legendary coach Charles “Boots” Jarvis.
“He owned Thanksgiving,” longtime Ansonia assistant John Sponheimer said of Hunt. “He went 17-2 on Thanksgiving against Naugatuck, which is by far the greatest rivalry Ansonia has had going back to 1900.
“Thanksgiving Day was always so important to Jack.”
Hunt died from esophageal cancer an hour before the 114th meeting between Ansonia and Naugatuck. He was 67.
“It’s ironic on a day that he owned,” current Chargers coach Tom Brockett said.
Hunt is among the greatest figures in Ansonia football history as both a player and a coach. He took over as head coach in 1987 after the team finished 5-6.
The Chargers immediately rattled off three CIAC Class S championships. Hunt coached the team to seven, third-best in state history. He had a winning percentage of .881 (193-26), third-best all-time according to the Connecticut High School Football Record Book.
“The program was in the worst shape it had been in 20 years,” Sponheimer said of when Hunt took over. “He got the program back where it was in the early seventies and early eighties.”
Sponheimer knew Hunt when both where in high school. Sponheimer, who lived in neighboring Derby, played basketball at Notre Dame of West Haven.
“He was a fun guy,” Sponheimer said. “He had a great sense of humor. He really enjoyed all kind of athletics. He played softball. For his size (6-foot-7), he was a very good golfer. We played in a number of member-guests at Race Brook (Country Club in Orange), where I’m a member. He had a nice touch for a big guy. He never made you feel uncomfortable with his presence.
“He was an Ansonia guy through-and-through. He went to Wichita State (for college), moved right back to Ansonia and lived in the same house for many years that he grew up in.”
Hunt became an Ansonia assistant in 1971. Sponheimer came on board the following year. The two enjoyed a long and successful partnership that lasted until Hunt retired in 2005.
“He had a great understanding of the game, the ebb-and-flow,” Hunt said. “When to be positive, when to be negative; when to go with the flow. You were never out of game, which helped us so much in the New London comeback in 1988 (the Class S title game).
“I think teams always played above their ability a lot of the time for Jack.”
Brockett, a Lyman Hall of Wallingford graduate, joined Hunt’s staff in 2000 after getting a job at the high school.
“I got to know Coach Hunt from being in the building, and he took me in,” Brockett said. “It was one of the greatest thrills of my lifetime.
“He was a giant man who had a giant heart. He always had such great presence, such a great control of every situation. He was a great family man. I always marveled at the marriage he had with his wife, Denise.
“His faith, his family, and Ansonia football — those were the three things he loved.”
Sponheimer said that one of Hunt’s greatest thrills was when his son, John, became the team’s defensive coordinator.
“He really put more time in on defense,” Sponheimer said of Jack Hunt. “He had a great love for defense and was so intense about drefense.
“I think his happiest time, even though he had retired, was when John was the defensive coordinator.”
Hunt found out in June that he had cancer. A benefit dinner was held for him on Oct. 21. His friends worried that he might get sick from being at the dinner for so long, but he refused to leave without talking with everyone who came to support him.
“He was just thrilled with that day,” Brockett said. “It was a special day in his life. The way the community rallied around him, it was very important that he be there from start-to-finish.
“He fought a courageous battle.”