DANBURY – Danbury High wrestling Ricky Shook has been honored and recognized throughout his 31-year career with the Hatters. In 2013, he was inducted into the Connecticut chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He is a member of the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame.
His accomplishments in the wrestling community are well known. He has led Danbury to two New England championships in the last three years, 15 State Open titles and 16 CIAC Class LL championships.
Next April, Shook will receive a Gold Key award from the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance. One of the most prestigious awards in Connecticut sports, it has never been awarded to a coach who is primarily a wrestling coach.
Conard’s Bob McKee (2004) and Hall’s Frank Robinson, Jr., (2001) did coach wrestling during their coaching careers, each starting the wrestling programs at their respective schools. But they received Gold Key awards primarily for their excellence coaching high school football.
Shook and four other championship coaches will receive Gold Key awards at the Alliance’s 79th annual awards banquet on April 26 at the Aqua Turf in Southington. He will be honored along with Cookie Bromage (Enfield field hockey), Joe Grippo (Morgan girls volleyball and girls basketball), Lou Milardo (Hale-Ray softball), and Angela Tammaro (Greenwich Academy field hockey and lacrosse).
The Gold Key dinner was begun in 1940 and has been held yearly ever since except for a two-year break during World War II. Baseball legend Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics and golfing superstar Bobby Jones were among the initial recipients.
The roster of men and women who have been honored reads like a Who’s Who of Connecticut sports over the decades. Shook will join a group that includes:
- President George H.W. Bush, honored for his election to the presidency and his play with the Yale baseball team in the 1940s
- Hall of Fame hockey players Gordie Howe, Ron Francis and Brian Leetch
- UConn coaching legends Geno Auriemma (women’s basketball), Jim Calhoun (men’s basketball) and Joe Morrone (men’s soccer)
- Marathon legend Bill Rodgers, who grew up in Newington
- Hall of Fame player and broadcaster Rebecca Lobo
- World champion boxer Marlon Starling from Hartford
- Two-time World Cup champion soccer player Kristine Lilly, who grew up in Wilton
- Lindy Remigino, the 1952 Olympic gold medalist in the 100 meters and
- Waterbury’s Joan Joyce, one of the best softball pitchers ever and a professional golfer
Shook has been on the mat for the nearly 40 years. A 1983 graduate of Danbury High, he was a two-time FCIAC champion and a Class LL champion in 1983. He went to Central Connecticut State and was a four-year starter for the Blue Devils at 118 pounds. In 1986, he was third at Division II Eastern Regional. In 1987, Central’s first year in Division, he was third in the New England regionals.
After graduating from Central Connecticut in 1987, he spent 11 years as an assistant coach at Danbury before taking over as head coach in 2000.
Danbury has been the state’s most dominant wrestling team for nearly 20 years. They’ve won 16 of the last 20 Class LL titles. They won 10 straight State Open championships from 2001-10 and the last three Open crowns.
Danbury won their second New England championship in three years in March. Junior Ryan Jack won his second straight New England title while senior Kyle Fields finished second at 132. Kai O’Dell (106) and Tyler Johnson (120) both medaled by finishing in the top six. Ben LeBlanc (145) didn’t medal but he picked up crucial points with three victories in five matches including a pair of one-point victories.
Barry Choolijian is the head coach at Timberlane Regional from Plaistow, N.H., a program that has won the New England championship a record 10 times.
“(Shook) understands the ingredients to create a good program,” Choolijian said. “You can’t just coach the All-Star athletes like (Ryan) Jack. You have to make other kids get better. Ricky does that.”
Paul Gallo coached at New Canaan for 30 years and his Rams have been trying to catch Shook and the Hatters for years. He stepped down as head coach over the summer.
“(Danbury) has a very good youth program but when they get to the high school level, he holds them accountable and makes them work,” Gallo said. “It helps he has a great (practice) room. He gives them an opportunity to get better.”
Shook has been named state coach of the year eight times with the most recent selection last March. He was the state assistant coach of the year three times. In 2016, he was inducted into the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“Everybody thinks it’s easy — it is not,” Shook told Richard Gregory of the Danbury News Times before being inducted into the Connecticut chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2013. “We’ve got a good program and I’ve got a lot of people who help me. It’s not only me. It’s parents, coaching staff, administration, I have a great AD. It’s everyone working together. It makes it easier. But to win what we do win, it’s hard. It’s a lot of work we all put in.”
Tickets for the Gold Key Dinner are $75, and are available by contacting CSWA president Tim Jensen of Patch Media Corp. at 860-394-5091 or [email protected]. Proceeds support the Bo Kolinsky Memorial Sports Journalism Scholarship, a $3,000 award named in memory of the noted high school sports editor of the Hartford Courant and past CSWA president, who passed away in 2003.
Bromage started the field hockey program at Enfield High in 1967 and coached for 52 seasons, retiring after the 2018 season. Her teams won three Class M state titles (1983, 1984 and 1992).
Grippo coached girls volleyball at Morgan High in Clinton for 33 years and girls basketball for 35 years, the only coach in state history to win more than 600 games in two girls’ sports. His teams captured 12 Class S volleyball championships, including seven straight from 1992 to 1998, and Class S basketball titles in 1996 and 2000.
Milardo spent 31 years as softball coach at Hale-Ray High School in Moodus from 1976 to 2006, retiring as the state’s all-time victory leader for a softball coach with 552 (since surpassed by Gold Key recipient Judy Deeb of East Lyme in 2013). The Noises won Class S state titles in 1993, 2000, 2001 and 2004.
Tammaro was an athletic director and coach at Greenwich Academy for nearly a half-century. She won 747 games in field hockey in 49 seasons, won 700 games in girls lacrosse along with 200 games in 24 years of coaching girls basketball. Her teams won a combined 63 New England and league championships.