This morning the Connecticut track and field family lost an important icon of the past sixty years with the passing of Irv Black after his struggle with pancreatic cancer over the past several months.
I was very fortunate to enjoy knowing Irv over the past two decades, first as a family friend and later as one of my treasured mentors in track and field as well as meet management. I was introduced to Irv through my father-in-law Lindy Remigino's long-time relationship that grew from a storied rivalry of their respective New Britain and Hartford Public high school track programs. Irv was always willingly to share his knowledge as a coach and athlete if you had the time to listen to the extra stories that portrayed a life-time love of athletics.
As Head Coach of Track and Field and Cross Country at New Britain High School, Coach Black guided his New Britain team to their first State Open Outdoor Track and Field Championship in 1959 and over the next 35 years his teams would capture more than two dozen titles in track and field and cross country. As a collegiate competitor at Boston University during the early 50's, Irv was introduced to the hammer and weight throwing events that resulted in a lengthy association that included a second coaching career at Trinity College in Hartford that continued in the personal coaching of his granddaughter Kate Pietrowicz of Berlin for the past two seasons and culminated this past season in having the New England Hammer Throw Championship held in his honor at Willowbrook Park in New Britain.
Other honors and recognition for his dedication to track and field in Connecticut included his recent induction into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame this past June at the annual national convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Previous awards included his Connecticut High School Athletic Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year in 1965 as well as induction into the CHSCA Hall of Fame in 1995, the New Britain Sports Hall of Fame in 1997 and the National Federation of High Schools Hall of Fame in 2006. New Britain also honored him by naming the Irv Black Track at Veterans' Stadium in Willowbrook Park. Irv was also a recipient of the Gold Key the Connecticut Sportswriters Alliance in 2002. The 6th Irv Black High School Invitational was held again this past season
My other relationship with Irv developed from his ownership of the North East Sports Timing Service company that he had operated since 1979. My first interaction with Irv and NEST was through his timing of the early HPHS Outdoor Invitational meets held at Hartford Public High School in the late 80's. Those were the days when automatic timing was only used at large invitational meets, when meet registration was by mail two weeks before the event, where meet directors and their family and friends spent hours writing event entry info on small index cards that on meet day would be paper-clipped to an athlete's jersey and where all race and field data for each athlete was manually recorded after the event for posting at a later time. The advantage in using Irv's timing and results services was that the common bias and mistakes by judges and timers were eliminated and athletes' performances could be judged fairly. As NEST was prepared for the new millennium with upgraded equipment, the HPHS Indoor Invite provided my next association with Irv as we formed a closer relationship in posting his meet results at MySportsResults.com. Our relationship continued to grow with my addition of preparing meet entries for the HPHS Indoor and Outdoor Invites while Irv continued with his timing and results services. After a few years, Irv then asked me to accept processing of other invitational meet entries that would free him of that timely task.
It was through this extended relationship over the past several years that I grew to understand and appreciate Irv Black. There was the businessman who strived to do the best job possible, who left nothing to chance by learning how to do it right and was always looking to do it better for the sake of the athlete. That business side of Irv sometimes translated into the view that many saw on meet day, where he didn't tolerate those individuals, athlete or coach, who interfered with him making sure that results were up to his exacting standards for each event. The personal side of Irv was also evident at meets where he would take the time to explain to me about an event or retell a story from his vast locker of experiences as an athlete, coach and owner. I also saw that easy side of Irv during the past two seasons as he watched his granddaughter Kate compete in the hammer throw. A coaching attitude tenderized by the love of a grandfather.
Irv called me in early January after his initial diagnosis of pancreatic cancer to tell me that business was as usual. NEST was still in business at the upcoming meets and that he had just taken a less stressful role in order to fight the disease. When I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to relay to coaches and friends who asked about his health he stated that "I have no regrets. I've lived a full life; I've travelled places and experienced things that I never thought that I would do. Tell them not to be sorry for me. I have a great family and many good friends. I'll do what I have to do for as long as I can."
His basic premise was that he was always trying to do what was best for the athletes and to help them, on or off the field. I could not have received any better advice from a teacher than what Irv provided all these years.
Thanks again Irv.
Kate Pietrowicz of Berlin with Coach Irv Black at 2010 Irv Black Invite.
Owner Irv Black with NEST team at 2010 CIAC Class L Track and Field Championships
Stay tuned for a photo gallery tribute to Irv Black.