THE COACH, THE MAN
I last saw Bill Detrick on the 28th of August. We’d just finished playing 18 holes of golf in the annual Harry “The Cat” Nowobilski tournament at Tallwood Country Club in Hebron in support of junior golf. Dozens of luminaries from the sports world annually turn out in rememberance of one of the great figures in Connecticut golf, among them Bill Detrick held a special perch. Few have achieved his iconic status on, not one, but two college campuses in the state, few are as revered for, not only his accomplishments, but his stature as a human being.
For 29 years, beginning in 1959, Bill Detrick was the basketball coach at Central Connecticut State College, where he led the Blue Devils to six division II NCAA tournaments, taking his teams in 1962-63 and ’63-64 through undefeated regular seasons. In 24 of those 29 seasons Detrick’s teams had winning records, his 1983-84 team set a then school standard with 26 wins. His 468 wins still stands as the school record.
Prior to his legendary basketball coaching career Bill was an assistant football coach at Central, where he also taught physical education classes. Bill enrolled at Central in 1946, after serving in the Navy for the final year and a half of World War II. Over the next four years he met his wife, Barbara, and set another standard that is likely to never be surpassed when he earned 12 varsity letters in three sports, basketball, football, in which he set several records as a punter, and baseball, which he would go on to play professionally before returning to Central. In 1979 he was a member of the inaugaral class of the Central Connecticut Hall of Fame. He then embarked on a 23 year career as the very successful men’s golf coach at Trinity College, where he was named the NECSAC Coach of the Year three times.
But it wasn’t with his vast accomplishments in the sports arena that Bill Detrick left his most indellible mark, it was as a man. He was a quiet, gentle, thoughtful, introspective man to whom friendship and loyalty were lifetime committments. The quiet manner in which he dispensed wisdom to his players and his friends put him in company with E.F. Hutton, people listened.
On that day at Tallwood Country Club, as I always did when I knew Bill Detrick was in attendance, I scanned the room to find him, to share a few moments with him, to continue a relationship I had come to cherish over nearly 40 years. Our time together always left me with an aura of being better for it.
Three weeks after I last saw Bill Detrick he played nine holes of golf, walking all the way. The next day, last Friday, he died peacefully in his sleep. He was 87 years old. Today he will be laid to rest in New Britain. Bill Detrick wasn’t a man among men, he was a man from whom all men could learn how to be better. I cherish his memory.
With a tribute to a much better man than me, I’m Scott Gray.