By Bill Riccio, Jr.
As one gets older it is difficult to see people move on with their lives, particularly when they have been part of something for a very long time. That’s true of one’s self as well. When I was elected Commissioner of the New Haven Football Officials Association and had to retire from the field, I still consider myself an official, and one that can still work. It’s hard to see that part of your life ending and another phase beginning.
Those were the feelings running through this writer when he heard to Joe Morrell, the longtime coach of West Haven High School’s Blue Devils hockey team was leaving to pursue other things – in this case, a sixth-year degree to advance his career. While Morrell may have been at the helm of WHHS for more than two decades, his relationship to the program goes far beyond that to just less than 40 years.
It must be remembered that Joe Morrell was part of the heyday of Blue Devils hockey. While his teams didn’t win state championship while he was there – and while he captained his senior year – from the 1970s to the 1990s, the program had what can be called its second Golden Age. State championships were won, and those that weren’t won were fought for to the last whistle. It was a great era of high school hockey.
Morrell was a bridge to that era. He played under the legendary Art Crouse, and, if memory serves, assisted under Art DeLucia when he took the helm. We remember Morrell as a player, and remember his senior year as captain. Art Crouse and I were good friends. We talked a lot, and had coffee together a lot. In those days I spent a lot of time at the Edward L. Bennett Rink.
That’s the bridge that Morrell is. He is of the era of Bud Conlan as Rink Director, Jackie Coyle as the ubiquitous man on the Zamboni. He was captain. And Crouse treated his captains as men, mentors and conduits. They talked about the team, and Crouse, many times, relayed concerns and suggestions. That’s what coaches do with captains – or at least did.
And Morrell was a captain because he was a leader in all senses of that term, but especially in the most important one: he expected nothing from his teammates that he didn’t expect from himself. He was a leader by example.
While we don’t have the connection with WHHS hockey the way we once did, we still kept tabs on the Devils and on the coach. In many ways, Morrell was similar to Crouse in his methods of teaching and his relationship with his players.
Morrell is also the coach of the softball team, a post he’s had for a few years. But we know one very important thing: if he thought he could have continued as West Haven’s coach he would have. We are sure there were some sleepless nights attached to this decision. Hockey – and West Haven hockey – is part of the fabric of his being.
He will be missed by players, fans and outside observers, like this writer. But I will also miss him because he bridges an era upon which I look very fondly, and where I can still see him cruising up and down the Bennett surface as a member of a storied program.
Best of luck, Coach Morrell.
Speaking of retirements, the late Tom Hunt used to say, “Teachers never retire, they become consultants.” We were brought back to that remark with the recent “retirement” of West Haven Athletic Director and Hunt’s successor, Jon Capone. Capone is technically retiring, but staying on another two or three years.
The go-to guy for many projects by Superintendent of Schools Neil Cavallaro, Capone was the coordinator of the move that coalesced sixth grades into Carrigan around a decade ago, and is now being tapped to do the moving with the opening of the first wing of the new high school
Classes are going to be moved into the new building section along with the main office. Other sections of the old building, meanwhile, are being prepped for demolition and so classes will be moving around.
When he’s not deciding where the science books are going to be moved, he still has his given job of Director of Athletics and Physical Education and Health. To say “retirement” won’t be lazy days on the golf course doesn’t’ even touch what he’s going to be doing.
That leads this writer to another reminder, that of Poo-bah in the Mikado. He had every job in the fair town of Titipoo and the salaries to go with them. Capone has the titles, not necessarily the greenbacks…though he’s not doing badly.