SOUTHINGTON — For 46 years, Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski and Jim Calhoun battled one another in the college basketball arena as players on the court and calling the shots from the bench.
But their competitive back and forth never resulted in animosity and the pair’s storied rivalry blossomed into a decades-long friendship defined by mutual admiration and respect.
“We became good friends when I was at Northeastern, [and] he was at West Point,” Calhoun said of Krzyzewski. “I moved to UCONN, he moved to Duke, and we ended up playing in big games against each other and our loyalty to each other and friendship has been great. Our friendship grew very deep, very long for a lot of years.”
Last night, the duo reunited at the Aqua Turf Club ballroom in Southington for the 37th annual Franciscan Sports Banquet and Silent Auction, hosted by the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, alongside five additional honorees, as Krzyzewski was celebrated for his contributions to community service and faith.
Krzyzewski was the recipient of the Saint Francis Award in what Franciscan Life Center Executive Director Barbara Johnson labeled a recognition of his piety and moral character throughout his coaching career.
“He’s being honored for his values.” Johnson said. “Christian values in athletics, that’s what the St. Francis Award is about.”
Krzyzewski made his way to the dinner thanks to an invite from Calhoun, whose involvement with the Franciscan Life Center earned him a namesake award also handed out Tuesday night.
Krzyzewski reflected on the celebration, recalling his years of camaraderie with Calhoun and relishing the time spent beside an old friend, while promoting an embrace of what he described as a virtuous attitude and its ability to attain success.
“It’s an honor to be here,” Krzyzewski said. “Being with great people is always a pleasure.”
“Anything that’s value-based has a chance at succeeding and sustaining, so it’s not just Christian values, its values, values of integrity, courage, respect, service, trust, loyalty, those are great, great things,” he said.
The dinner brought together a tapestry of coaches, athletes, Franciscans and basketball fanatics in a fundraiser auction and raffle event with proceeds from the evening benefiting the Franciscan Life Center and Franciscan Home Care and Hospice Care initiatives.
David and Dianna Hunter, whose three children Aaralyn, Leo and Aniela posed beaming for a photo with Krzyzewski and cradling a signed basketball, drove in from Cheshire for a chance to meet the collegiate athletics icon and in support of the Franciscan sisters.
The Hunters have a familial tie to the sisters, with David’s sister being a member herself. Dianna Hunter said her husband and she have attended the Sports Banquet in years past, looking to donate to her sister-in-law’s organization.
“Any penny that ever goes to these women and this community is spent in the community for the betterment of humanity,” David Hunter said. “They give themselves, from morning to night, to other people. They’re the most selfless people you will ever meet in your life.”
Additional honorees included William Ghio, Tim Tolokan, Gretchen Rossi and Krzyzewski’s wife Mickie Krzyzewski.
Ghio, the president of WMG & Sons and a Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee, was awarded the Jim Calhoun Community Service Award. Tolokan was the former associate athletic director at the University of Connecticut and received the Dean of Sports Award. Rossi is the public relations director of the Franciscan Life Center, Franciscan Home Care and Franciscan Hospice Care. She received the Mother Shaun Appreciation Award. Mickie Krzyzewski is the co-founder of the Emily K Foundation and received the Saint Clare Award. Special Olympics Connecticut was also recognized.