Dave Balfore, who overcame Bell’s palsy and then leukemia to return to playing competitive sports at Berlin High School, has been selected as this year’s recipient of the Bob Casey Courage Award by the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance.
Balfore, a freshman at Western Connecticut State University, will be honored at the 71st annual Gold Key Dinner on April 29 at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.
Growing up, Balfore was a standout football and basketball player. In fact, when he was in eighth grade, he played in the same backfield on the Berlin Bears’ New England Midget Football championship team with UConn’s Max DeLorenzo and Princeton’s Jon Esposito. At the time, nobody could tell which of the three was going to be the biggest star.
But during an AAU basketball trip to Syracuse, Balfore became ill and eventually diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, a form of facial paralysis. When he returned to play football as a sophomore, his symptoms became worse and included severe headaches.
On June 8, 2008, Balfore was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with leukemia. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation and spent parts of the next year in the hospital, sometimes weeks at a time.
When he tried to return to playing sports, doctors warned him he would have very little energy. But Balfore was determined to play AAU basketball between his sophomore and junior year. He couldn’t run for long and at first he couldn’t even reach the basket when he shot, but he found his way back onto the court.
Then in his junior year at Berlin, Balfore returned to football while still undergoing treatment and was part of the Redcoats’ Class M state championship team, not just watching but suiting up and playing.
Balfore also played football and basketball as a senior while still receiving treatment. And despite having never played organized tennis before, he went out and made the high school tennis team his junior and senior years.
Finally, on Sept. 17, 2011, Balfore was told he was in remission at his monthly check-up.
Now a second-semester freshman at WestConn in Danbury, Balfore, ironically, is majoring in Nursing after all his hospital visits.
In addition to Balfore, the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance will be presenting Gold Keys to Kristine Lilly, Dave Shea, John Dunham and Mike Walsh. Also, Granby Memorial field hockey coach Sandy Wickman Mason will receive the Doc McInerney High School Coach of the Year in a female sport, while Manchester High boys track and field coach Thayer Redman will be honored as the Doc McInerney High School Coach of the Year in a male sport.
Former UConn basketball player Kemba Walker will receive the Bill Lee Male Athlete of the Year Award, while former University of New Haven track star Shannon Gagne will be honored as the Hank O’Donnell Female Athlete of the Year, and former Masuk High quarterback Casey Cochran was selected as the Hal Levy High School Athlete of the Year Award winner. The remaining award winners will be announced in the next few weeks.
Tickets to the 2012 Gold Key Dinner, which begins at 4 p.m., can be purchased by contacting either CSWA President George Albano of The (Norwalk) Hour at Truckin114@AOL.com, or Vice President and Dinner Chairman Bob Ehalt of The New Haven Register at Ehalt.Bob@sbcglobal.net. Tickets can also be obtained by mailing a check to Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance, P.O. Box 70, Unionville, CT 06085. For more information on the history of the dinner, visit the Alliance web site at ctsportswriters.org.