Two Berlin residents were honored at the Connecticut Sportswriters Alliance (CSWA) 71st Annual Gold Key Dinner Sunday at The Aqua Turf Club in Southington.
John Riley won the John Wentworth Good Sport Award and David Balfore won the Bob Casey Courage Award.
Both made impressions with their remarks at the dinner. When emcee John Holt asked Riley if he would leave his volunteer work, Riley joked that his pay (obviously $0) has been doubled every year since he started.
Balfore told his emotional story of how he overcame leukemia to get back on the playing field and drew a standing ovation.
Casey Cochran, a freshman at UConn, and winner of the Hal Levy High School Male Athlete of the Year Award, made mention of Balfore in his speech, a truly classy move.
Let Patch save you time. Get great local stories like this delivered right to your inbox or smartphone every day with our free newsletter. Simple, fast sign-up here.
Balfore overcame Bell’s palsy and then leukemia to return to playing competitive sports at Berlin High School.
Balfore is a freshman at Western Connecticut State University.
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.
Given in memory of the longtime sports editor of the New Britain Herald, the CSWA recognized Berlin's Riley, Wayne Potvin, John Commune, Ed Gadomski and Bob Peruzzotti for their voluntary support of community sports and charitable organizations.
Riley has been a familiar figure on the Berlin youth sports scene for nearly two decades. He was involved with the from 1993-98, beginning as a coach in the Tee Ball Division, moving up to the Instructional League, and then becoming a manager and coach in the Minor League division. He also served as the Instructional League supervisor.
Since 1994, Riley has been a fixture with the , first as a coach in the Instructional Division, then as a head coach in the Junior Boys Division and Junior Girls Division, and later as a head coach in the Travel Division. He also served as treasurer from 1996-99, and has been president of the BYSA since 2000, continuing even after his daughter graduated from the program in 2003.
Riley has also been active on the state level with the Connecticut Junior Soccer association since 2003. He is currently in his 10th year as the Connecticut Cup Age Group Director, in his sixth year as State Cup Age Group Director, and in his fourth year as CJSA state treasurer.
In addition to Balfore and Riley, 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 received the Doc McInerney High School Coach of the Year in a female sport, while Manchester High boys track and field coach Thayer Redman was honored as the Doc McInerney High School Coach of the Year in a male sport.
Former UConn basketball player Kemba Walker received the Bill Lee Male Athlete of the Year Award, while former University of New Haven track star Shannon Gagne was 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.