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The following “Historical Commentary” was written by Bob Montgomery of the Bristol Press on July 5, 2001 and is reproduced with his permission. Bob Montgomery is one of the founding fathers of the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame.
“Legion team’s roots in ’26”
The Bristol American Legion baseball program, the most successful in Connecticut, can trace its origins to a team sponsored 75 years ago.
Comprising Bristol’s first squad in 1926, after it was announced the year before at the national convention that American Legion posts around the country would officially sponsor baseball teams, were members of the city’s championship “A” Division grammar school. St. Ann’s. Members of that team automatically made up the Bristol American Legion club and that August, Bristol faced teams from Berlin and New Britain in county playoffs.
The teams played each other twice to determine which would advance to the state championship and New Britain was the winner in taking the Hartford County crown. The hardware City “nine” then went on to capture the unofficial state title – the first Connecticut American Legion baseball title was recognized in 1928 – when they beat New Haven’s Post 17 by a 4-2 score.
There was an absence of Bristol teams in 1927 and 1928 according to The Bristol Press sports pages from those years, but in 1929 a Legion-represented team re-appeared and continued the years following. Tommy M. Monahan, the Bristol High three-sports coach, had now began picking his players from schools city-wide.
The 1929 team, for example, took the best young players from Bristol High as well as the best from John J. Jennings School, Chet Smolenski, Henry Kwiatkowski and Frank Sakowski, and North Side School’s Tony Zagryn, who later became a world-record holder in duckpin bowling. Zayryn was talented as a pitcher and at the plate as a better.
“We had some outstanding players’ back then,” said Zagryn. “The 1930 team had (catcher) Andy Palau (who batted .600 plus one year) and (pitcher) Albie Gurske (both from Bristol High).” Both became scholastic All-State in three sports, graduating Bristol High in 1933.
Although talented player-wise and coached by the legendary Monahan, Bristol was unable to capture a state crown for a number of years, though making it to the finals on more than one occasion.
A first state title came in 1949 and three more followed the next three seasons.
Monahan, his son, Thomas H., and the late George “Jocko” Yarde split the coaching duties of these initial state championship teams and Hillary Driscoll was named manager. Driscoll was the “Doc” Gilhuly of his day as manager during the 1930’s-1950’s.
James F. “Doc” Gilhuly having now been the manager the past four-plus decades, gained the respect Driscoll enjoyed in establishing a sense of professionalism in the post when he came to Bristol in 1959. year-in and year-out since, the Bristol operates a first class program.
Jim Bates took over the coaching reins of Post 2 in 1962 and his teams captured state crowns in 1962, 1964 and 1966. Zone One titles came Bristol’s way in all but one of Bates’ ten seasons.
Other coaches finding success with Post 2 included George Synott, who guided Bristol to both state and East Regional titles and a trip to the World Series in 1974, and Tom Burns, who won back-to-back state titles in 1983 and 1984, taking Bristol to the World Series the latter year.
Gilhuly, for a good portion of his 40-plus years here, has been ably assisted by Paul LaFleur, a man who is exacting in his work. This also has helped breed continued success for the program.
Jim Ziogas, who coached for a decade brought the program to the level of respect that Bates had it. A former Legion standout himself, having played between 1969-1972, Ziogas, a Bristol attorney, guided Bristol to a state title his first coaching season in 1994 and to its best season ever in 1997. That year, Post 2 went to the World Series and finished fourth overall. Spec Monico coached for a decade and Jerry LaPenta coached for nine years.
Currently there are 80 teams in the state and Bristol is ranked No. 1 among them in having won 14 state titles since the beginning days seven and a half decades ago.
With more people like Gilhuly, LaFleur, Bates, Ziogas, Monahan, Driscoll, and a Bristol Legion baseball committee with members like Fran Mullins, those with a longtime love and support of American Legion baseball, the road to success for Bristol should continue the next quarter of a century.
Should Bristol American Legion baseball celebrate its 100th anniversary and look back in 2028, there’s a good chance Post 2 will still be holding court atop Connecticut American legion baseball, remaining the program with the richest and most successful history.