The storied “Hartford Connection” is part of Linfield sports lore. Ten graduates of Hartford, Conn., high schools came to Linfield and went on to success at the college academically and athletically and to successful careers after graduating from the college.
Meet Joe Beidler (pronounced “Biide-lur”). Without him, there would be no “Hartford Connection.”
Beidler’s contact with Linfield happened because he was coaching at Whitman College, Linfield’s Northwest Conference rival in Walla Walla, Wash.
He and his wife, Ruth, arrived at Whitman in 1949, after three years (1946-1949) coaching at his alma mater, Trinity College in Hartford.
Initially, he was Whitman head baseball coach and assistant football coach. In 1951, he became Whitman’s head football coach, too. He coached both sports until June 1955, when the Beidlers left Walla Walla and Whitman to return to Connecticut.
Back in Hartford, he coached football and baseball at Weaver High (Hartford) and Conard (West Hartford) until his retirement in 1983.
“In my years at Whitman, Paul Durham and Roy Helser (Linfield head football and baseball coaches respectively), although both staunch rivals and highly competitive, developed into my good friends among those in the coaching world,” Beidler, age 91, told Wildcatville in October 2010 from Vero Beach, Florida, where the Beidlers live.
“I was fortunate to spend time socially with Paul and Roy off the field, often in their homes with their families, during times when our teams were not on the field of competition in Walla Walla and McMinnville,” he said.
“After leaving Whitman, my new assignment of coaching in high school in Harford enabled me to make recommendations for student-athletes whom I believed would be successful with at Linfield,” said Beidler.
The first athlete Beidler recommended to Linfield was Curtis Manns, who had played football for him three years at Weaver High. He entered Linfield in 1958 and lettered in his first three years. He gave up football as a Linfield senior to concentrate on academics. Ultimately, he earned a doctorate degree and served for many years on the faculty of Florida A&M.
Of the remaining nine athletes who entered Linfield from 1959-1967, seven played football: Mike Stelman, Bernie Grant, Pete Dengenis, John Lee, Ron Rudo, Eddie Griffin and Bob Sullivan. Rick Turner was a basketball player and Bob Raffalo was a swimming team member and played baseball. (Griffin came to Linfield indirectly. Read on.)
“This was an unusually talented group,” he said. As evidence are some of the individual honors earned. The group includes Pete Dengenis, John Lee, Bob Sullivan and Bob Raffalo, all members of the Linfield Athletics Hall of Fame.
In addition, Dengenis was named to the NAIA All-American team in 1963 and he was All-Northwest Conference in 1961, 1962 and 1963. Also All-NWC were Sullivan (1968, 1969 and 1970) and Stelman, Lee and Griffin in 1961, 1963 and 1967 respectively.
Six “Hartford Connection” members became educators after graduating from Linfield. In addition to Manns, they include Turner, who earned a doctorate and served in the University of Virginia administration; Dengenis; Sullivan; Ruffalo and Lee, now a pastor.
Mike Stelman’s accomplishments include a successful real estate business in San Diego. He travels frequently on behalf of the Rotary Club. A Rancho Bernardo, Calif., resident, his honors include being a member of the Rancho Bernardo Hall of Fame and Soroptimist Man of the Year. In addition, he is on the board of directors of the San Diego International Sports Council, Holiday Bowl.
Eddie Griffin (Edward Ploma Griffin, Jr.), an outstanding football and basketball player for Linfield (graduated 1968), is a state high school championship high school boys basketball coach in Hartford. He transferred to Linfield after his freshman year at Virginia State. He followed in the footsteps of his cousin, John Lee (John Earl Lee, graduated 1967), who started at Linfield as a freshman.
Griffin is a member of the Hartford Public High School Athletic Hall of Fame as a player.
So, Beidler was key in Lee going to Linfield. In turn, Lee was key in Griffin going to Linfield.
An almost “Hartford Connection” member is the Beidlers' daughter, Jo. She attended Linfield (psychology major), 1967-68, and then transferred to and graduated from the University of Hawaii.
Beidler has frequent e-mail, mail and telephone contact with “Hartford Connection” members. In November 2005, he traveled from Florida to McMinnville for reunion of some members as well to visit with Paul Durham, who had traveled from Hawaii to Linfield for a Linfield Athletics Hall of Fame ceremony and football game.
Research subsequent to this story indicates the "Hartford Connection” also includes:
Harold D. Abrams -- Grad of Hartford High School, played basketball for Linfield, graduated from Linfield in 1973. After a 30-year career in government, retired in 2007 as City of Hartford director of parks and recreation.
Charles Ferguson – Grad of Hartford’s Bulkeley High School, wrestled for Linfield, graduated from Linfield in 1982. Coached wrestling at Bulkeley and coached (still coaches?) at New Britain, Conn., High School.
Clifford "Suge" Mitchell (Clifford J. Mitchell, Jr.) -- Grad of Hartford's Hartford High School, played basketball for Linfield, graduated from Linfield in 1972.
Lance S. Powell -- Grad of Hartford’s Weaver High School, swimmer for Linfield, graduated from Linfield in 1974.
Anthony P. "Tony" Ragazzi Jr. -- Grad of Hartford’s Weaver High School, played football for Linfield.
Billy R. Scott -- Grad of Hartford’s Weaver High School, played football for Linfield, graduated from Linfield in 1974.
Ronald "Ronnie" "Smitty" Smith -- Grad of Hartford’s Weaver High School, played basketball for Linfield.
Robert "Bobby" Williams -- Grad of Hartford’s Weaver High School, played football for Linfield, graduated from Linfield in 1974.
Kevin Rivers -- Grad of Hartford's Bulkeley High School, tried out for Linfield football team, but did not play football for the Wildcats. He graduated from Linfield in 1973.
Other Linfielders from Hartford, who apparently did not participate in sports for the Wildcats, include:
Pete Casarella, Class of 1972. He's a grad of Hartford’s Bulkeley High School.
April Everett, Class of 1974. She’s a grad of Hartford’s Weaver High School.
Brenda Joiner, Class of 1974. She’s a grad of Hartford’s Weaver High School.
Edmond "Ed"/"Eddie" Ware, Class of 1975. He’s a grad of Hartford’s Weaver High School.
Called "Hartford High School" here, it's correctly identified as Hartford Public High School.
See Wildcatville story, "Hartford Connection's Pete Dengenis, Mike Stelman visit Linfield Football practice at Maxwell Field 10/15/2010."
After 10/18/2014 unveiling of the Coach Paul Durham (in the background) statue on the campus of Linfield in McMinnville, Cathy (Bake) Sullivan took this photo (left-right) of her husband, Bob Sullivan; Pete Dengenis, John Lee and Mike Stelman. They're part of Linfield's storied "Hartford (Connecticut) Connection." Photo posted 8:39pm 10/19/2014 http://on.fb.me/1t2tP2N by Cathy Sullivan at Facebook BWC-Linfield with this cutline: "Four of "The Hartford Connection" who were recruited by, and played for Coach Durham. (left to right) Bob Sullivan 71', Pete Dengenis 64', John Lee 67', Mike Stelman 63'."
Joseph B. Beidler, 1918-2016
Hartford, Connecticut, COURANT newspaper
Joseph B. "Coach" Beidler, 97, died Monday, October 31, in the comfort of his home.
He was born November 15, 1918.
Joe served our country during WWII as a Lieutenant in the Navy aboard a mine sweeper.
His passing leaves a void in the hearts of many, especially his devoted daughter, Nancee (Ray Torns) and his adoring wife and "best girl" of 74 years, Ruth.
He is also survived by his daughter JoAnn Schaaf, his son Robert, his only granddaughter, Brandy Caban, three grandsons Kalua, Kama and Kahoa McKeague, and his special great-granddaughter, Kiana Caban.
Joe's passion was football and baseball. First as a player and then as a coach.
His career spanned nearly 4 decades, beginning at his beloved alma mater, Trinity College, migrating to the Pacific West and returning home to CT to coach at Weaver High and Conrad High.
One of his proudest achievements was creating what became known as the "Hartford Connection." Between 1958 and 1967 Coach sent 10 young and talented players to Linfield College in Oregon.
Coach believed in his players and inspired them to fulfill their potential. Joe's 15 year run of coaching with McKee at Conrad High was legendary, winning over 80% of games played.
When he hung up cleats and retired to Vero Beach with Ruth they "played" together at golf, Bridge, square dancing and pool! Always learning!
He volunteered for the Dodgers at Spring Training and relished being the driver who talked "game" all the way to the airport. Coach Beidler was a great guy. Loved and respected. A coach who knew the science of football and a gentleman on and off the field. His word was gold. He left the world a better place.
The family extends its sincere gratitude to all the caregivers and Masonicare Hospice professionals who gave Joe such exceptional care.
A Celebration of Coach Joe Beidler's life will be held at Trinity College Chapel at a later date. Please visit our guestbook at www.taylorandmodeen.com