STAMFORD, Conn. — Bennett Salvatore’s ties to Andy Robustelli go back to when the current pro-basketball referee was 8 years old. The two Stamford men moved another step closer Wednesday when both were officially enshrined in the Fairfield County Sports Commission's Hall of Fame.
“I cannot think of a greater athlete and more humble man,” Salvatore said of his father-in-law after Wednesday’s plaque unveiling ceremony. Salvatore is married to Robustelli’s daughter, Laura, and considered Robustelli a “great teacher.”
“I am sure my father is looking down smiling,” Rick Robustelli said as his late father’s plaque was added to the hall the same day as Salvatore’s plaque.
The addition of Robustelli to the Hall of Fame has been six years in the making. He was originally inducted with the first class back in 2005, but he politely declined because he did not want to draw attention to himself, said Tom Chiappetta of the sports commission. After Robustelli died in May 2011, his family decided it was time for his plaque to be put on display.
Robustelli played 14 years in the NFL with the Rams and Giants and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
Salvatore described his induction into the local Hall of Fame as an accidental dream come true, explaining that he never thought he would be refereeing in the NBA when he started doing games for kids. Now, he is in his 30th year in the league.
“I hope my family and children can enjoy this plaque for years to come,” the veteran referee said.
The other 2011 inductees are John Bagley, a former professional basketball player from Bridgeport; Joe DeSantis, former Fairfield University basketball star; Ceci Hopp St. Geme, a Greenwich running standout; Charlie Bentley, a former basketball coach at Harding High School in Bridgeport; and Albie Loeffler, former soccer coach at Staples High School in Westport.
The hall of fame is based at UConn-Stamford and now has 45 members. Other members include Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine, Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner, pro-football hall of fame quarterback Steve Young, and former New York Ranger Chris Drury.