Ted Vartelas, native of Connecticut who played basketball for UConn, has succumbed to coronavirus

Vartelas (22) played on the Ansonia Norwoods, a professional team the likes of which the city had never seen. Bottom Row: L-R Mike Bruno (16), Harry “Lime” Katzman (14), Ed Sipay (26), unidentified (12), Joe Gaetano (20) Back Row: L-R John Gregory, Worthy Patterson (10), Nick Hylwa (28), Bill Spivey (18), Andy Adzima (24), unidentified (30), Ted Vartelas (22), Pete Vartelas (coach).

By Joel Alderman

Ted Vartelas of Ansonia, CT lived much longer than the other former college basketball players we know of who have died from the coronavirus, but that doesn’t detract from the great loss felt by multitudes of family members, friends, and those who have followed University of Connecticut sports down through the years. He was a member of its hoops team in his junior season, 1953-1954.

Vartelas died on April 1, 2020, at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Born and raised in Ansonia, CT, he last resided in nearby Woodbridge. The past few years he suffered from Parkinson’s disease, although he ultimately was taken in the covid-19 pandemic.

He was the youngest of 12 children and the last survivor of a prominent Ansonia sports-centric and community involved Greek-American family.

Played three sports in high school

Vartelas was a basketball, baseball, and football athlete at Ansonia High School. His scholastic coach in all three sports was Charles (“Boots”) Jarvis, after whom the football field at the school has been named. Boots was an institution in the city and served the school for nearly 30 years.

Ted was All-State in basketball, and was known to have the “longest set shot in the state,” according to his nephew, Greg Stamos, an attorney in Ansonia. “He had great range.”

Vartelas was an all-state basketball player at Ansonia High School, and took his talents to UConn, where he played for a conference winner.

Cheshire Academy, New Haven Teachers, and UConn

After high school he attended Cheshire Academy for a year and then played at New Haven State Teachers College, which eventually became Southern Connecticut State University.

The following year he transferred to UConn and was a reserve on the 1952-1953 team that went 17-4 and won the Yankee Conference title under coach Hugh Greer. He got into 11 games, and scored 33 points. He sat out his senior year and graduated in 1954.

The Ansonia Norwoods

But Vartelas wasn’t through with basketball. He was on the Ansonia Norwoods, a semi-pro team sponsored by the Norwood Athletic Club and playing mostly Sunday nights. They were in the newly formed Connecticut Basketball Association, which two years later became the Eastern League.

Rich Marazzi, the Ansonia sports historian, says that the Norwoods represented the highest level of athletics the city has ever seen.

Worthy Patterson, former teammate of Vartelas at Uconn, who played briefly with the St. Louis Hawks in the NBA, also saw duty with the Norwoods, as did 7-foot Bill Spivey, an all-American at Kentucky and MVP of the 1951 NCAA final. He led the Wildcats to the championship with 22 points and 21 rebounds in the title game against Kansas State.

Spivey had been barred from the NBA for being accused in a point shaving scandal even though he was never found guilty in a trial that convicted teammates Ralph Beard and Alex Groza.

“Spivey wanted to be paid $100 a game but Harry (Lime) Katzman, the coach and manager of the Norwoods, who later became a sports writer, told him it wasn’t in the budget,” Stamos remembers.

After advertising he would join the team, they flew him to a small airport in Bethany, a New Haven suburb, and he could barely fit in the little plane. He agreed to a payment of $75 for that one game, and said he would take nothing if, after that contest, they didn’t think he was worth it. But when Spivey scored 31 points Katzman said they would find the money and immediately signed him. He played for the Norwood for two years.

A little-known sidelight is that on the day of the games Spivey would go to Vartelas’ home and have dinner prepared by his mother, Paraskeve.

Other teams in the CBA were the East Hartford Marco Polo Explorers, the Danbury War Memorial Seniors, two teams from Bridgeport, Columbus Bears from New Haven, and the Milford Chiefs, their biggest rivals.

A large and close family

He was the youngest of the 12 children of Paraskeve and John Vartelas, Greek immigrants, who had a thriving family market at the center of Ansonia until it was destroyed by the Naugatuck River in the Flood of 1955.

Vartelas was to become a successful agent for the New York Life Insurance Company, a position he held for over 60 years, all the time retaining his great interest in sports, especially those relating to Ansonia.

Bob Saulsbury

Bob Saulsbury, a contemporary of Vartelas, became a celebrated coach at Wilbur Cross, where his teams had winning streaks of 57 and 66 games. In the late 40s Saulsbury played for Hillhouse, the other high school in New Haven. They faced each other a few times when Hillhouse played Ansonia, once before 4,500 in the state tournament. After that they became devoted friends.

“About two months ago I took Bob for a visit with my uncle at Ted’s home in Woodbridge,” Stamos said. “It was remarkable to see the friendship and comraderie between two former rivals, even after 70 years.”

Vartelas played one year at Connecticut, coming off the bench on a team that starred Art Quimby and Worthy Patterson. Others on the team included Gene King, Mel Kleckner, and Lou Orlando, names that should be familiar to fans of that era.

Greek against Greek

He played around the country in Greek-American tournaments. “A Greek church in New York would make him a member for a day so he could become eligible to participate,” said Stamos. “Every Greek team wanted to pick him up” he added.

On the Ansonia Norwoods, Vartelas played alongside Spivey and Worthy Patterson, who was briefly with the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks. They played on the outdoor court at Kutchers Country Club in the “Borscht Belt” in the Catskill mountains in upstate New York against pros such as Bob Cousy and Wilt Chamberlain, who by day, believe it or not, was a bellhop.

At UConn and in Greek competition after graduation he faced George Kaften, (born Kaftagouras), All-American from 1947 national champion Holy Cross and the NCAA the tournament’s MVP. Kaftan was to become a practicing dentist.

There is an interesting story about Vartelas and Kaftan that Stamos shared with this writer. “After a UConn-Holy Cross game they met on the court, and greeted each other by saying “Hey, Greek” while jokingly bumping elbows.

“Coach Hugh Greer was wild, and told Vartelas he should not have spoken to an opposing player.

“’Why not,’ answered Ted. We’re both Greeks.’”

“Later he and Kaftan would play against each other in those Greek tournaments. And they continued their unique way of saying hello with the elbow bump and a “Hey, Greek.”

Vartelas also showed his athleticism as a fast pitch softball pitcher, playing against the powerful Raybetos Cardinals. His extended family enrolled 25 members at the University of Connecticut and they were winners in 2013 of a contest for the Biggest UConn Family.

Vartelas retained his love of sports for many years. He took Stamos to Final Fours, Super Bowls, and to the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament. He was a regular at Ansonia football and Yale football and basketball games. He taught Greg to play tennis and basketball.

Ted had married a girl from New Haven, Esther Chetoka. They had three children, Pamela (Alessio), Robin (Reilly) and Jonathan Vartelas, and a dozen nephews and nieces who all adored him. After about 25 years they divorced, but remained friends.

His life was ended by the virus

Although Parkinson’s slowed him down to a wheelchair, he was still going to Ansonia football games as recently as two years ago.
Ted Vartelas, native of Connecticut who played basketball for UConn, has succumbed to coronavirus
Now the life of Ted Vartelas is over. Greg said he went quickly. After the diagnosis of covid-19, that was what the family hoped for. He had a fulfilling life.

Former college basketball players to die of the new coronavirus (Covid-19)

Lee Green, 49, St. Johns, March 23, 2020
David Edwards, 48, Georgetown and Texas A&M, March 23, 2020
Jonathan Duck, 50, Iona, March 24, 2020
Arnold Obey, 73, Wagner, March 29, 2020
Ted Vartelas, 89, Uconn, April 1, 2020

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