By Marylou Stewart and Jim Dunne
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s Norwich Sports Hall of Fame article is the fourth in a six-part series profiling the 2013 induction class. The banquet for this year’s honorees is scheduled Saturday, May 11 at Canasawacta Country Club. Information to make reservations is available at Wells Fargo Advisors in Norwich, the Norwich YMCA, and Norwich City Schools.
The guidelines for the NHS Sports Hall of Fame provide for the induction of someone who is neither an athlete nor a coach, but “who has contributed to Norwich sports in an exceptionally outstanding way over a period of several years.” They also state, “It is anticipated that few will qualify in this category.”
Bob Van Tine is one of that few. His contributions were as a sportswriter for the Norwich Sun and as a coach at the YMCA. Those two jobs, however, do not adequately describe his influence on a decade of Norwich kids growing up between 1945 and 1955. In addition to being a writer and coach, he was a mentor, role model, teacher, advisor, and friend to not only those he coached, but to all the kids who were involved in the Y.
Van’s education as a writer had two parts. He learned everything he could about sports, and he emulated his hero and mentor, Perry Browne, the sports editor of the Norwich Sun during the 1930s and 40s. Bob graduated from Norwich in 1939, having been the sports editor of the NHS Hi-Tribune, and, when he returned from his Army service in 1945, he joined the Sun as a sportswriter. There, he continued to learn from Browne, while establishing his own style.
While the focus of the Paper in those days was on Norwich as opposed to the whole county, there were more sports to cover, and Van was required to be prolific. There were bowling leagues at several locations, two softball leagues, two semi-pro baseball teams, a semi-pro football team, a women’s softball team (the Norwich Bluejeans), Kiwanis baseball, the YMCA-sponsored men’s church basketball league, and of course, Bob’s main interest, the varsity and JV sports of Norwich High School. Although usually under deadline pressures, the articles were judiciously done, with credit given by name; however, if someone missed the game-winning shot or struck out to end the game, it was “Norwich” who missed the shot or the pitch. He said that the first lesson he learned from Perry Browne was “never to criticize or injure through publicity a high school athlete.”
In 1950, Perry Browne was named managing editor of the Sun, and his first act was to promote Van Tine to sports editor. However, Browne died suddenly of a heart attack on March 1, 1951, at the age of 49. A few years before, he had modified his daily column, “Sports Slants,” to read “by Perry Browne and Bob Van Tine.” In his eulogistic column the day after Browne’s death, Van Tine wrote, “The proudest moment of our life came when he asked us to share this space with him, a compliment which will never be matched.”..