Memories of an early winter Saturday morning in Hamden, with skates on and hockey puck in hand, started the love of this sport for 2000 Branford Sports Hall of Fame inductee Robert A. Gambardella. As a player, a fan, a coach and as an organizer, his community service and volunteerism spoke in volumes to the town of Branford.
While in high school at Cheshire Academy, “Bob” played varsity hockey as well as lacrosse. When he graduated from high school, he attended the New Preparatory School in Massachusetts for a post graduate year, before going on to college at Nathanial Hawthorne College in Keene, New Hampshire, where he graduated in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Upon graduation, he relocated to Branford, where he began to make an immediate impression in the sport he loved so much – hockey.
In Lou DeSerio’s Barber Shop in 1971, talk about the lack of an organized hockey program in Branford led to the creation of a club hockey team that held a .500 status for three years. Bob devoted his time, energy, and effort to solicit private donations to support the club and pay for ice time. History was made in March of 1976, as, in overtime, the Branford Hockey Club, with tonight’s inductee as the head coach, won 5-4, beating North and Judd, a Middlesex team, at Wesleyan University. The Branford Hockey Club won the Southern Connecticut League Championship as well as having a 20-0-1 season, their best in five years.
The following year, 1976-77, the Branford Hockey Club came in second place in the Southern Connecticut Amateur Hockey League.
Tragically, on March 21, 1977,Bob died suddenly in an automobile accident. His dream for the hockey club to attain varsity status came true during the 1977-78 season with Skip Schwanfelder as the first head coach and first assistants Kevin McDonough and Dave Hainsworth. This varsity sport remains in existence today. The Robert A. Gambardella Scholarship Fund was set up by family and friends to aid graduating seniors in their first year of college. To date, 23 graduates have been recipients.