WALLINGFORD — Known as one to always speak his opinion and keep local children at the forefront of his mind, former Town Councilor, Board of Education member and esteemed basketball coach Nick Economopoulos died this week at the age of 72.
“He was always truly dedicated to this town. I think a lot of that came from his work for so long at Lyman Hall. He was really proud of his town and he passed that down to his kids. So all five of us are raising our kids here,” said Christie Madancy, his daughter and math curriculum coordinator for Wallingford schools. Her husband, Steve Madancy, is Southington’s school superintendent.
Joining the district the year Sheehan High School was built, Economopoulos taught business education at Lyman Hall High School for 34 years and coached the Lyman Hall girls’ basketball team for 20 years, during which the team won five state championships.
Economopoulos retired from teaching in 2005 and ran for Board of Education on the Democratic ticket. He served on the board for two years before winning a seat on the Town Council in 2007 by petitioning his way onto the ballot. He retired from politics after not being re-elected in 2013.
As a basketball coach at Lyman Hall, he estimated he had over 600 wins and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2011. He established Connecticut Starters AAU, a company that continues to offer basketball travel programs today, while on a coaching hiatus in 1988. He also started Lyman Hall’s Powder Puff football program and coached baseball and football at Lyman Hall.
His children are continuing the basketball legacy today; Christie Madancy is an assistant basketball coach at Lyman Hall and her brother Jimmy Economopoulos is head coach of Madison’s boys’ basketball team.
It was the connections he made with the students and faculty at Lyman Hall that made the town home to him, Christie Madancy said.
“He got really into coaching when he was at Lyman hall and just the relationships he made at Lyman Hall with his colleagues and players and students. It was deeply embedded in who he was,” she said.
Board of Education member Michael Votto, a fellow Democrat who served alongside Economopoulos, said his decades coaching the basketball team made him a recognized name in town, but it was his experience as an educator that made him a vital asset on the school board. He was able to use his knowledge to suggest improvements and identify areas where the district was excelling.
“He was a popular man in town because of all the work he had done in town with the basketball team and for a lot of good that he did and I think that’s one of the reasons why he got elected,” he said. “ … people (respond) when they realize that someone has been in education, that they’re bringing their experience in education with them onto the board.”
It was his sincerity that made him stand out as a teacher, Votto said, and allowed him to make those coming before the board feel more comfortable through his sense of humor.
“You could tell he was a teacher for all the right reasons. He loved kids and you could tell that by the way he talked about his family and children in general,” he said.
Town Councilor Vincent Testa described Economopoulos as a no-nonsense, straight shooter who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind on the council, which Votto echoed.
“He was devoted to a strong school system, so he always supported the Board of Education, but he was also mindful of fiscal responsibility … he never played games. He told it like it was and voted his conscience. He was definitely nonpartisan. Although elected as a Democrat with me, he was always willing to compromise and get things done if it was in the best interest of the town,” Testa said.
After he left politics, Testa said Economopoulos continued to stay active in the social world and regularly hosted friends for breakfast, filling them in on what he knew and thought about the town. Testa said he’s being remembered for his sense of humor, his passion for his students and his talents on the court.
“He was a brilliant basketball coach and that’s what a lot of people remember. He cared deeply about students, he was a well loved teacher — you know colleagues speak highly of him, but as a basketball coach he was just at the top of the list,” he said.
Economopoulos also leaves his wife Sue, daughters Lynn, Nickie and Shani, and eight grandchildren that he adored.
Reporter Devin Leith-Yessian can be reached at email@example.com