BY KYLE BRENNAN
BEACON FALLS — Nearly 10 years later, there are still reminders of George Pinho’s legacy within the Woodland football program.
His initials are still posted in the weight room; the “fear the family” motto still adorns some shirts and signs; and, of course, the Hawks and Naugatuck still play for his namesake trophy in their once-again-annual rivalry matchup.
But Woodland’s second-year coach, Joe Lato, is still relatively new to the program and didn’t know much about Pinho, a former football and basketball coach at Woodland who died unexpectedly in January 2013.
So Lato invited Pinho’s sons, Jake and Jack, to speak to this year’s team on Aug. 20.
“I’m still really unaware of the blood and guts of Woodland football,” said Lato, who formerly coached at Weston and Masuk. “Last year was such a whirlwind; the Naugatuck game came up and I realized that we were playing for that trophy, so I wanted to know [about Pinho].”
Jake, a 2011 Woodland graduate, and Jack, a 2014 grad, were both two-way players for the Hawks. Each of them helped the Hawks advance to the state playoffs as seniors, and Jake even returned for a few years to the team’s coaching staff while his younger brother was still playing.
In a Facebook post, Jack sent a “huge thank you to Coach Lato for letting us come speak to these young men about the memory of my father and how much the program meant to him, as well as how much it meant to Jake and myself.”
George’s sudden passing during Jack’s junior year devastated the Woodland community, but the Hawks rallied in his memory over the next several years. In October 2013, Woodland and Naugatuck first played for the George Pinho Trophy, celebrating Pinho’s coaching connections at Woodland and his Alma mater at Naugatuck.
In that game, Jack caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Tanner Kingsley en route to a 25-22 Woodland victory before 2,000 fans in Beacon Falls. As the final seconds ticked down, Jake and Jack embraced in the middle of the field to celebrate their father; minutes later, Jack accepted his dad’s trophy from his uncle, Tony.
The memory of that game and the 20-year legacy of Woodland football were all among the topics on the floor in Woodland’s weight room.
“We discussed what the Naugatuck versus Woodland game means to this community and what a privilege it is to wear the black and gold on Friday nights, as well as the lessons we learned through this program that we still carry with us today,” Jack noted in his post. “We are so grateful for the ones that came before us and paved the way for this program and school district to succeed as well as the ones who sacrificed for Jake and myself to be able to have this opportunity and to remember for a lifetime.”
“It was great for me and the players to learn about Coach Pinho,” Lato said. “He was selfless, and that’s a core value of ours. It’s all about respecting this program.”
Last year, Woodland and Naugatuck met on the gridiron for the first time since 2017. The Greyhounds won that game, 35-13; among those in attendance was Jake, a K-9 police officer in Naugatuck. Jack is the student-athlete support services coordinator at Sacred Heart University.
This year’s George Pinho Trophy game is set for Nov. 11 at Woodland. The Hawks lead the all-time rivalry, 11-5, but the Greyhounds have won the trophy four times in six tries, including each of the last three meetings.
George Pinho Trophy Game Results
2021: Naugatuck, 35-13
2017: Naugatuck, 35-6
2016: Naugatuck, 39-0
2015: Woodland, 50-24
2014: Naugatuck, 58-35
2013: Woodland, 25-22
BY KYLE BRENNAN