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Beloved Educator, Outstanding Athlete Tony 'Nin' LaBella Dies at 88

The Middletown Sports Hall of Famer, teacher, principal and Navy man grew up on Ferry Street in the city's North End.

Highly regarded Middletown educator and Sports Hall of Famer Anthony LaBella died last week at age 88 after a short illness.
Highly regarded Middletown educator and Sports Hall of Famer Anthony LaBella died last week at age 88 after a short illness.

Highly regarded Middletown educator and Sports Hall of Famer Anthony LaBella died last week at age 88 after a short illness.

LaBella, who lived out his later years in Marlborough, died Dec. 27 at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown. "Nin," as he was known to friends, had a 37-year-career as a teacher and principal at many of the elementary schools in Middletown, according to his obituary, including Hubbard, Bielefield, Snow, Macdonough and Farm Hill. 

After retirement in 1987, LaBella returned to education as principal of St. Sebastian School in Middletown and later temporary principal at Bielefield, Edna C. Stevens School in Cromwell and others in East Haddam and Chester.

He grew up in the city's North End on Ferry Street in Middletown, according to his obituary, and served the U.S. Armed Forces in the South Pacific through the end of World War II.

Retired Farm Hill fifth-grade teacher Wayne Kensel remembers LaBella and his wife Mary.

"I first met Anthony when we started an in-house basketball team for grades five and six back in 1964.   Tony thought this was a great idea and got other administrators involved," Kensel said. Those players are now 58 or 59 years old. 

"Would you believe it cost zero dollars to get the fifth- and sixth-grade boys from one school to the next to play basketball — using Middletown school buses.  He could make things happen and never asked for any additional help." 

LaBella married Mary Lynch at St. Mary's Church in Portland in 1958 while he was principal at Farm Hill School in Middletown and they moved across the Connecticut River to raise a family. 

He was the first of Italian heritage to be appointed to such a position, according to a Wesleyan University study, "Italian Wedding Photos of Middletown Families," while his wife was a guidance counselor at Keigwin Middle School.

LaBella was a 2010 inductee in the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame, a football and baseball star at Middletown High School, a football player at the University of Connecticut, and played semiprofessional football and baseball in Middletown. 

He graduated from MHS in 1943 and in football he either threw a touchdown pass or scored a touchdown in every game he played, according to the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame.

LaBella was named to the All-State team in his senior year and in baseball, he was the Tigers' shortstop and was captain of the team his senior year. 

After his time in the Navy during World War II, LaBella played football at UConn, the highlight of which was throwing touchdown passes against Brown University in back-to-back seasons. according to the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame. After college he played football for the semiprofessional Middletown Blue Jackets and baseball for the Middletown Giants.

Funeral services will be held Saturday at 10:15 a.m. at Biega Funeral Home, 3 Silver St., Middletown, followed by an 11 a.m. Funeral Liturgy in St. Mary Church, Freestone Ave., Portland. 

Burial with military honors will be in St. Mary Cemetery, Portland. Friends may call at Biega Funeral Home on Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. Those who wish may send memorial contributions to Alzheimer’s Association, 2075 Silas Deane Highway, Suite 100, Rocky Hill, CT 06067.

Janice Vecchitto Thomas January 04, 2014 at 07:05 AM
RIP Nin...He was the principal when my younger sister was in MacDonough. He always wore a smile and it was infectious. I also remember his wife as a guidance counsellor and she also had the same attitude as him. They held hands when they were together and were an adorable couple...My dad went to high school with him and said he was a great guy...So sad...:(

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